The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 19

29 September 2014

Chapter 20: Something new

POV character: Stuart

Length: 5,686 words

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

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 18

8 September 2014

Chapter 18: Earth Day

Length: 8,923 words

POV character: Father Estavan and Abi

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

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 17

25 August 2014

Chapter 17: In High Places

POV: Stuart

Length: 5,013 words

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

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 and  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.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 16

11 August 2014

Chapter 16: To the Top

POV character: Dawn

Length: 5,211 words

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Down in the bunks, tensions are rising. Following the death of Charity and the New Girl’s disappearance (seen in this chapter), a turf war has kicked off among the remaining capos . Dawn intends to put a stop to it. A momentous day is fast approaching – a planned breakout that will sweep across the bunks and bring down the feudal regime that has given the unspoken nothing but grief for so long – and Dawn intends to be riding at the crest of that wave when it comes. All she needs to do is restore order to the bunks first.

Pulling in every contact and favour she has left, Dawn hits the turf war full on, kidnapping one of the capos, starting a fight with another and causing instant chaos between the warring gangs with the sole intent of bringing the bunks into line. It’s going to be tough to get out of this one alive but fortunately, Dawn has a plan…

Notes:

What’s this? A brand new chapter? One that didn’t even exist in any form whatsoever as little as a week ago?

Well, yes, that’s the nice thing about redrafts, you see. It’s time consuming as all hell and sometimes you wonder why you’re even bothering with it when you could just be off writing something fresh and new but then there are those moments when it fully justifies itself. Suddenly you find yourself exploring a brand new plot avenue you’d previously overlooked and suddenly the whole novel benefits as a result.

That’s what happened here. In previous drafts, all of the events of this chapter happened off-page, referred to only in expository dialogue from the likes of Commander Hathaway and Abi. It worked but it didn’t exactly make for a page-turning read and their import often threatened to get lost among all the other pages of exposition.

In a way, I blame George R. R. Martin for that. A Song of Ice and Fire has had a huge impact on the writing of this novel, especially with regards to its pacing and characterisation, but that influence hasn’t always been a good one. In the case of POVs, for example. Martin writes with a clear structure: each chapter is written from the point of view of a single POV and one POV only. He has a set of about 20 characters through whose eyes we can see the story unfold and he never deviates from this core.

As a result, it never occurred to me to actually show the reader Dawn’s rise to power simply because Dawn wasn’t one of my POV characters before. Abi, Stuart, Father Estavan, the Captain: these are the heroes through whose eyes my story is being told. The idea of writing just one chapter from a new POV simply never occured to me.

In this case, however, it needed to be done. The needs of the story come first after all. I owed it to these characters and the situation I’d established to show these events first hand.

This chapter was also a chance to indulge myself a little. Keen-eyed readers will remember during my notes for this chapter that I kind of fell in love with some of the smaller characters during the redraft process. At the time I lamented the fact that I’d done all this character building only to never get the chance to show these people again. Well, now they’re all back and their inclusion in this chapter creates a nice capping off point to the whole ‘unspoken’ story arc that started in chapter 2 and finally gets its payoff here.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. If the writing seems a little rough around the edges here then that’s only because it is! At this stage, this chapter is little more than a polished second draft but hopefully it’s a fun one for all that.

Also, hey, it’s a chapter made up almost 100% by women. If this book were ever made into a movie, you can be sure it would pass the Bechdel test.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 15

5 August 2014

Chapter 15: The rules we live by

Length: 6,489

POV character: Abi

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

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 14

21 July 2014

Chapter 14:  The Black Sea

Length: 4,292 words

POV character: Stuart

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

After the ordeals of the last few chapters, Stuart is in a bad way. Battered and exhausted, he awakes in a strange room to find himself at the mercy of a complete stranger who shouldn’t even exist. It’s clear that this woman doesn’t trust Stuart and only saved his life so she could get answers out of him and even clearer that she doesn’t like the answers Stuart gives. Now Stuart is living on borrowed time. He needs to find a way to get this mysterious woman onto his side as soon as possible and find this room he’s been searching for once and for all. The voice in his head is becoming unstable and Stuart worries what will happen if it’s left unchecked for too long. 

Notes:

One of the most interesting things when writing something of this size is the relationship that you, the writer, start to form with your own creation. Of course you grow attached to your characters — that much is a given — but it’s actually the connection you start to form with the individual plot points of your story that resonates with you more strongly.

It’s a strange feeling to describe.

I mean, the goal when writing any book is that the chapters will eventually flow into each other with no discernible break in style. As a reader you often find you can gloss over whole chapters of the book at a time without really missing much, skipping some POVs that maybe you’re not so interested in and only becoming truly invested in the story during those pivotal climactic moments. As a writer, however, it’s a very different experience. Sometimes it’s the climactic chapters that interest you the least and its the quieter ones that take up most of your time.

I think I’ve already explained how some of the chapters in this book were the equivalent of pulling teeth. Those chapters were painful experiences in which I’d find myself going over them again and again, tweaking and rewriting things to try to fix a certain problem only to discover that two new problems had somehow appeared for every one I fixed.

Then you get chapters like this one: a joy to write from beginning to end. I honestly couldn’t tell you where this difference comes from.

I will, however, say that this meeting between Stuart and this mystery woman was one of the first things I ever conceived when writing this story. From the beginning, something about it just chimed a chord with me and it was always one of the moments I was most looking forward to writing.

As a reader, you might be a bit confused by that reaction. I mean, on the surface of things, this chapter is nothing special — man wakes up in a strange place and there’s a strange women with him — but there’s a lot going on below the surface that makes the chapter so interesting to me. Character things. Thematic things. Things which resonate with me on a personal level. Some of these things will be revealed over the coming chapters, while other will have to remain in the book’s subtext but either way, I honestly can’t wait to explore this relationship further.

After all, for Stuart, the immediate danger might be over but a whole bigger mystery is about to unfold…


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 13

9 July 2014

Chapter 13 – Life on the Outside

Length: 8,986 words

POV: Brent / Abi

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

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.


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