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.


Returning to the Arkship Ulysses

20 July 2015

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.

Needless to say, the whole endeavor was a labour of love from beginning to end. Writing on the Arkship Ulysses spanned nearly 5 whole years – a depressingly long chunk of time to devote to telling a story I’ve had going round my head since I was 14 years old but a necessary one.

712L The Observers web

I have no idea why I keep using this picture to illustrate the Arkship Ulysses. I guess I just like it

The end result was good, although I’d be lying if I said it ended up close to what I originally envisioned. For one thing, it was a lot longer than expected, so much so that I had to cut the story in two and add in a sequel I’ve been trying to plot out ever since. At least 2 major characters were chopped out of the final cut, one of whom was originally supposed to be the book’s hero. There were whole chapters that I’ve even talked about on this blog that never made it into the final edit.

Still, I have to count it as a success overall, not least because it actually received an honest-to-God review online! And believe me: for an unpublished, unknown author like myself to receive any sort of unsolicited attention is a very rare and humbling thing indeed.

A couple of choice quotes from The Finder’s Saga review linked above:

“Burgess story and writing are epic. The chapters are long but the writing rich with description and dialog.”

“I find the plot intriguing and the characters strong, rich and multidimensional. The characters have motivations, fears, hope and all the emotions necessary for a rich story.”

“I find his setting descriptions and the background story believable and essential to the plot.”

Those are all really nice things to say about my work and I’m honestly chuffed to bits and extremely humbled that The Finder’s Saga would commit an entire blog post just to talking about yours truly. One of these days I’ll return the favour man, I promise.

And by the way, reading nice things about myself: Strangest. Feeling. Ever.

Special thanks to The Finder's Saga for the really kind words

Special thanks to The Finder’s Saga for the really kind words. It was very humbling

Anyway, in his book On Writing, Stephen King says it’s often a good idea to let a novel sit for a few months after you’ve finished writing it before you start with the redraft. He says that when you first finish working on a novel, you’re too close to it. You’re too invested in the characters and too close to the story to have any sort of objective opinion about it.

He recommends taking a step back and leaving it in a drawer for a few months while you work on other things.

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

It has now been six months since I last wrote about the Arkship Ulysses. In the meantime I have, in accordance with King’s advice, been doing other things. Lots of other things. Now, finally, I think I’m ready to jump back in to this beast and make some much-needed (and final) edits.

“What edits?” I hear you cry.

Well as it happens I actually made a list of patch notes whilst writing the first draft in anticipation of this day. These are basically moments during the writing process in which I was aware of contradicting myself but didn’t want to go back and fix them in the interests of moving things forwards. The list I’m about to print here probably won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the book as closely as I have but hopefully it will put into context just how much redraft work needs to be done.

In short, it will involve writing one completely new chapter and extending two more as well as numerous other fixes which will mostly involve a lot of CTRL+H work.

writers-block

Note: I will not actually be using a typewriter to make these edits

Fixes needed are:

  1. Make Nathan Hathaway Master-at-arms not Chief of Marines
  2. Don’t kill Tundra until chapter 15
  3. In chapter 14, Rutherford tells Kara that she’s due to move into the Captain’s quarters – not ones that he himself is funding
  4. Change Ramiel Sullivan to Gabriel Sullivan throughout.
  5. In chapter 17, it is taking place on the morning of Earth Day not the evening. People are still getting ready and when he listens to the Captain, he’s talking about how nervous he is about meeting Kara for the first time and whether he really needs to. He’s told it’s mandatory.
  6. It’s Commander Fletcher, not Albright
  7. Stuart when he goes to Oxley: he is publicly thrown out but still secretly helped. Oxley sends Sarah to give Stuart a map. ‘The best nodes can be found here’. And then they share a shot of something (this contains the gene seed for the Metapath). Stuart perhaps vaguely guesses this near the end of the book but it’s not until the sequel that all becomes clear.
  8. Remove the character of Rutherford. Where he currently exists, make it all Nathan Hathaway. Put Rutherford as a far more professional soldier type. Keeping his superior’s secrets and covering up for him out of loyalty. A much better replacement for him in the second book when he takes over as master-at-arms. It’s Rutherford that interrogates Stuart, not Hathaway
  9. Give each department head a cool-sounding naval name. Boatswain (chief of maintenance) for example. Chaplain, Master Shipwright (chief engineer), Wardmaster (medical), Ordnance, pursers (administration), etc.
  10. Show Estavan getting pulled away for interrogation better than currently

As well as generally giving it a spit and polish and cutting its length by at least 5%.

