Arc Two Begins

The next story arc of Skies Unbroken’s season two began yesterday with Episode Five: Stormrider. This short chapter was initially a prologue, but got rolled into the following episode halfway through the early drafts. The remainder of season two contains some long-awaited episodes with many scenes and details that have been swirling around in my head since the conception of this project.

There’s a degree of irony in the subject matter of the first chapter, being all about blank slates and fresh starts. On Tuesday morning, I opened the main file of Episode Five to discover that it was corrupted and completely unrecoverable. This also applied to the backup copy in my cloud drive and I just so happened to have been lax in my backup procedure in the last week or so, meaning they were the only two current copies. The one time and it bites me. Lesson learned there, as now I have six copies across four locations. Won’t catch me again!

All told, I lost about a week’s worth of drafts and revisions, including the complete and proofed version of this week’s update. So, after cooling my righteous anger, I redid the entire chapter from a raw old version in a blitz of rewriting and editing. I’m happy with the end result and the turnaround of getting it back up to snuff, but there’s definitely a few sentences that aren’t the same as the original. Those specific permutations of words are simply gone forever. Oh well.

There was also a new guidebook entry last week: Summit. Summit is a significant port of call in the Northwest Frontier, but missed the cut on being featured in an episode. However, in the spirit of the place, I couldn’t let the worldbuilding go to waste.

Despite the setback, I’m feeling back on course for regular updates on Wednesday mornings. And so, onward once again!

Maps

I started drawing maps as a casual hobby on the weekend. One map a week, single page, purely improvised out of a simple prompt. Week four is upcoming. I’ve always had a fondness for maps, and you don’t rack up a decade of Dungeons and Dragons DMing experience without dipping into drawing up countless dungeons, locales, regions, worlds. So, really, this summer fling is more of a return to continuing fandom and old practices.

Yet the only maps of Skies Unbroken are rough sketches, pure positional references rather than anything I would ever show off. Originally, the Skies project was meant to have a parallel expanding map of where the story’s been. But the concrete nature of it didn’t sit well with me, my own artistic mapmaking ability aside. This story has been heavily improvisational, both in world and out. Navigation is more than coordinates and charts, but sound and signals, impressions and intuition. There’s a reason the characters are never too specific about how far away something is, or how long it will take to get there.

Frontiers don’t have particularly reliable maps, much like how there’s no route forward in most paths of life. When I first started digging into getting serious about writing, I read through plenty of writer’s blogs and author interviews about how they accomplished whatever level of success they managed to get. And there was no common through line besides “write a bunch, show it to people”. There’s no map, no route, no path. Fixed plans tend to crumble to dust while you’re wandering the aspiring writer wilderness.

In any case, I have a low opinion of too-grand and too-detailed life plans, borne out of my own experiences in the low-key plot twists of life. An example: One time in a job interview I got hit by the old chestnut of “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I actually just laughed at them, couldn’t help it, then explained how I find the question absurd, if perhaps a touch too cynically. They didn’t call me back for another round, oddly enough.

This attitude runs through Skies Unbroken. The expedition of this project has destinations. A trilogy of seasons, a handful of specific events, and so on. But the route from points A to B to Z are hazy until I start to approach them. I know there’s a canyon here, a battlefield there, a strange isle there. But the journey is ever uncertain.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not for this story, at least.

Skies Unbroken Quarterly Report: Q1 2016

The second three months of Skies Unbroken was a rough patch. I have a few excuses, some of which are even valid, but the total work was still disappointing. One day I’ll learn to stop publicly declaring goals. Or at the very least, take my initial prediction and halve it. It’s not all bad, though, and I chalk the last three months up to growing pains.

How’d I do?

General Positives: The characters are coming together, especially after giving each member of the crew one-on-one time in Gloria. Any stumbles in output led me to take a step back and do some under the hood work on the setting and story arcs. It became less frustrating when seen as puzzles to be solved or an optimization problem.

