Deleted scenes #2 – #4

14 August 2015
Luckily the editing process isn't quite this tedious

“Murder your darlings” – William Faulkner

One of the strangest things about writing a multi-protagonist story (or at the very least, one of the things I wish someone had warned me about before I started writing one) is how much it forces you to write a story in a certain way.

To explain what I mean, imagine I had a book with just one protagonist in it. In such a novel, the hero might get 30+ chapters all to themselves. The whole story is told through just a single set of eyes and thus, over the course of the book, the reader is able to fully follow the hero’s story and understand their plight. This approach allows for a lot of twists and turns and, consequently, a great deal of character movement.

Look at 50 Shades of Grey for example (and wow, how I never thought I use that book as a positive example…). The whole story is told from the point of view of one character: Anastasia Steele. Thus, no matter how much Ana flip-flops in her relationship with Christian Grey (and boy, does she flip-flop), it doesn’t matter. We go right along with it.

Multi-protagonist novels, however, are very different beasts.

When your plot needs an infographic to explain it, you know you're in trouble

When your plot needs an infographic to explain it, you know you’re in trouble

On the one hand, having more characters means that the scope of your novel can be wider (since you have more eyes in more places showing the reader more aspects of your world) but the flip-side of this is that unless you’re lucky enough to have all of your viewpoint characters in the same place at the same time (in which case, why on Earth do you need to have multiple protagonists to begin with?), the individual plotlines for each character become quickly diluted.

When each character has only 5-10 chapters dedicated to them and the reader might not encounter that character again for several hundred pages at a time, it becomes increasingly important to keep each of those characters constrained to plots which can be easily summarised and understood. Your characters need simple throughlines and clear resolutions. There is little room for ambiguity.

So many protagonists... Best make them all stereotypes and give them 3-4 scenes each

So many protagonists… Best make them all stereotypes and give them 3-4 scenes each

It’s a law of diminishing returns: the more complex your novel becomes, the simpler its individual storylines must be in order to avoid your reader getting lost in a maze of byzantine plot twists.

Which is exactly the situation I found myself in with my main character, Abigail Leighton.

Abi’s story was always centered on the theme of identity and belonging. She is caught between the two worlds of the bunks and the nobility, belonging to neither and yet hated by both. Hers is a unique position, and one from which the reader is able to fully grasp the multi-faceted issues plaguing the ship. (Or at least, that was the theory).

Australian model Gemma Ward. Her innocent yet determined appearence informed much of Abi's character

Australian model Gemma Ward. Her innocent yet determined appearance was a big inspiration when writing Abi

Originally the plan was to have Abi break out of the bunks near the beginning of the book (which she still does), betraying her best friend in the process (ditto). Later, she would find that the outside world isn’t quite the land of milk and honey she’d always thought it would be (which is still the case) so she goes back to the bunks, begs forgiveness from her friend and then together they break the unspoken out of bondage and lead a rebellion against the ship, thus creating a third, new choice for her.

The problem was… that last part was too complex. If I had 20-30 chapters dedicated to Abi, I might have been able to make it work. But squeezed into just 10 chapters it just came across as her being indecisive, flip-flopping from one chapter to the next between wanting to be in the bunks, then out of them and then back again. It strained credibility.

Plus there’s the fact that no one would choose to return to the bunks. No one. It doesn’t matter how neat and tidy it made my narrative arc or how much thematic sense it made. The simple fact is that Abi, the character, would never return to the bunks even if you paid her and thus by shoehorning such a face-heel turn into the book I was doing her character a dis-service.

Abi might be many things, but an idiot she is not.

So instead I chose to postpone the reunion between Abi and her friend into the next book where it would happen on more even terms. The denouement of Abi’s story line changed from one of her instigating the rebellion to her actively fighting against it instead. Her story became simpler and easier to follow. A clean arc, shorn of ambiguity which (*spoilers*) ends with her becoming a hero.

Unfortunately, this leaves my original ending somewhat in limbo. There is no place in the novel now for Abi the would-be terrorist or her flip-flopping shenanigans. Thus, I present three chapters to you here. Three deleted scenes which will never make it into the book.

Click here to read deleted scene #2: Back from Exile (PDF)

Click here to read deleted scene #3: The More things Change (PDF)

Click here to read deleted scene #4: Undertakings (PDF)

As with my previous deleted scene, these chapters are far from perfect. Expect to see spelling errors, redundancies and other writerly ticks that would normally get weeded out during the editing process. Despite this, I like these chapters a lot and it’s sad I couldn’t find a place for them in the final mix. But ultimately the need of the story much come first. There is little room in multi-protagonist novels for needless complexity.

