Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

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

Luckily the editing process isn’t quite this tedious

As promised in my most recent blog post, I’m currently hard at work redrafting my novel the Arkship Ulysses for what will absolutely, definitely be the final time. Probably.

In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of the scenes which never made it into the final cut.

As with any long-form piece of work, writing a novel often involves a lot of trial and error. It’s difficult to know exactly where a story is going when you sit down to write it and of course that inevitably results a lot of extra material which never sees the light of day.

How much extra material you ask? Well let me put it this way: the first draft of my novel completed in December 2012 was about 250,000 words long. The second draft, completed December 2014 was 160,000 words long.

Yeah, that’s a lot.

Now before I do this please be aware of a couple of things:

  1. The writing in these extracts isn’t fully polished. This is very much a work-in-progress here so expect to see a lot of repetitions, redundancies and other writerly ticks that the editing process normally takes care of
  2. These scenes no longer have any place in the book. It’s not like you can easily slot them into some place in the novel and have them make sense. Unfortunately things have moved around so much by this point that these scenes no longer fit without significant re-writes to their entry points.

All clear? OK so without any further ado I give you deleted scene #1.

Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

Click here to read Deleted Scene #1: The Black Sea (PDF).

This ‘scene’ (actually 4,000 words long, which is long enough to make it a chapter in its own right) is the telling of an old Earth legend. The story Susan tells Stuart in this chapter is a simple one but it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for because of how thematically resonant it is with the rest of the book as well as with Stuart’s character arc as a whole.

It also tells us a lot about the back-story of this world without being extremely in-your-face about it. I’ve always liked it when the world building of novels is done by the reader as much as it is by the writer and this story is, I feel, a perfect example of this. When you read it you get a real sense for the role of faith in people’s lives and how the citizens of the Ulysses perceive their religion as well as the catastrophe which stranded them among the stars in the first place.

As you can probably tell from the way I’m talking about this scene, I really like it a lot and I honestly wrestled with it a long time before finally deciding to delete it. Despite how much I enjoy it, it is ultimately 4,000 words of what is essentially filler and I can’t really justify that in a book that’s already well over its recommended length.

Anyway, if you’re interested in keeping score, this scene would have taken place during what is now Chapter 24: The Metapath. It even ends in a very similar way.

I hope you enjoy 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). πŸ™‚

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.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 21

25 November 2014

Chapter 21: Breakout

Length: 5,342 words

POV characters: Dawn and Stuart

Summary:

Chaos has engulfed the ship. The unspoken – long the down trodden slave race of the Arkship Ulysses – have risen up as one and are reaping havoc among the God-fearing civilian population for the first time in centuries. The only person who has any hope of stopping them is Stuart Leighton who, thanks to his connection with the ship and the Metapath gene that dwells inside him, has a unique insight into the crisis unfolding below. However, he finds himself frustrated at every turn, unable to work without the support of the woman who is holding him captive who is still suspicious of his motives.

With no tools at his disposal or help on his side, Stuart can only watch as the unspoken sweep through the lower decks. But things are about to get a whole lot worse when the ship’s Master-At-Arms, the arrogant Commander Nathan Hathaway, finally springs a trap he’s been building for months: a trap which involves the Captain and the Captain’s new bride-to-be, and an assassination attempt that will shake the ship’s hierarchy to its very core…

Notes:

Not much to say about this one except to say that I wrote it from scratch over the last couple of weeks so the writing might be a bit rougher round the edges than some of my more polished efforts.

It’s also worth noting why I haven’t updated you for a while on my progress and despite what you might think, for once it’s not due to any sort of writer’s block but rather the exact opposite. I’ve actually been writing like a mad man over the last couple of weeks, getting well ahead of myself and even forging on right to the end of the novel, which is something I’m thrilled to be able to report.

After this chapter only three more remain and they all exist in at least first draft form. A quick read-through, another week of redrafts for them and hopefully this novel will finally be put to bed.

I’m very excited about it.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 19

29 September 2014

Chapter 19: Something new

POV character: Stuart

Length: 5,686 words

Synopsis:

It’s Earth Day and in the Captain’s quarters the beautiful unspoken girl Kara is finally unveiled to the gathered nobility. She is to be the Captain’s future wife – the so-called savior of the ship and all its woes. But not everyone is happy about it.

Stuart watches from his hiding place, fascinated by the events unfolding in the rooms below. He wants to keep watching and find out what happens next but unfortunately there are more pressing concerns. His captor is becoming increasingly suspicious of Stuart. She questions him, pressing him for answers that come a little too close to unveiling his secret.

At the same time, Stuart’s connection with the ship is starting to unravel. He knows that he needs to fix these rooms quickly if he is to have any hope of stabilizing the connection, but to do that he’s going to need to get rid of his captor.

Stuart finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place, forced to tread a difficult middle ground between the woman’s inquiry and the voice’s erratic demands to simply wash his hands of her and walk away for good.

Notes:

I know – you don’t need to say anything. This chapter is extremely late in coming.

No excuses. True, I’ve been late with chapters before but this one was more than two weeks overdue. Two weeks! I’m sure on the surface it just looks like I’m slouching, especially considering the post I made not two months ago about how well my progress has been going of late. I’m sure you guys are just rolling your eyes thinking, “See? I knew he’d mess up.”

