The Rebel Queen, Scene 1

For this week’s post I thought I’d share scene 1 of The Rebel Queen.

The genre is a political drama set among an alien species. The story runs parallel to a section of Vengeance Will Come, which I discussed here.

It’s a longer post (approx 2,000 words) so make yourself a cuppa and get comfortable as you read. Please, do let me know what you think in the comments below.


“When Deckarians are looking for a planet to colonize they seek isolated and inhospitable planets. They prefer geologically stable, arid planets with thick crusts into which they can burrow.

The new colony begins the slow and methodical Deckarian terraforming: diverting surface waters into underground reservoirs, making the planet’s surface more hostile.

It is both a camouflage and a comfort to the Deckarian mindset that thrives underground. To be above ground is to be foolish and invite trouble; to be deep below is to be safe.”

Diary entry of Dr Susan Passive

– – –

The female Deckarian, Khuel, was half-hidden in the dim lighting of the drinking hole. The lighting matched the mood: unpretentious and quiet.

Having nothing better to do she watched the viewing screen with idle interest. Two human males circled each other in the Fighting Pit. Like all humans, both were lanky, long of arm and leg by Deckarian standards and covered with soft, fragile skin. One brandished an axe, the other a long knife. Both wore fear on their faces as they contemplated death.

Khuel was slumped forward so her leathery grime-covered forearms rested on the polished pine counter. Her dirty appearance suggested she’d come straight from work and was looking for a drink, not company. Even still, she’d already cast aside three hopeful males.

With her peripheral vision she saw a male Deckarian enter the drinking hole. He chatted with the pourer just long enough to prospect the room. Picking up his drink the male walked over to sit next to Khuel as though the rest of the counter wasn’t empty.

Here it comes, Khuel thought as the male turned to her, “I’ve seen you in here a few times but we’ve never been introduced. My name is Hun,” the male gave her a friendly smile. Khuel picked herself up slightly off the counter but continued to spin her empty glass without looking at him. Hun persevered, “Looks like you’ve had a hard day?”

She said nothing, but let out a long sigh. She pushed the glass away from her as a sign of completion.

“Don’t be in such a hurry to leave. Let me buy you a drink to improve your night,” Hun offered quickly and signalled the pourer. Khuel didn’t stop him ordering the drink, so she turned and gave him a weak smile in payment.

Hun wore the steel-studded collar of a clutch leader, marking him as modestly successful. He looked ten years older than her.

“There, is that better? A free drink or two and someone nice to talk to, the night is looking up,” Hun said. He hopes, Khuel thought with a slight smile.

“Sure, why not,” Khuel said, sitting up straight and turning her attention to him. Hun’s face lit up like a forming star in response to the encouragement.

“You haven’t told me your name yet?” Hun prompted.

Khuel smiled mischievously. “The drink will get you a smile, if you want my name you’ll have to do better than that.”

Hun smiled as though he’d just struck Rhodium and deployed a well-worn line. “You know you’ve got a pretty face when you smile.”

“So I’m not pretty when I don’t smile?” Khuel rolled her eyes and took a large gulp of her drink, “I bet you say that to all the females.”

Hun noted the rapidly diminishing drink and his window of opportunity. “So, you work in this sector?” he asked.

“I spend my working hours in near-darkness, elbow-deep in fertiliser, harvesting mushrooms.”

“That’s a valuable job. Food production is vital to the wellbeing of the colony.”

“Valuable, perhaps, but very dirty,” Khuel examined her mud-stained fingernails. Hun wasn’t very choosey, but given the age gap between them…

“Oh there’s no shame in the side-effects of hard work,” Hun said with pride. “Better to stink of sweat than smell sweetly like some who do no work.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Khuel agreed with a sigh. Nothing like a little class hatred to draw friends together. “There seem to be more perfumed preeners in the colony every year; I don’t know where they come from,” she replied.

