The Treasonists March Onward

After a long and successful campaign through the battlefield that is first-year University, I have returned to the home-front that is Treasonsists.

Alright, enough war metaphors – that was in danger of becoming purple. Over the past couple of weeks I have made huge progress with Treasonists, Pulling it from an idyllic dream into what initial readers tell me is reminiscent of a professional book. As you can no doubt guess, I’m quite stoked to hear that, if a little disbelieving. However, it is hard to deny the difference in quality between now and the last round of drafting – A lot has been added to the plot, characters and world and, to me, it seems like things are coming together as they should instead of being segmented in their own scenes. When I first started, my goal was to have a product of at least 75,000 words – the current count is about 80,000, and with much to go I expect the end product to be at least 100,000 words strong, if not more.

In celebration of my progress, I thought I’d give you a short teaser from near the start of the book. This is fairly close to what I imagine the final product to be, but please do keep in mind it has a little to go yet.


Treasonists – excerpt 1

‘Father, war is not the answer. It is already difficult enough to defend the food storehouses and prevent the civilians from murdering each other. Even our own soldiers quarrel over bread. A foreign invasion will only cause further hardship for our people and needlessly add to already overflowing graves. There must be a better solution; we can appeal to the Astral Empire, offer trade with Erethol! Surely, if the royal coffers can support an invasion, we could equally support the rebuilding of infrastructure and agriculture. But to go to war would achieve nothing but needless destructi-‘

‘Nonsense!’ Silvara seethed. ‘You know nothing of the situation or politic! Run back to your toy soldiers and leave such worldly matters to others.’

‘The blood of the empire runs through my veins just as yours, and I receive the same reports.’  Sephiran retorted, holding his ground.  Silvara scowled and turned to the king.

‘We must unite the people to remove the threat of revolt, and seize crops and farmlands to quell starvation and discontent. My king, you must make a decision now; we don’t have time for diplomacy or games.’ The tired eyes of the king rested wearily on Silvara, and his lips parted to draw fresh air into his lungs.

‘We must,’ Came his croak, dry and crackling, ‘to war.’  He coughed painfully, dry air forced from his chest. ‘It is the only way.’

‘Do you see, Sephiran?’ Silvara turned to her brother. ‘War is the only path, even our father, the king and emperor of all Azimir, agrees. What place do you have to object?’ Sephiran’s mind whirled with objections; to start a war was pure folly. Neither the Astral Empire nor Kingdom of Erethol would look kindly upon such reckless expansion across the seas, and if Silvara meant to attack one of the greater powers – it was inconceivable. The Three Emperor’s Treaty was signed by the king of Azimir himself, and guaranteed an alliance between any two empires against the aggression of the third. Yet with all these objections burned into his mind, all the Prince could do was stammer in confusion.

‘Please, father, I beg you reconsider. We can gather support from the other empires and states, we have treaties and agreements!’

‘You would throw us at the mercy of other empires?’ Silvara snapped, ‘Have you no shame? No honor ’ She paused, catching breath, ‘War is the only way to ensure the people of Azimir don’t turn against each other, or our king! Are you a traitor? Do you not care for your country? Your people? Your father?’ Silvara spat at Seph’s feet in disgust, smirking as the boy stood paralyzed in shock, his mind struggling to make sense of Silvara’s attacks. The string of treacherous accusations had come from nowhere, and he was unready to counter them. Silvara grinned at his inaction, and her eyes flashed.

‘Nothing to say?’ she mocked, snatching advantage from his silence ‘After all, Sephiran, you cannot argue with the truth.’  Silvara approached the king, and leaned to whisper something in his ear. Slowly, the monarch’s eyes grew wide as his face twisted in anger.

‘Sephiran!’ He didn’t yell; he couldn’t yell, but the sentiment was clear in his tone.  ‘You are banished!’

‘Prince Sephiran,’ Silvara gleefully took over the monarch’s rites, hints of humor flaring through her voice. ‘Third in line for the Azimiran throne after Lord-Lieutenant Princess Silvara and Prince Admiral Garcia, I presently strip you of your royal title. You are banished from the Empire of Azimir for treason and crimes against the throne.’

Treasonists update

Today was, perhaps, the most productive writing day I have had this year (It sounds impressive when I say it like that, doesn’t it?)

I started the day by collecting all of my plotting notes for the new ending. You see, I aim to almost completely rewrite (Or at least drastically alter) the current ending because it is nowhere near as exciting and thematically powerful as I think it should be.  To guide me, I resolved to write a new plot outline for the ending.

This was more difficult than it sounds. Most of the last third of the book follows the POV of 3 different characters (and minor scenes in a 4th POV) who are all doing different things in different places, at roughly the same time. They all tie into each other in the Climax of the novel, and have massive effects on each other during the lead up to that point. I was very worried all that could get very confusing.

