The Year Ahead: Skies Unbroken in 2017

And we’re back! What’s in store for Skies Unbroken in 2017?!

Season two of Skies Unbroken begins next week (January 11th) with a short Prologue. The first episode, Last Call, will start up on the 18th. Season two will be longer than season one, though the precise number of episodes is still in flux. I would like to contain the entire run within 2017, but that’s a far too large and distant goal to commit to a flimsy promise on the Internet.

New Guidebook entries will run parallel to the current episode and be topical or tangential to whatever the crew of the Wink and Smile are up to this time around. Originally these were gap-fillers or introductory content, but with weekly chapter updates, they didn’t really have a place. So they’ll be their own little sub-series and give the DM in me an outlet.

The Quarterly Reports will be discontinued and replaced by slimmer monthly updates and recaps. These always felt like an afterthought and were precisely infrequent enough to sneak up on me. The general goal is more content around the weekly chapters, which will give me something to actually recap.

The website itself will see some visual updates. This theme, while clean, doesn’t really match the aesthetic of what I’m laying down here. Or I’ll just change the font and banner image and call it good.

A commercial ebook release is upcoming. Given there’s already a free compilation available here, this release is more of a support option and SEO/visibility move. It also forces me to gin up some cover art with a budget of basically zero, which will be pretty special.

Onward, then, into new uncharted skies.

Season One Episode Commentary

Here’s an organized pile of thoughts on Season One of Skies Unbroken. There are oblique spoilers contained within, and this is written under the assumption you’ve read the entire series up to this point.

Onward for posterity and content!

Prologue

(as seen on the base Skies Unbroken page)

This piece was written for a writing prompt Reddit thread on r/Fantasy a couple years ago. At that time, Skies Unbroken was in a down period of attention for me, but I pulled it out of the trunk to act as a base for a quick 500 word thing. I only needed to make a couple adjustments in order to turn it into a sort of prologue/flavor intro once I committed to the project.

This takes place right as they depart the Triplets freeport. The events in and around the Triplets, a set of large islands on the western fringes of the Northwest Frontier, was season one of Skies Unbroken in every previous iteration of the story. It opened with Kor acquiring the Wink and Smile and went through the standard arc of building up a crew, and fixing the ship, and getting into various entanglements. Choosing to skip over all of that and get right to the independent freelancer phase was a key decision that gave the project the momentum it needed.

The Big Empty

I tend to shy away from flashy, immediate hooks in my openings. The whole “Better be a murder or war declaration in the first two pages or else!” rigmarole. The characters of Skies Unbroken are the connective tissue to this serial. I didn’t want a bland “meet the crew” side page, so it became the awkwardly titled ‘Episode Zero’.

Some pieces of this episode pre-date the beginning of the project, originally written under a slightly different canon, with different character names and goals and plot outlines. The crew was much less diverse until I took a step back and realized how easily I was falling into default fantasy demographics. Simply shuffling around the character’s cultural origins led to new axis of tension with respect to old political affiliations. Which, for example, is why Kor and Wilcox, despite being of the same ethnic descent, ended up on opposite sides of the War. The crew of the Wink is a microcosm of the Northwest Frontier as a whole, a grab-bag of cultures and origins, layered with where an individual or group stood during the Great War and Dissolution of the Orventian Empire.

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Skies Unbroken Quarterly Report – Q3 2016

Season one of Skies Unbroken is complete. Turns out the second novel-length project really is easier than the first.

How’d I do?

The final two episodes of season one took their sweet time to get done, blowing past my previous goal of wrapping up the writing phase by the end of August. This mostly spun out of episode eight going from one ‘firm’ outline, to half of that outline, to a far more improvisational execution. All while keeping the main story beats in place. One thing I’ve learned over the last year is how much Skies Unbroken likes to defy my initial outlines and by episode eight I decided to just roll with it, keeping with the spirit of the setting.

What’s Next?

There is one more chapter to be released: a time-lost Wilcox chapter from the Gloria episode. I tentatively have that slated for next week, but have yet to shake the cobwebs off.

Now begins the transition phase between seasons one and two. I’ll go into much greater detail about this period in next week’s update, with a roadmap and update schedule and everything. The primary objective is a full copyedit-level revision of all season one episodes in preparation for a compilation ebook. The website versions will be updated with these tweaks as well. Beyond that, there will be regular updates and snippets posted as I work on the initial episodes of season two.

Season two of Skies Unbroken will begin in January 2017.

Metrics

Core Narrative ~ 93,000
Supplementary ~ 7,000
Internal Worldbook ~ 17,000
Project Journal and Blog Posts ~ 19,000

Total 136,000 words.