I hope you enjoy them.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 22

3 December 2014

Chapter 22: A time to stand

Length: 5,713 words

POV character: Michael, Stuart, Abi

Synopsis:

The lower classes are rebelling, the ship is in danger and the Captain’s life hangs in the balance. The only two people who can save the ship are a crippled genius imprisoned in a room that shouldn’t exist, and an outcast from society, running for her life with a stolen uniform on her back and security hot on her trail.

It seems like saving the ship is an impossible task for both of them but it’s something they have to try. Even if it kills them in the process. Even if the ship isn’t worth saving.

Notes:

The French call it the denouement: literally the unraveling. It’s that time in any story when everything comes together. The plot threads are all neatly tied off, the characters complete their arcs and the events come to a head, perhaps teasing a potential sequel with a money-hungry wink at the audience.

In many ways it’s the most important point in the story. Get it right and you end the book on a high. The reader steps away from the novel feeling invigorated and enriched by his experience. Maybe you make him start dreaming of being on similar adventures. Maybe you get him thinking about what he would do in the same situation. Either way, he is captivated and he is going to want more.

Get it wrong on the other hand and boredom, confusion and downright book-hurling anger await.

No one wants that.

The problem is, I honestly don’t know which of those categories the ending of this book falls into. I’m way to close to this thing at the moment, the writing still too rough around the edges to objectively judge. In all honesty the only thing I can say with any certainty right now is that yes, this is an ending. And yes, it ties off all the plot points in a climactic scene that hints at a sequel.

But more importantly than any of that… I just know I’m so bloody happy to have finally finished it.

Just two more chapters await me now and both of those are already in a good second-draft quality state. I’m looking forward to revisiting those chapters once more. I’m looking forward to putting this story, which has lived in my mind for half my life, finally to bed.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 20

28 October 2014

Chapter 20: Gambits

Length: 5,851 words

POV character: Abi

Synopsis:

Abi is determined to find out the truth about what’s really going on on the ship. Resorting to desperate measures, she steals an ident card from one of the most powerful men on the ship and then takes a uniform hostage. Using these two sources, Abi starts to piece together the truth but it’s a truth that’s unlike anything she was expecting to hear.

What she finds out shocks Abi to her core. But is it too late to do anything about it? Ultimately, what can she – a single terrified woman trapped between two worlds – really do when the entire fate of the human race is at stake?

Notes:

Hard to believe it’s been over a month since I last posted a chapter on here. Dear God this chapter was hard to write.

True, I’ve been ill for the last two weeks. And true I was in England recently. It’s also true that my wife and I are starting to look for a new house, and that I’m currently in the middle of being promoted. But these are only excuses designed to salvage my pride.

The truth is, I took a long time writing this chapter because I got… writer’s block.

the-writers-block-photo

Not this type of writer’s block, either

It’s one of those strange things about writing that never fails to amaze me:

Sometimes writing just seems to flow. The ideas pop out of your mind, one behind the other. It happens too fast for you to keep up sometimes. You get lost in the act of creation. It’s fun. Chapter 16 was a good example of me during one of those times. If you read the notes I made for that chapter now, you get a real sense of the swagger and verve with which I was attacking my work.

Other chapters, however… The words won’t come. It’s like trying to push out the world’s most painful bowel movement. You find yourself actively trying to procrastinate. You’d rather do anything other than tackle that Godforsaken scene.

In this case, the problem was with my outline.

You see, long before writing this book, I sat down and created an outline for it. It was a simple document (as all outlines should be) of just a few pages. It was designed to do little more than help me keep track of my characters and set the overall tone for the book. Suffice to say I have digressed from that outline multiple times during the course of writing this book but the overall shape of the story remains the same. I like outlines. Usually I find they help keep the mind focused. Just a couple of sentences is enough sometimes to prod your creative mind off in the right direction.

It keeps me motivated.

Sometimes, however, this system breaks down. Take, for example, this chapter. The ‘notes’ I had written for it were ludicrously sparse things: “Abi sneaks into Hathaway’s quarters while he’s away and finds out the truth about what’s going on on the ship. Scene ends with her running for help.”

That’s pretty much it.