My first order of business was to write-up the separate plot outlines for each character – To note all of their scenes in chronological order as if I were just writing about them.  That was the easy part.

Next, I attempted to fit everything together in a single outline that detailed everything in the order it will appear in the final book. This was a huge puzzle to work out, and I admit it was a read headache at some parts. (Literally, I ended up taking some Panadol!)

First of all, I wanted to keep everything in roughly chronological order so the reader isn’t constantly going backwards and forwards in time, because that could get very confusing. On the other hand, swapping between characters every paragraph could also get very confusing. There is a balance to be struck somewhere between this two, and I have no idea if I’ve hit it. There is no real way to know, really, until it’s all written down and the beta readers look at me in confusion. But it works in theory, for now.

Another consideration is the excitement and ‘plot’ of each chapter. I’m sure everyone reading this can conjure the graph of how a book’s plot is meant to look when excitement is quantified and graphed; An Ascending line with plateaus and finally a climax followed by a Denouement. It is my opinion each chapter should be set out somewhat similar, with its own goals, climax and denouement (or a set up for the next chapter) and I have stuck to this throughout most of the book. I think it works really well, so I would hate to break it to jump around to another character and ‘start something new,’ instantly destroying the tension and excitement built up over previous scenes.

Lastly, I had cause and effect to consider. As I noted somewhere above, what characters do in their plots have significant impacts on other characters. I had to make sure this all made sense, and that I never accidentally showed the effect of an action before showing the cause. This was just a case of Watching  where I was positioning things, and luckily for me most of the ‘causes’ were naturally at the end of something, allowing me to slip over to the next character to see the effects.

After a few hours of working all this through, I was staring at a shiny new plot outline of the shiny new ending. It is much better than the old ending and, if you don’t mind my saying, pretty epic. I think it provides a much more climactic end both for the main plot and the character arcs that eventually cumulate in the final battle.

But that’s not all I did today (I told you it was productive!) – I also got some work on the actual editing or, rather, writing. I’m at a point where I am adding a completely new chapter, so I’ve had to swap from an editing mindset to a writing one. Thankfully, I’m able to do that without much pain.

This chapter is really shaping up to be an interesting one to write, and I can only hope it’s as interesting to read. The chapter follows a major battle, the Seige of Luftenport, Between Vanessa of the Valkyries and Admiral Garcia of the Azimirian/Silvarian navy. What makes the battle so interesting is the fact those are both POV characters. In essence, what I have in this chapter is a miniature version of the above.

So the chapter follows the POV of both side’s commanders. Think of it was watching a game of chess (or, more aptly, an RTS) where you can see the plans and strategies of both sides as they attempt to implement them, and make the other fall into their traps. We get to see the commanders formulate their plans, we get to see the plans implemented, and we get to see the opposing side make their counter-plans and react. It’s a very interesting dynamic to write because both characters are Strategists, leading to a battle of wits with the lives of a few hundred soldiers at stake.

Not only that, But the battle has the same features of all my battle scenes – I like to show how things play out from the POV of commanders directing the battle (Moving regiments, implementing strategies) and also the POV of the actual soldiers fighting the battle directly.  Again, it’s an interesting method of doing things and I like to think it pull it off well, but there is no real way to know until I have my beta readers look at it.  At some point in the future, I’ll write a post entirely about how I write battle scenes.

To get all this working together, I’ve had to make heavy use of ‘***’ on an In-chapter level, to indicate a change of character. On a larger, inter-chapter level I’ve come up with the idea of calling Chapters by the same number with a different letter to indicate Concurrent timelines. For example, Chapter 6A and Chapter 6B happen at the same time, but follow different characters.

What do you think? How do you deal with different POV characters affecting each other’s stories? How do you show a battle from both perspectives? How do you indicate to a reader that two scenes are happening at the same time, in different places?

Vanessa and the Valkyries

Only a few short days ago I passed the 60,000 word milestone.

Passing the mark was an exciting moment as I realized just how quickly I had raised the word count some 6000 words. My ultimate goal is 75,000 and I’m very confident in my ability to reach (even surpass) that in the 15 chapters I have left, especially considering most of my large-scale plot changes and additions are still to come.

The last chapter was an exciting chapter to work on because it contained the introduction to new character – A woman named Vanessa – who I was particularly looking forward to working with again. In the original first draft, she did not receive nearly enough attention or development.  In the end, Vanessa was less a character and more a plot device with dialogue. She was the kind of character that exists only because the plot demands it, and has no complexity or dimension. She didn’t feel like a person.