68% Core Narrative
73% Core + Guidebook

No complaints here. Season one ended right around where I expected, in the average novel range. The supplemental content and internal worldbook took a backseat in the later stages of the season, but will come back to the fore in the coming months as I transition to season two. Blog posts and other public-facing efforts could certainly use more work, as the bulk of that number is contained in the my-eyes-only project journal. Room for improvement on that front.

It feels good to be done. For one of the multiple goalposts writers have for the concept of ‘done’, anyway. It’s been a strange journey over the last year, and I’m still processing it all.

Time to chart a new course!

On the Worldbuilding of Skies Unbroken

Skies Unbroken uses an exploratory method of worldbuilding, one I honed in my time running Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. Like D&D, I started with a cast of characters, a set of initial conditions, and a general framework of where I wanted the story to go. Those in hand, I built and adapted the world around the characters and story. As the story moved forward, the world expanded with it, a growing ring of concretely defined world knowledge (things and events spoken of or seen in the episodes) as well as distant landmarks connected to the current action (references, history, geography).

When the story demands an answer, I’ll take a step back and fill out the details. I switch from a survey flight to a dig site. Then I try to do a little more on the same topic, just to pocket some info for later. The current episode, Payload, spun out of this. The Seeders were a footnote, window dressing pocketed for later. It wasn’t until I started working on the later episodes of Season One did the Seeders, or rather their tech, become a component of an episode.

This isn’t to say I’ve been going completely off-the-cuff. This isn’t a full-on Gardener project. I spent a whole lot of time building out the setting, in multiple stylistic revisions, before the story was anything more than outlines and scraps of character backstory. The Guidebook entries are small, refined glimpses of my larger, messy world document. Honestly, anyone reading through my internal worldbook would probably find it incomprehensible and occasionally contradictory (mostly bits from previous iterations saved for reference or salvaging).

I think this style of worldbuilding keeps me in the proper spirit of the project, since it’s a story with significant ties to the spirit of a frontier and the exploration/conquest thereof. Captain Kor Icomb isn’t exactly a grand planner, but he has an end game in sight.

Skies Unbroken Quarterly Report Q2 2016

The past three months have been smooth flying for Skies Unbroken. No complaints or excuses needed! Let’s break it down!

How’d I do?

Consistency is key and the true enemy is disorder. I’ve kept up weekly, on-time updates since mid-March, and my work hours have settled into a steady pattern.

I nearly hit the previous report’s goal of completing Episode Six by the end of June. The episode is rolling out now (Dross) and the second half is drafted and ready for polishing over next week. Right on time, more or less. As for the other goal: I didn’t release much in terms of side content to fill in off-weeks (Regal Conmen aside) because I haven’t had any off weeks to fill. I suppose that’s a good conflict to have.

I’ve had a modest rise in readership and traffic, largely thanks to exposure from Web Fiction Guide, that noble bastion of serial web fiction. I’m always on the look-out for other ways of getting the word out, and those efforts will continue.

What’s next?

The primary goal for the summer months is completion. Only two Episodes remain: Episode 7: Payload and Episode 8: Unnamed Season One Finale. The first is crystal clear in my mind and feels similar to Safari where I’m eager to dig into it. The Finale is a little trickier, functionally a two-part episode with the challenge of weaving a number of threads together. While both episodes are looking like long ones, I think I can crank through them by early August. This might be an optimistic way of jinxing myself, but I always write faster when I’m approaching the end of any given project.

Once Season One is written and complete, a revision begins. The purpose here is two-fold. First, the early episodes could use another round of polish to bring them up to the story’s current quality level. From my perspective, there’s a pretty sharp difference between the pre and post Gloria episodes. Also, there’s a missing Wilcox chapter in Episode Three that I need to complete and insert.

Secondly, there will be an ebook version of Season One and any such release demands an additional round of polish and no typos can hide from my sight. This editing round and the rollout of the final chapters of Season One will certainly carry me through September.

Disclaimer: All time predictions are ballpark estimates and in no way deadlines.

Metrics

Core Narrative ~ 65,000
Supplementary ~ 7,000
Internal Worldbook ~ 15,000
Project Journal and Blog Posts ~ 15,000

Total 102,000 words.

64% Core Narrative
71% Core + Guidebook

I’m very happy with these numbers. The focus on getting episodes out has cut into the supplemental content, but the world building and flavor pieces will return once the final episodes of season one are complete. The final two episodes should push the main narrative word count to 90K or so, a healthy novel length and right on target.

Overall, the completion of season one of Skies Unbroken is on a quick approach and my hard work is paying off. These past three months have been strong and consistent in output, and I will carry that momentum into the finale.

But first I’m taking a mini vacation over the holiday weekend starting…NOW.