“Most preeners are pilots of course,” Hun said, “they walk around the colony as though they’re our betters. Some of the soldier class too. And then there’s the occasional worker-“

“Not many,” Khuel interrupted, “It’s not in the nature of us workers to consider ourselves better than others. Even if we were, we wouldn’t say it.”

Hun nodded.

“Have you…” Khuel started and then looked around to check they wouldn’t be overheard, continuing in a whisper, “heard the rumours that the rebel Queen favours the worker class?”

Hun had his glass halfway to his mouth but immediately put it down. He shot her a glare and checked their surroundings too. He leaned in close, but his tone was hard and pointed like a freshly sharpened pick, “Such talk is foolish. Dangerous. Definitely not for public airing; it could be seen as treasonous.”

Khuel put her hands up in tired surrender, “Sorry, I didn’t meaning anything by it. I wasn’t saying I wanted a new Queen, just repeating the rumours that I’d heard.” Hun looked at her sideways. The hunter had become skittish prey.

“Oh come on, don’t be like that,” Khuel pouted, “you’re the first actually nice male who’s talked to me tonight. Sometimes I just think too much…”

Hun didn’t say anything and just sipped his beer with a grim look on his face. I’ve spoiled it, Khuel thought. In several quick gulps Khuel emptied her glass and then started to spin it on the counter. The pourer quickly rescued the glass before drifting away.

“Do you want another?” Hun asked, opening the door to more conversation. Khuel shook her head. Hun grabbed at the bowl of roaches on the counter and began to eat them. Hun spoke quietly in a conciliatory tone, “There’s nothing wrong with thinking anything, you just have to be careful what and when you say things.”

Khuel nodded in understanding and let the silence linger to defuse the tension. “I just thought that maybe some fresh ideas could improve life in the colony for everyone, not just those at the top,” Khuel reasoned.

“Do you really think that?” Hun whispered.

“Sure, why not? Just to be clear I’m not advocating for a new Queen, so don’t freak out on me… I just think some things in the colony could benefit from a change.”

Hun took a slow and very deliberate drink.

“So you’re optimistic and cute… I promise I won’t freak out on you,” Hun said and spoke conspiratorially, “I’ve heard a thing or two about this rebel. She has a lot of interesting, unconventional ideas.”

“Really? Like what?”

Hun gave a knowing smile. Khuel leaned in so that their faces were almost touching. She whispered to him, “Even though I’d never support another Queen, there’s something intriguing about her ideas. And the whole conspiracy – rebels hiding out somewhere in the colony… there’s a danger and a mystery about it which I find… more exciting than I should.”

Hun nodded slightly as he took another drink. “I suppose I could tell you what I know.” Khuel swiveled on her stool toward him and a shrewd glint appeared in Hun’s eye. “Not here; we can’t talk about it in public,” he said.

“Are you just trying to get me back to your bunk?”

“Yes,” he said candidly, “but I do know quite a bit about the rebel group and the Queen’s plans for the colony.”

There was a pause before Hun repeated her own challenge, “A smile will get you that much, but you’ll have to do better than that for more information.”

“I am curious,” Khuel admitted, “but how do I know you’re not just leading me on? Swear on G’Nar.”

“May G’Nar crush me if I’m lying,” Hun said with his hand on his head. “And what will I get in return?”

“I promise on G’Nar we’ll have a night to remember,” Khuel replied. She looking at his half-full glass, “have you finished your drink?”

“Almost,” Hun gulped down the last of his drink as though dying of thirst on the planet’s arid surface. He enthusiastically dug credits out of his pocket and placed them on the counter. He winked at the pourer as he followed Khuel out of the drinking hole.

Outside of the drinking hole the corridor was awash with Deckarians and humans slaves. Like the old saying went, ‘only the dead rest in the colony’, and everyone was about their work duties. They crossed over the crowd and into a quieter side-tunnel.

“Where are you bunked?” Khuel asked.

“Dormitory 14.”