Additional scenes to add:

  1. Before being rescued from the bunks. A scene where Abi is burying her father. Her friends gather around her wrapping up his body and leaving it out for the priest. There’s nothing left to keep her here now, she thinks. Its time she makes a break for freedom. Brent is marveling over Kara. This is the girl the uniforms are all het up over? Dawn reveals her plan to use her. He offers to take her in to show the Gentleman. They’re putting an army together. Plans to attack the ship. Abi rolls her eyes at the words. It’s all show boating, she thinks. Still she gives the uprising her blessing. He’s angry now about father’s death. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.
  2. After visiting the bunks to try and see Dawn. Abi goes looking for what remains of her old life. There is little left. Her old quarters are all in the hands of the Oxleys. She manages to look up Stuart in the directory but his quarters are deserted. They are tiny and a mess. Equations everywhere. Old ship parts he was tinkering with. She finds a small box tucked away under the bed containing the old family crest. She remembers how it used to adorn her father’s chest when he still wore the uniform of master shipwright. Remembers him cold beneath the touch as they laid his body out to be collected by priests. She takes it with her.
    Outside she runs into the landlady who scowls at her. Says Stuart is two weeks late paying his rent. She’s going to kick him out. She thinks Abi is a whore he’s hired. She takes the box of goods from Abi. Abi protests. I’m his sister. But the landlady takes one look at the number on her arm and shoos her away. Abi returns to her quarters alone. That’s when she cries.
  3. Final chapter to resolve everything. The Captain sits in his quarters going over the reports coming in. The ship is a mess, the nobility are at each other’s throats in outrage and he doesn’t know who to trust anymore. He trusts Abi, however, for reasons Abi doesn’t understand. He asks her to help him find a genuine long-term solution to the issue with the bunks. He reinstates House Leighton which his father pulled down years ago. He names her ambassador to the bunks. Abi reluctantly accepts.
work-in-progress

“A movie is never finished, only abandoned.” – George Lucas. Suffice to say, it’s the same with books.

Phew! Well anyway, that’s all for now. I’m going to give myself 3 months to make all of the changes listed above. At the very least I hope to be done by my birthday when I can finally start sending this thing off for submission and working on another novel instead. As always I will post my progress here.

I also plan to start posting some deleted scenes on here which never made it into the final cut. Think of them as Director Bonuses if you will, a nice little extra for those of you who have been following me this far.

Watch this space!


Short story: The Girl who Cried Glass (Before)

27 April 2015

crystalsRecently I shared with you an old story which I pulled back from the grave to submit for a writing competition.

It seemed to go down pretty well around here so, one month later, I’ve decided to try the same thing again this time with another of the many old stories cluttering up my hard drive.

The Girl Who Cried Glass was originally written during one of my more pretentious writing phases. It was right around that time when I was finishing university and it co-coincided with an increased level of confidence in my abilities that never quite matched my actual talent. The story is typical of my work at the time: over-sentimental, devoid of plot, and too in love with the sound of its own voice to bother saying anything worthwhile. All in all, a complete mess.

Click here to read The Girl who Cried Glass (PDF)

computer-human6

The story itself is a science fiction tale about a woman who is part computer, part human. Like all so-called Metapaths, she has been designed to act as a kind of human-computer interface that allows for far more efficient computer-human interactions than is possible with a mouse and keyboard alone. Thanks to her literally being able to think in hexadecimal code, Metapaths like her are able to give extremely clean and coherent commands to a computer. And, in turn, because of her human appearance and her ability to hold a conversation, she is able to better explain and analyze any output far more easily than a computer can. Win-win all round.

The hero of the story finds herself neither human or machine. Like any human she longs to find a purpose to her life. Like any machine she longs for order. Instead all she gets are sexual advances from older men who just want to use her as bragging rights as the latest technological gadget.

If all of this sounds very familiar to long-time readers then I’m not surprised: it’s an idea I literally stole from myself for use in the Arkship Ulysses.

Do I feel bad about stealing from myself? Not really. As you can see for yourself, The Girl who Cried Glass is a crap story with an even worse name. However, I do feel there is a good idea buried in there somewhere which I’d like to explore in more detail. For one thing, a shift to the third person would better emphasize the main character’s lack of identity. Getting rid of the flashback portion of the story would help even out the flow of the story and developing the dialogue between the two characters in the restaurant at the beginning would better help flesh out a story which is (ironically) in need of humanization.

All of which means completely rewriting this story from scratch. As always I’ll post back the results here when I’m done.

Oh and a final note on the title for this story: The Girl who Cried Glass was the name of a documentary by the same name which was on TV at about the same time I originally wrote this story (I did look for the documentary again before posting but it looks as though it hasn’t been uploaded yet. However, a shorter video about the same girl can be found here). I have no idea why I used this documentary as the title for my story. I guess it just goes to show the mindset I was in at the time.