Laughable, right? I mean, how could anyone think that was enough to go on? But the sad truth was, I really thought it was. After all, hadn’t I set up the events for this chapter perfectly in the last one? Hadn’t I made sure to give Abi both the motivation and the opportunity to pull off this scheme? My outline for this chapter didn’t need to be detailed because at this stage, the chapters should be practically writing themselves!

Except that they don’t.

Time after time I would sit down with my notes in front of me and the fragments of story that my earlier drafts had left me and I would try to start putting it all together. And every time, no sooner had I started writing than some inner part of me would pipe up, “This is stupid.”

“Abi shouldn’t be snooping around in Hathaway’s office!” that inner critic cried. “Why would she do that? It’s the most dangerous place on the whole ship. She wouldn’t go there at the best of times, least of all when she’s on the run from the law!”

Then I would stop writing and I would turn to that inner critic, eyes rolling and excuses already spilling from my tongue. “Trust me,” I would say. “I know this girl. I know who she is. Abi has two motivations in life right now. 1) she wants to find out what’s going on on the ship and 2) she wants to get away from those who keep trying to control her life and reclaim control for herself. In Abi’s mind, she believes she can only accomplish point 2 by doing point 1 first and so finding out the truth is her central motivation!”

“By sneaking off?” the inner critic sneered. “By snooping around? That doesn’t sound like the Abi you’ve spent the last two years writing about. That sounds like something the old version of Abi would do. The flat, two dimensional version of Abi that only exists in that sorry excuse for an outline.”

“Hey!” said my outline, slightly offended, though it didn’t say anything else. As I’ve already mentioned, it is a very short document and never has much to say for itself.

“The Abi you’ve been writing about for the last few years is better than this. She would never be so stupid as to march right into the middle of the most heavily guarded area on the ship just to satisfy her curiosity!”

“True,” I said. And somehow a whole week flew by.

“Not only that but reading about someone snooping around in a filing cabinet gets boring very quickly,” the critic added. “Surely no one would want to read what essentially amounts to a list of documents?”

“True,” I reluctantly agreed and suddenly another fortnight had gone.

“But what can I do instead?” I despaired. “This is one of those chapters which simply has to happen because it’s here that the entire central gambit is unveiled to the reader! I have to put something here! I can’t just cut it out or write around it. Abi needs to have her turning point. Her character needs to have its moment of glory. What should I do?” I asked my outline, who just shrugged at me and repeated the same short line it had been saying for the last two years. “What should I do?” I asked my inner critic.

“That’s for you to figure out,” my inner critic sniffed. In my mind’s eye I saw him sipping a glass of brandy. “I’m just here to criticize. You’re the one who’s supposed to write.”

Writer’s block is a horrible, debilitating thing. It makes you doubt yourself. It makes you doubt the story you’re trying to tell. It makes you feel like a failure.

Fortunately, there’s always a solution to any problem and in this particular case, the solution to clearing the writer’s block was to add another character. A uniform in fact – one of the people whom Abi hates the most on the whole ship. And if she is to reassert control over her life, then who better to do it with than McMullen, a character who had already briefly appeared in an earlier chapter and with whom Abi had a bone to pick. It would create a nice mini-character arc, a moment of closure and redemption in the eyes of the reader.

So instead of snooping around, I now have Abi taking the man hostage. Instead of having her looking through a filing cabinet pulling out documents, she now demands answers from him personally at gun point. It’s a much more human approach to problem solving and (most importantly) I feel it’s more interesting to read. My inner critic was satisfied. So was my outline. At least this way the plot has been salvaged.

The chapter’s done. I can finally put this whole episode behind me. Right now I feel like Zeus must have felt after giving birth to Athena via a migraine. Onwards to the future and the third act of the book…

I just hope it’s easier this time!


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 18

8 September 2014

Chapter 18: Earth Day

Length: 8,923 words

POV character: Father Estavan and Abi

Synopsis:

It’s Earth Day and time is now up for Father Estavan and Abi. Tonight is the night that the Captain will finally gather with the most powerful people on the ship and Kara will be presented before him.

The Captain suspects that there’s more going on than it seems but he is powerless to do anything about it. Instead, he welcomes Kara into her new quarters and gifts her with servants to serve at her beck and call.

With all the changes happening in her life, Kara doesn’t even need Abi anymore. But that’s just as well because Abi has errands of her own to run, ones that will soon take her deep inside the mysteries of this wedding and allow her to finally find out what’s really going on underneath all the politics once and for all.