“I know somewhere closer that is just as discreet,” Khuel whispered and led him through several corridors before getting onto her hands and knees and sliding into a narrow access-tunnel. Hun laughed as he climbed in; the crawl-space was so narrow it forces them into each other’s arms. Khuel kissed him and Hun returned the kiss with twice the vigour. Khuel broke free from his kiss and whispered into his ear, “You will tell me everything?”

“Yes,” Hun promised breathlessly, his hands beginning to explore. Khuel smiled as Hun started to nuzzle her neck. Her arms around his neck, she twisted the silver ring on her finger, exposing the hypodermic needle hidden inside.

“Yes you will,” she said, and drove the needle into the soft tissue behind his ear.

He reacted instantly, trying to pull away from her in the tight space. The look of pain and surprise on his face became fear as he crawling backwards, but losing momentum fast. Khuel tucked her legs up into a sitting position as she watched Hun collapse to the ground, like the sack of garbage he was.

Khuel wiped his saliva from her mouth and rubbed it disgustedly on the wall. She smiled her first real smile of the evening; the Queen’s Sting had just captured another rebel sympathiser. Perhaps he would be the one to finally lead them to the rebel Queen.

END OF SCENE 1

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Significant Changes to The Rebel Queen

At the beginning of the year I optimistically planned on finishing my first novel, Vengeance Will Come would be followed by a quick revision of my next novel, The Rebel Queen. I was confident it wouldn’t take too long – after all The Rebel Queen was already drafted and had early alpha reader approval.

On the Writing Excuses podcast they advise that you’re not ready to write your second novel until you’ve finished your first. This is good advice in my experience. Having undergone the task of writing a novel, and importantly the synopsis for submission, I’ve come away with some new insights.

As is proper, my second novel should be better than my first. So in response my revision of The Rebel Queen will be more thorough than originally anticipated.

  • Significantly, I’m going to start by drafting my synopsis. I am going to describe my characters and their arcs first and then keep that in the forefront of my mind as I revise the text.
  • I want to increase the novel’s length. The draft of The Rebel Queen is 65,000 words. This is a medium-sized novel, and not a bad length for a new author. However based on previous experience I’d expect to cut 15% of that during the revision process. Which would result in a very short book.

    Far more important than the actual word count though, is the pace and ending. I’ve noticed I have a weakness in writing the 4/5ths part of the story. I am going to expand that section, making it more cohesive. I’m also going to push-out the ending to get more resolution on the plot.

  • Reduce the number of point-of-view characters. My hope is I’ll be able to go deeper with each character, if there are less to juggle. This will likely be the hardest challenge to manage, as I’ll have to work out how to give the reader insights with less heads/bodies to switch between. Just who is on the chopping-block is yet to be decided.
  • Strengthen the resolution-bringing plot device, which was a little weak (in my opinion). I’ll be looking to change that up too.

That’s my goals for the next few months, what’s yours?

Examining Character Balance: The Rebel Queen

One of the things I’d recommend before getting into the actual revision of a writing project is to take a step back and look at the character balance.

To discuss this topic I’ll be using my second novel The Rebel Queen and examining how regularly each character gets a point-of-view turn. (To do this I’m using an Excel workbook that I intend on making available soon).

Does a character rarely get a point-of-view?

Every time there’s a new viewpoint the reader needs to create a little box in their memory to store the character’s personality, opinion and experiences. The reader can only keep track of a small number of boxes, so adding too many is problematic. (Sidebar: George RR Martin is famous for his huge cast of characters, but I think I was halfway through the first book before I could differentiate properly between characters. Occasionally throughout the series I also read scenes not remembering who this particular character was).

Minor characters clog up your reader’s memory and are also likely to be under-developed, crude caricatures of what a character should be. Sometimes a minor character is legitimately required; that’s the only time they should be used.

If a character only has a small number of viewpoints my first preference will be to eliminate them as a point-of-view character. I’ll ask myself:

  1. What is their viewpoint providing?
  2. Are those outcomes critical?
  3. Can another character or a change in circumstances deliver the same outcomes?