As always comments and criticism are welcome.


What next for the Arkship Ulysses?

21 January 2015

A few weeks ago I finished writing a book. As you can imagine, I was pretty proud of this fact.

The book was longer than I originally planned it to be and I finished it well behind schedule, but I still think it’s a pretty good read for a first timer like myself. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly suggest you go right now and check out the sample chapters available on this website.

Now, that the writing part is finished, however, the real work begins.

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books titled "aMAZEme" at the Royal Festival Hall in central London

So many books…

Any writer will tell you that getting published in today’s market is a brutally hard business.

In some ways the book industry has never been healthier than it is now – almost 1 million books were published last year in the US alone according to some estimates and new ones are being published all the time on every conceivable topic. At the same time, however, the trade paperback and hardback markets, as they have existed for decades of years, are dying. ‘E-reading’ and ‘self-publishing’ are the buzz words of today’s age. Outside a tiny pool of best-selling authors whose work is guaranteed to sell, the vast majority of writers find their work homeless and unloved, doomed to wonder the fringes of the slushpile for all eternity. Just more noise in a market that’s already screaming its head off.

Believe me, I am aware of these facts. They are depressing, sure, but I made my peace with them a long time ago.

The trouble is, sitting back and analyzing a situation from afar is one thing. Getting close and personal with it is something else entirely. So, for example, I can look at something like the Artists and Writer’s handbook and I can see that almost no agents or publishers are interested in science fiction. I can look at the current books sales for science fiction and see how poor they are. I can look at the list of best-selling science fiction books and notice how little there is from the last 20 years…

And yet, I still have to try. After all, I promised myself I would.

writing_humour_synopsis-scaled500So let’s get down to business: all publishers and agents ask for 3 things when submitting them work.

First of all, three sample chapters. Done. Finished. Easy as pie.

Next, a one-page synopsis. This is a brief 600-word summary of your entire book boiled down to its core elements. In my case, my book had to shed a lot of weight to get to this target. I’m literally covering several chapters with every sentence here. I don’t even mention one of the main characters at all and in my attempt to boil the plot down to an understandable core, it loses almost all of its themes of religion and faith which are some of the core concepts of the book. I won’t tell you how long this took to write. The answer is too depressing.

You can find the finished synopsis below. Spoilers for anyone planning on reading the finished book:

The Arkship Ulysses is all that remains of a once-vast fleet of ships that fled the Earth a thousand years ago. Today, the ship is a shambles: overpopulated and barely functional. Its Captain is a lame duck and its crew has devolved into a pseudo-feudal system of powerful families vying for power.Abi Leighton, a young girl with a sharp mind and an even sharper temper, once belonged to such a family. For the last five years, however, she has lived a life of disgrace as one of the so-called Unspoken. She works like a slave, she lives in squalor, and, due to a ship-wide food crisis, there is talk of an uprising all around her. She is determined to crawl her way out of this hell hole and back into civilization where she belongs as soon as possible.

When she meets a beautiful girl named Kara, in whom the nobles seem to be paying far too much attention, Abi thinks she might have found her golden ticket. Abi watches over the new girl, slowly gaining her trust by saving her life from an attack by a local gang and teaching her how to survive.

Through this girl, Abi learns of a plot to end hostilities by marrying the Captain – the most powerful man in the universe – to one of the Unspoken. In this way, they claim, the masses will be shown a glimmer of hope that will motivate them to return to work and quit their talk of rebellion.

Armed with this knowledge, Abi uses Kara’s safety to buy her way to freedom. Thanks to her noble upbringing she is able to wheedle her way into a job working as the girl’s personal tutor. She quickly regains money and standing for herself. However, back in society Abi finds herself shunned by the very people she once called friends. There is nothing left of the life she once had and the situation on the ship turns out to be far worse than she imagined. The food crisis is spiraling out of control. It’s obvious that the noble families are plotting something big.

Abi bides her time until the day the Captain is due to meet with Kara for the first time. While the eyes of the ship are distracted, she steals an ident card from a high ranking officer and uses it to break into a secure area. There she discovers that the talk of rebellion wasn’t just talk after all: it was an idea planted among the Unspoken by spies working for the nobility. They want the Unspoken to rebel. They want the ship in chaos. And they want it to happen at the exact moment that Kara is being shown to the Captain for the first time.

In a flash, Abi realises what’s happening: someone is going to assassinate the Captain and blame it on the Unspoken, thus gaining the support needed to dispose of them forever. With fewer mouths to feed, the food crises would be over. That person would be a hero, in prime position to take control following the Captain’s demise.