I completed episodes two and three. Dust was a brisk, spontaneously added episode. I felt there wasn’t quite enough happening in the first third of the season and drew up the episode to fill the gap. The end result was fine, though I think I’ll spend a fair amount of time on it when I do the season-wide editing pass. Gloria took far longer than expected but each chapter ended up where I wanted it. Except the Wilcox chapter. It simply wasn’t working and I had to cut it, despite the gnawing lack of symmetry such a move produced. He’ll get compensation in a later revision and a boosted presence in the next episode.

What’s next?

I’m reigning in the ambition here and targeting three complete episodes for Q2, a reasonable pace of one a month. Additionally, I want to publish more guidebook and supplemental entries on the inevitable off weeks between episodes. A formal role for the secondary content should help fill the gaps and give me a clearer, easier target when the editing of the main story becomes troublesome.

Episode 4 will assuredly take up almost all of April. It’s looking like the longest episode of the entire season, pushing into novella territory by itself. It’s partially written and shaping up to be a lot of fun. Episode 5 has pirates in it. How hard can that be?! Episode 6 is trickier. It’s always had the loosest outline of the planned episodes and I’m going to plug away at its initial structure this afternoon.

I still want to get a good-looking piece of cover art for season one, but until there’s a budget for it, I’m sticking to a text-only presentation. I’m no graphic designer and my image editing can be considered serviceable only in the kindest light (See: Waterlogged’s, uh, cover).

Metrics!

Core Narrative ~34,500.
Supplementary ~ 6,500.
Internal Worldbook ~ 14,500.
Project Journal and Blog Posts ~ 11,000.

Total 66,500 words.

52% Core Narrative
62% Core + Guidebook

That’s a solid increase in the share of external story content vs internal writing. A goal achieved! The net word count is rather thin. I’m not going to hazard a guess of what the next three months will bring. I’m starting to learn my lesson in making anything but the loosest predictions when it comes to writing and editing.

I will say I feel over the hill in terms of post-beginning growing pains. There are still a number of loose threads, but the core of the Skies Unbroken project is getting stronger and the destination has started to emerge from the mists.

Week 10: Back to the Grind

Skies Unbroken Episode Two: Dust has launched.

I wanted Episode Two to be a two-parter but it ended up being one of those strange hard-stops in productivity and lapsed into three. Not because it’s a difficult or intricate episode. It’s not unfamiliar or uncomfortable subject matter. It was simply one of those stretches of writing that felt like it was missing a spark, something intangible. It’s possible all the difficultly was in my own head, especially since the first half turned out fine once I took a couple days off working on it and returned with a refreshed stance.

Looking forward, I started drafting Episode Three: Gloria. This one should be fun, breaking from Kor’s default point of view and giving the rest of the crew time in the spotlight. It’s a compilation of shorts for each character, something that’s been on the outline for the Skies project since the very beginning.

Accounting of Weekly Deeds

  • Episode Two: Dust launched! Looking to finish this one off next week. Knock on wood…
  • Started writing Episode Three: Gloria.
  • Current Word Count: 20,474.

Week 4: Buffering.

As expected, the Thanksgiving holiday disrupted the flow of posts and new chapters. However, Skies Unbroken Episode Zero: The Big Empty is complete! Hooray! I’m well into revising Episode One: Old Fashioned, and this week was all about rebuilding a buffer of chapters and getting ahead of the curve. Especially with the requisite disruption of the holidays and seeing the new Star Wars movie two or three times coming down the pipe.

One benefit of the serialized nature of this project is it allows me to iterate on my drafting process at a much faster pace. Each episode is a chance to tweak the process while the most recent arc of draft -> revise -> polish -> proof is fresh in my mind. There’s also space to try something completely different, should the fancy strike me. Granted, it’s easy to keep a structure process when your pieces are 5-10K words instead of a novel. There’s a definite N-Squared (cubed…) increase of complexity the longer any given piece runs. I don’t know how many editing passes I did on Valkwitch, the answer is lost to time.

Accounting of (Two) Weekly Deeds.

  • Episode Zero: The Big Empty is complete!
  • Episode One: Old Fashioned is fully drafted. The first pair of chapters are a ready to go next week. Buffer partially rebuilt.
  • Cleaned up and consolidated the internal Master Document. Created a formal location & character glossary ahead of time instead of letting it slide until it became an onerous task.
  • Current Word Count: 11,704. New words: 4,945.