I know it’s what I’m thinking about myself.

What makes it even more frustrating is that I’m almost certainly going to miss my original deadline of finishing this book by my birthday. In fact, at my current writing speed I’ll be lucky to get it out before Christmas. That makes me sad to report.

So why the sudden slow down?

Well there are a number of reasons, a couple of which I’ll be posting about later this week, but the main reason is simply due to the fact that writing an ending is much harder than I thought it would be.

And to be fair, I had no way of knowing that in advance. I mean, I’ve written a lot of beginnings over the years. Dozens of the things. I have whole folders full of files on my PC made up of nothing more than novels I started and then abandoned long ago. It’s safe to say at this point that when it comes to writing story openings, I am something of a master. I’m pretty good at middles too.

Endings though? Not so much. In fact, this will be just the third time that I’ve reached one.

George R. R. Martin once said that writing a novel is a bit little going on a train journey. You know where your train is starting from and you know where your journey is going to end but you don’t know much about the journey in between. You don’t know, for example, what stations you’ll be stopping at. You don’t know what interesting people you might see on the train. You know nothing about the scenery you’ll be passing through. All you know is where you’re starting and where you’ll finish. The rest you leave to the journey.

I’ve always felt much the same way with my own writing. For me, the end of the story is usually one of the first things that pops into my head when I’m still in the drafting stage. First I come up with an interesting setting. Then I’ll place a character into that setting and – pow, just like that – there’s a story with a logical end materializing before my eyes. It’s like entering a complex sum into a calculator. You already know what the answer is because it’s written there on the screen.

Now you just need to show your workings.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I always assumed that just because I knew what the ending of this book was going to be, it would somehow make it easier to write. I’ve spent such a long time battling with this novel’s middle section. I’ve chopped out whole characters. I’ve rewritten huge chunks of the plot and completely reworked how A gets to B. It was a really hard slog but in the back of my mind I would always be thinking, “At least I know where my ending is. All I need to do is write X more chapters and then I’ll be there!”

Often it was the sole thought that kept me writing.

Now I realise the truth. Just because I know what’s going to happen in my book, doesn’t make it any easier to write. I still have loads of plot threads to tie up. I still have momentum to maintain. I have secrets to reveal and pages to keep turning. I have readers to satisfy.

Writing an ending is hard.

But – and this is important – at least I know that I will get there eventually. Because the fact is that I am near the end and I do know what’s going to happen when I get there. At this point I know that there aren’t going to be anymore surprises. There aren’t going to be any random characters appearing out of nowhere or sudden sub-plots taking the story in some whole new direction. For the first time, I’m writing with my face fully turned in the direction I’m traveling. It’s terrifying and it’s a lot of hard work but for the first time I can finally see that train station looming into view.

I just need to get the train there now. Even if it means getting out and giving it a push.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 17

25 August 2014

Chapter 17: In High Places

POV: Stuart

Length: 5,013 words

Synopsis:

Stuart continues to recover from his earlier ordeal. It’s a long process and it’s made even worse by just how terrible the situation he’s in truly is.

Missing a leg. Trapped in a room at the top of the ship. Held at the mercy of a strange woman who won’t even tell him her name. There’s a voice in his head that only Stuart can hear andΒ  strange powers to control the ship seemingly manifesting themselves in his brain. It’s a terrifying experience and it all leads Stuart to wonder, what, really, is happening to him?

Now, Stuart intends to find out.

Notes:

As you can no doubt tell from the lack of updates lately on any subject other than my novel, I’m getting pretty darned invested in this book.

In fact, strike that, I’ll even go as far as to say I’m getting excited. And with good reason: the end is in sight! Finally, once and for all, I can look at this book and know for sure that it will soon be finished. Believe me, that is an amazing thing to say. I’ve spent the better part of my life scooting around this world in my mind, trying to write a great epic story out of the fragments of my frustrated teenage imagination. I’ve always known there was a story here waiting to be told but until very recently the actual shape of that story remained elusive.

In his book On Writing, Steven King talked about a story being a little like discovering a fossil buried in the ground. At first you’re only vaguely aware of it. You stumble across some hint of it – maybe a fragment of bone sticking up above the sand, or just a vague hump that shouldn’t be there – and you have some inkling that something is down there, you just don’t know what. So you dig out the pieces and you see how big it is. You try to put the pieces together and you discover it’s a dinosaur. There’s a lot of trial and error involved and the chances of failure are high.

Writing this book, I’ve really come to understand what King meant by those words. I’ve been digging in the excavation site of my imagination for a long time now but until very recently I was never sure what the eventual dinosaur (story) was going to look like. How many pieces did it contain? Was it, in fact, one big fossil or several smaller ones jumbled together? Would the fossil hold up under its own power? Would people be interested in paying to see it? If not, would they be more interested in looking at it if I painted it pink and dressed it in a top hat? And so on.

Well now, I’m happy to report, I know the answer to some of those questions and for the first time I’ve got all the pieces of dinosaur out of the ground, cleaned up and ready for assembly. It’s a very exciting thing to experience.

One final push — a few more chapters and this beast will finally be ready to unveil to the world. Pink paint and top hat on standby.