And I wasn’t happy with that. So while I was collecting my notes and making plans for the edit, I set improving her and her involvement in the story as a major goal. First I had to fix her character, so I gave her a much more detailed personality, complete with some new motivations. Hopefully now she can be a character in her own right – and like all good characters, she can give something to the story.

Vanessa is the commander of the ‘Valkyries,’ a criminal organization active throughout the independent city states, but mostly in and around Luftenport. She is the ex-commander of a military regiment from the Astral empire, and a veteran of a heated war, as are most of her loyal troops.  She is cool under pressure, tactically and strategically brilliant, and ruthlessly and mercilessly cunning.  Simply put, she is a magnificent bastard. There is an interesting dynamic I have here between Silvara, the antagonist, and Vanessa – because they are so alike.  They are different enough to be unique characters in their own right (I hope) but similar enough for it to be noticed.  It’s interesting because they use very similar methods to maintain power, and rule their respective sphere though fear. On one hand, we have my characters opposing the tyrannical rule of Princess Silvara, while on the other hand we have the characters accepting Vanessa’s help. I’m going to enjoy having my characters think through that.

My next task was to think about how I am going to give her more involvement in the story – this was an easier task. She already played a large part, it was just background. Vanessa was organizing and doing things while I was focused on the adventures of the main characters. The solution, then, was to write the parts focused on her.  I resolved to write a chapter that chronicles the Battle of Luftenport (The Azimirian invasion of Luftenport.) while the main characters touch on this battle, I felt it could be expanded from Vanessa’s point of view. Not only would this be an exciting addition, but it would help develop Vanessa and answer some questions I quietly swept under the rug in the first draft.  Additionally, I made some plans for new scenes throughout the novel that show Vanessa’s action – a good implementation of the show, don’t tell rule.

Overall, I hope the additions with Vanessa help develop her character and clarify some parts of the story that may have been a little shady before.

End of the First Week

As my first week of seriously editing comes to a close, I’ve learned one major lesson; Editing is not as scary as people make it out to be.  It’s a slow, time-consuming process that requires a lot of attention and energy, but it’s not scary. Even when I’m cutting entire scenes or re-writing parts I spent hours perfecting a few months ago, it’s not heartbreaking.

It’s exciting.

It’s not like I’m burning the novel, laying waste to hours and hours work. No – I’m making it better. Much better, with results visible right away. Comparing the edited chapter to what it used to be I can see an immediate improvement, and it’s almost a little embarrassing to read parts of what I had. I say this with the knowledge I’ll come back to what I worked on today and improve it even more, genuinely astonished that I didn’t make the changes now.

Yes, I can happily say editing isn’t nearly as scary as I pretended to myself it was, In fact, I’m enjoying it!

So, in honor of my first chapter surviving its first run in with the surgeon, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about the all important first chapter, which is one of the most important parts of a novel.

The first chapter of a novel is the reader’s introduction into the world, characters and plot but that’s not all. The first chapter introduces the Writer, and their writing style. For me, the first chapter is a critically important factor when I decide to buy a book or not. So, what makes a good first chapter?

Conflict.  A compelling introduction to the plot is central to my decision of whether or not to read past chapter one, as a good plot is the most important part of a story. As such, introducing the plot is the most important job of the first chapter.  Conflict is what drives the characters to do everything they do. It’s what hooks the reader, and keeps them turning pages until they realize its 5 AM and scratch their heads in confusion. In essence, Conflict gives the novel purpose.  If I can give the reader an idea of the main conflict and stakes, and set the plot rolling with a sense of danger and uncertainty within the first few pages, then I have achieved success with the first chapter.

So, how do I do that?

The best way to introduce conflict at the very beginning is by putting the Protagonist right in the middle of it. Keep in mind, conflict doesn’t have to be gunfight’s or bar brawls – just some problem the protagonist needs to overcome. You don’t even need to start with the central conflict, though I much prefer to.

One technique I love to use in the opening is a confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist. It’s a Brilliant way to show the relationship between the characters and demonstrate the conflict early, but it’s not always possible – It depends on the story and nature of the antagonist. In Treasonists, I open with the protagonist Prince Sephiran and the Antagonist Princess Silvara attending a meeting in their father’s throne room, both proposing different ways of dealing with the seemingly unavoidable civil war and famine. Through this, I contrast their characters, develop the situation and throw coals on the conflict. The first fifteen hundred or so words make up one of my favorite scenes in the entire novel, and it does an excellent job of setting the plot-ball rolling before I calm down to develop character in the following chapter and, hopefully, throughout the novel.

I could go on talking about what I think makes a good first chapter, or start rambling what makes a bad first chapter, but I want to know what you think,

What do you think makes a good first chapter? Leave a comment below!