The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 23

Chapter 23: The Metapath

Length: 4,577 words

POV character: Stuart

Synopsis:

For Stuart, it is a time for hard decisions.

Though he has saved the Captain’s life, and rescued the whole ship from certain destruction, now he needs to save his own hide. The strange woman visits him while he is recovering from his near-death experience. This time she is determined to get some answers about who Stuart really is and what he plans to do now he has unlocked the secret to his power.

Notes:

You know, I’ve been working on this book for a very long time. A really long time. In fact, by this point it’s getting on for half my life time.

With that said, you might be surprised to hear that as little as two years ago I had no idea where this book was going. Oh, sure, I told myself that I knew. I had outlines and plans and whole spreadsheets full of character arks. I’d written and rewritten well over 40 chapters worth of material, most of which will never see the light of day (though I am tempted to release some of it here after the book is finished as a kind of bonus for anyone who’s been patient enough to stick around all this time).

Two years ago, I cobbled together something that looked like an ending, ran the whole thing through a spell checker and then declared, “yep that’s finished”. But it was a lie. I was in pain at the time, mourning the loss of a year’s worth of work and desperate to get some closure on that part of my life.

Looking back now, I see that the book wasn’t finished. Not even close. It’s still not finished now.

The truth is, the book was simply too complicated to get my head around easily. You ever hear that analogy about woods and trees? Well, this right here was a veritable jungle and I’d stupidly walked into it with only the most rudimentary of maps. I had characters clashing into each other all over the place, each of which needed to be set up, given a character arc and believable closure all whilst also building the story as a whole towards some sort of cohesive end. I had an upper word limit I was desperately struggling to keep away from (I still am), and all in all it was just a constant logistical battle to keep all the balls in the air and make it look interesting while doing it.

And that’s the right word for it, I think: a battle. With myself. With my imagination. With my motivation. With the chapters I had already written which would sometimes need to be mercilessly cut and with the tenuous deadlines I kept setting myself which would then fly merrily by unmet.

And the worst thing was, it was a battle I was losing.

So I came up with a Strategy. Part of this strategy involved walking away from the novel for a year and allowing myself to get some distance from it. But the other part was more complicated and it involved trying to combat two specific hurdles I kept running into while writing the book:

  1. I didn’t know where the overall plot was going (though I did know some of the individual character arcs)
  2. Writing in a linear fashion meant that I was constantly switching POV and, consequently, voice. This would lead to an inconsistent writing style at times as characters started sounding very samey to one another

To combat both of these issues I tried delineating the story telling. I figured that by stripping out each of the characters and dealing with them one by one, the main plot would somehow materialize before my eyes. At the very least, I could write around that huge snarl of plot threads, allowing me to make some sort of progress on the novel while I tried to think up a long term solution to the thornier plot issues.

The first character to go through this delineated writing process was Michael. It was easy to work on his chapters since they have always served more as bookends to each part than chapters in their own right.

The next character to be looked at was Estavan, which was also pretty straightforward since he only had four chapters and only two of them impacted on the rest of the story.

Now that the easy characters were out of the way, I next turned my attention to Stuart who had seven chapters to his name at the time (I believe he has more now).

However, once I’d finished writing through Stuart’s section, my grand Strategy came screeching to a halt.

You see, I’d written too much.

When I pasted all the then completed chapters together to see how the book was looking, I discovered a huge pacing issue in the way Stuart’s chapters were laid out. In the middle section of the book he seemed to disapear for huge chunks of the narative at a time. Then at the end of the book, you suddenly couldn’t get rid of the guy. I think I had something like four chapters in a row focused on Stuart. And when you only have seven chapters to play with in total, you know something’s going wrong.

All this was compounded by the issue that I simply couldn’t move any of his chapters earlier in the book since some of the events in those chapters impacted on some of the other characters’ chapters. It was precisely the sort of situation I’d been trying to avoid all along and, I’ll be honest, it bummed me out for a while.

So my Strategy was a failure. The next day I went back to the beginning of the novel and started writing it out in a more typical, chronological order. It made more sense that way and the chapters ended up more sensibly spread out throughout the novel as a result.

I’m sure at this stage you’re probably asking yourself why I told you all of this. Well, it’s because this chapter right here is that bottom-heavy section of the novel I just talked about. In essence it’s something like three chapters’ worth of material from that earlier draft, all condensed down and flattened into just one chapter (plus an epilogue that’s coming later).

Condensing chapters means cutting text. Huge chunks of text. Some of my favourite parts of the novel in fact ended up deleted from this chapter. You need callouses on your heart if you’re going to be a writer.

It’s frustrating too because this is one part of the book I thought I’d finished years ago and now suddenly I found myself forced to wade through it once again. I think part of the issue (other than the chapter’s extreme length) is the sudden tonal shift that I was only just noticing between the breakneck action of the last few chapters followed by this more thoughtful, measured section of narrative. That’s yet another side effect of writing a book out of its correct order. I’ve learned my lesson for the future.

Anyway, hopefully it’s all fixed now and is ready for consumption. I hope you enjoy it.

One Response to The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 23

  1. […] As many of you know by now, I finished writing my epic SF novel the Arkship Ulysses at the tail-end of last year. I may have mentioned it once or twice. […]

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