With no time to lose, Abi runs to the Captain’s quarters, arriving just in time to stop the ringleader before he can go through with his plan. However, this victory has comes at a terrible cost. With the ringleader now dead, there is no one left who knows the plan to stop the riot when the Unspoken break out on cue and start ransacking their way across the ship.

Thanks to some fast thinking on Abi’s part, the Captain and his few remaining allies are able to bottle up the Unspoken but it’s obvious that this is only a short-term solution. Abi has saved the Captain’s life but she may just have doomed the ship in the process.

The Captain, not knowing who else to trust, charges Abi with a new task: that of finding a real solution to the food crisis that doesn’t involve killing off one third of its population. Abi suddenly finds herself thrust into the centre of attention, possibly the most important person on the whole ship.

The Arkship Ulysses is the first book in a planned series. It is a 150,000 word fantasy in space, along the lines of Frank Herbert’s Dune or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

The final thing all agents ask for is a cover letter and luckily this part is pretty straight forward. Any agent that’s been in the industry longer than a couple of days will know exactly what they are looking at as soon as they open your envelope so they really don’t need a lot of waffle. All they really care about you is that you’re not a nut job and that you have a book for them to read. Hopefully, I can prove both of those facts in one, easy to read letter.

Dear X,

I am looking for an agent to represent my book, The Arkship Ulysses. It is a 150,000-word epic fantasy in space along the lines of Frank Herbert’s Dune or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire that would be the first in a series of books.

The Arkship Ulysses tells the story of the last surviving ship that fled the dying Earth when the rest of humanity died out. After a thousand years of wondering the cosmos, the ship is in a bad way. Things are falling apart, nothing works, the crew are demotivated and its civilian population is starving. Our hero is a young girl who has fallen on hard times. Her attempt to climb back into high society while all around her is falling to pieces forms the backbone of the narrative.

I am an English teacher living in Wroclaw, Poland. I am relatively new to the writing business but last year I had two short stories published in various anthologies. While at university I won the in-house ‘Edner Fuller’ prize for my fiction. I hope to now take my writing to the next level.

I enclose a brief synopsis and the first three chapters of The Arkship Ulysses for your consideration. I
would be happy to send you the full manuscript if and when appropriate. I enclose an SAE but you do not need to return the manuscript.

Please contact me if you need more information. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have or revise the novel as necessary. Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely,

R J Burgess

Lastly, of course, I need a contact list. Here are the agents I will be hitting first. I’ve chosen them simply because they all a) are UK-based and b) specifically target writers of genre fiction. They are:

  1. Anubis Literary Agency
  2. Michael Berenti Literary Management
  3. Mic Cheetham Associates
  4. Dorian Literary Agency
  5. Sheil Land Associates Ltd.
  6. The Standen Literary Agency

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

 


Merry Christmas everyone!

24 December 2014

Merry Christmas to all my readers!

decorated-christmas-tree-widescreen-765740

It’s been a long hard year full of ups and downs, and now is the time to sit back and reflect on all that’s happened. Pour yourself a glass of your favourite bubbly, turn on the TV and and do your best impression of a sack of potatoes while stuffing yourself full of turkey and chocolate.

Because that’s what Christmas is all about!

And as my own little Christmas gift to you all, as promised here are the final two parts of the Arkship Ulysses:

Not much to say about these chapters except that they are done and with that, the Arkship Ulysses is also done and I am very happy about both of these facts. One final spell check and re-formatting notwithstanding this book is now done and dusted and ready for submission.

It’s a strange feeling writing these words. I believe it was George Lucas who once said that no film is ever finished, it’s just abandoned. That’s kind of how I feel about this book. Looking at what I’ve written, I can see so many points that could do with fine tuning. There are sentences to be trimmed, dialogue to be retooled, descriptions to be neatened out and rephrased… But that’s all detail work to be talked over with an editor. The fact remains that this book is complete in a structural and plot sense and that means this is now a great time to ‘abandon’ this particular book into the wild.

As long-time readers of my blog will know, this book has been a bit of an experiment on my part since I’ve been ‘publishing’ it here at the same time as I was writing it. I did this in the hopes that doing so would help give my readers a better insight into how a book is written and also give me a place to vent my frustrations when things inevitably went wrong.

Now that it’s finished, however, I must start to put the commercial aspects of my book first. Therefore, I shall be removing all chapters from my blog later today (with the exception of these three teaser chapters). So if you haven’t finished reading it all yet, now is a good time to catch up (unless you like the idea of waiting until it’s on sale in a book shop somewhere). 🙂

Here’s to a fantastic Christmas for everyone. Cheers!


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 23

19 December 2014

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.


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.