Notes:

Oh man where to start with this chapter?

For one thing, it took me a lot longer to write than I originally planned. I’m sorry about that but this is, after all, a pivotal moment for Abi and Estavan’s characters and I needed to get it right. We’re right at the end of the second act now. This is the tipping point for many of these characters and I needed to get it right.

However… just between you and me, I’m actually getting a bit worried by all the ‘word creep’ going on lately.

My original plan for this book was that it would contain 20 chapters of 5,000 words each, bringing the total number of words to around 100,000. Why that many? Well as a first time writer, conventional wisdom says that it’s very difficult to get published if your book is longer than 100,000 words. Sure, big name authors like George R. R. Martin can get away with publishing door-stop tomes three or four times longer than this because the publishing company can be almost guaranteed to make their money back. For first time writers, however, the odds aren’t nearly as good.

Every bit of wisdom I’ve ever read on the subject has always counseled to keep your first novel short if you want to see it in print.

However, the opposite piece of wisdom is that a book needs to be as long as it needs to be in order to tell the story you’re trying to tell. And believe me this book is as long as it needs to be. I’ve already cut a lot of the fat out of this book. I’ve removed characters and whole sub-plots, often ones I’ve grown really attached to. I’ve been forced to simplify the core situation and streamline its issues in an attempt to slim the book down… I thought I’d done enough.

The sad truth is, though, that books tend to grow in the telling and I already know that this one – even with my attempts to the contrary – will run to at least 25 chapters. Additionally, as is the case of this chapter, many of these chapters are starting to run much longer than their 5,000 word limit. At this stage, I think I’ll be lucky to get the final book in under 150,000 words and that’s a very sad thing to report.

I fear another redraft may be needed after this one, one that features nothing more than me going through each line and hitting the delete key as I go. I’m really not looking forward to that.

But that’s one of the reasons why I’m ‘publishing’ the book here. These chapters are supposed to serve as a record, not only of the writing process but the actual work itself. This is a writer producing a book with the door thrown wide open. You can see the process, you can understand the reasoning, you can experience the ups and the downs, and, hopefully, you’ll get to witness the final triumph at the end.

By the way, I’ve totally fallen in love with Abi’s character after writing this chapter. Easily my favourite in the whole book. I hope you grow to love her too.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 15

5 August 2014

Chapter 15: The rules we live by

Length: 6,489

POV character: Abi

Synopsis:

The wedding approaches and Abi finds herself snowed under with all the preparations. However, as the ceremony approaches, she finds herself growing increasingly suspicious of the true motives behind the marriage. When Master-at-arms Nathan Hathaway corners her and offers her the same proposition he once offered her brother, her suspicions are proven true. But how deep does this rabbit hole really go and, more importantly, how can Abi use this information to benefit herself?

Notes:

Generally speaking, there are two ways to write scenes. You can either go the blow-by-blow route, laying out events in chronological order like you’re watching scenes in a movie. Or you can go fast, skimming over the details and focusing only on a select few moments in order to show the transition of time or, perhaps, just highlight one element of a person’s life.

The first method is good for when you’re writing key moments in a story. It gets the reader invested in the story’s ‘now’ and wanting to read more. It’s the style that most of this novel is written in. The later method, on the other hand, is better for showing just a few aspects of a character’s life. By skimming over the details, it allows you to emphasise changes in a character or situation in just a few short paragraphs that would otherwise take many traditional chapters to explain. It’s a very effective narrative tool, but I’ve found you can’t use it too much because after a while it starts to sound like exposition and that quickly gets boring for the reader.

The word ‘montage’ springs to mind. In my mind the technique should be used in much the same way as any famous movie montage, like Rocky training up before his final fight, or the Fellowship of the Ring quickly traveling across half of middle Earth in order to get to Mordor for the final showdown. All the elements are in place, the situation is set up and all the writer needs to do is get the story from the set up to the pay off as simply as possible so the reader can experience the explosive end.

This chapter is my attempt at just such a montage. It starts out in media res and it ends with a traditional blow-by-blow scene but in between there’s about 3,000 words of solid montage covering something like a month’s worth of story in just a handful of pages. I have to say, I kind of like the brisk pace of things here. It was difficult to write, particularly as there are so many elements in play at the moment I was constantly worried I might forget about something but the end justifies the means. It reminds me of the kind of pacing I used in the prologue chapter and that’s one of my favourite pieces of writing in the whole book. One day I’d love to write a whole story in this kind of broad strokes style.

But not today.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 13

9 July 2014

Chapter 13 – Life on the Outside

Length: 8,986 words

POV: Brent / Abi

Synopsis:

Down in the bunks, Dawn is still reeling from Abi’s betrayal. Furious, she goes to Abi’s brother for help only to find that he too is plotting a breakout of his own – except that his comes in the form of a bloody rebellion that will soon see the unspoken rioting en masse and wrecking havoc across the ship.

Meanwhile, Abi is adapting to life outside the bunks. It’s much harder than she imagined. Not only is she wracked by guilt over what she needed to do in order to escape the bunks but she finds herself hated by everyone she meets, talked down to even by the girl whose life she saved and physically abused by the men in uniform who will only ever see her unspoken. Fortunately Father Estavan is on hand to provide a shoulder to cry on.

Notes:

OK so first thing’s first: yes this chapter is rather on the long side and yes it’s very talky. My plan when writing this was that it would serve as a way for us to step back after the chaos of the last few chapters and take a moment to consider how all these events are affecting our main characters.

Like all things, however, it kind of grew in the telling.

For example, the opening section from Brent’s POV is all new. As in, completely brand new. It didn’t exist just two days ago – not even in note form and I only finished writing it about an hour ago. If the writing in this part seems a little rougher than the rest then… well, that’s because it is. I spent a lot of time going back and forth on the idea of whether adding it was even necessary or not and if adding another POV to the mix was a good idea, but eventually I decided that it should be included. Abi left the bunks during an Estavan chapter, so we never really got the chance to see how her abandoning Dawn played out. It was important to show the aftermath. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out and this way there’s a nice thematic contrast between Dawn inside the bunks and Abi outside.

On a more negative note, I did have some issues with characterisation in this chapter. Once again, the culprit here was the need to change characters. You see, the plan originally was that Dawn did indeed leave the bunks along with Abi and that consequently it was she who Abi is talking with in the opening scene instead of Kara. However, not only did this mean that I then had to find something for Dawn to do after she’d escaped but that something kept getting in the way of Abi’s story. It also meant that the relationship between Abi and Dawn was kind of overshadowing Kara, who, less we forget, is the girl that’s about to marry the Captain. A far more important plot point to focus on.

So… I changed it. Dawn’s dialogue moved to Kara and in turn, of course, it had to be heavily rewritten due to how different Dawn and Kara are as people. I think I managed to make it work but in all honesty, Kara is a very difficult character to pin down at the best of times so I’m still not 100% happy with my efforts. She’s one of those characters who is both quiet and innocent but at the same time harbours a real bitchy side. It’s hard to get a balance between those two halves especially when she’s filling in the part left by another character.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 8

5 June 2014

Chapter 8 – Breaking out

Length: 5,378

POV character: Abi

Synopsis:

Events in the bunks reach a head when the new girl is attacked in the lunch queue and Abi is forced to come to her rescue. Now there is blood on Abi’s hands, a whole block has been torched and there are uniforms hot on their trail. Thanks to Dawn’s contacts, the three girls are able to hide themselves away until it all blows over but still the question remains: what to do with this new girl now that they’ve got her in their debt? And how can she be used to escape from the bunks forever?

Notes:

A fun chapter to write but a difficult one to get down correctly. I must have tinkered with the opening section in which Charity’s cronies set fire to the new girl’s bunk well over a dozen times before finally hitting on the current version.

Again, my reason for this lies with my natural dislike of writing action (I’ve always been more of a dialogue guy) and my desire to make things not come across as too farfetched, (as they can often become if I’m not careful).

In the process of all that tiptoeing around making sure everything slots logically into place, I appear to have accidentally created a bunch of colourful side characters in the form of Charity’s cronies, every one of which I’ve really grown to like and not a single one of whom we will ever be hearing from again (probably). To be honest, I’ve got pretty mixed feelings about that fact. On the one hand, I’ve really grown to like a few of them (especially the pyromaniac Sparks, who I’m quite honestly fascinated by) and I really want to see what else these guys will get up to now that there’s a power vacuum in the bunks. On the other hand, I know I’m going to have to fight hard against that inner fanboy of mine in order to keep the book on track. God only knows I don’t need yet another sub-plot or (heaven forbid) POV character running around on top of everything else.

Lots to think about here but luckily it’s a good sort of dilemma to have.