In The Rebel Queen the worst two offenders are clear. Den-ta, who gets a single scene in the final chapters of the book is definitely going to be cut. The Prior, who is an important plot aspect is a little harder to determine. I’ll try to cut him first, but if that doesn’t work I’ll resurrect him and pad him out.

However, if the character’s viewpoint is irreplaceable and necessary then I’ll be looking for ways to give them more “air time”. If I can’t kill ’em, I’ll try to make them stronger. Can they be involved in more scenes? Can they replace another character’s viewpoint on some scenes?

Draft Cal POV

I’ll be looking for a few more scenes for the character Cal; trying to raise her prominence.

Are there characters who get introduced too late?
My current rule of thumb is that I don’t want to introduce any new character viewpoints after halfway through the story. By that point everything should be moving towards resolution, not continuing to expand. (Sidebar: Interesting question: Does that hold true in a series? I think so. I prefer the method Robert Jordan uses, taking a minor character who doesn’t have a viewpoint until a later book). Introducing a character towards the end of the story also risks them being a deus ex machina (“person or event which provides a sudden, unexpected solution to a story”).

In George RR Martin’s A Dance with Dragons poor old Uncle Kevan waited approximately 900 pages for a viewpoint, and dies at the end of the scene. As a reader, it felt like a completely unnecessary death; almost like Martin realised he hadn’t killed anyone recently, so someone had to die. The problem was, I didn’t know who Kevan was, so I didn’t care at all that he died.

Draft General Pkar POV

Returning to The Rebel Queen, even though General Pkar is a significant character in the story, I discover that he doesn’t get a point of view until too late. I’ll be looking to give him a scene or two earlier in the story, so the reader know he’s important.

Are there characters who go silent?

This aspect is more complex to work out (and it seems, to describe too). I’m looking at the gaps between points of view, when combined with plot developments. In the image above General Pkar goes silent for 4 chapters (15-18) but in this instance that is okay – the plot-action is happening elsewhere.

But if there was a plot thread that General Pkar was chasing down and he inexplicably went silent for multiple chapters, that might be a problem.

Note however that they don’t necessarily need a point-of-view; it might be enough to have them mentioned by another character, so that we know they are still around.

Revising The Rebel Queen

I’m finding revising my second novel The Rebel Queen is very different to the first Vengeance Will Come.

Vengeance Will Come was written more by discovery writing whereas The Rebel Queen was plotted in advance. In some respects I think this means there should be less structural changes, but I’m always wary of that being a false assumption.

I also have to be aware of several of my own biases. I like the protagonist because I wrote her and know the plot and character arcs. But does a new reader like her as early in the book as is needed to have them emotionally invested?

The Rebel Queen also runs parallel to aspects of Vengeance Will Come, with some cross-over of characters. That means I have knowledge of both books, and need to make sure that the necessary knowledge is contained independently in both stories. I can’t accidentally reference something in the other book.

One of the other issues that is concerning me is length. Vengeance Will Come was around 110k words at first draft and cut down to 86k words. Although it was sad to see so many words cut (which represent many hours worth of work), I knew that the trimming was worthwhile. Not only was I sharpening the text, but I was also making the length a more attractive proposition for a potential publisher.

The Rebel Queen, by contrast, started at around 65k words. (When I was writing it I had always intended for it to be a shorter length). Now however, if I cut to the same level it will be very short indeed. Or do I add more text to compensate? But I don’t want to do either cut or add too much.

I guess the answer is that at each point I cut or add, whatever improves the quality of the story. If only I had more experience I’d feel more adequate to make those decisions. But I guess that’s how you get experience…

Writing Plan for April 2017

Can you believe it’s nearly April? As a child I’d always heard adults say that time gets faster the older you get. Seriously, it gets so fast it’s ridiculous. I can’t imagine the warp-speed it must pass at when you’re into your 50’s, 60’s and beyond. Talk about time travel!

Back in February I made a slap-dash writing plan with the structural rigor of a house of cards. Realizing my mistake, I quickly retracted it. Just to be clear: a writing plan is excellent, as long as it’s well thought out. If it’s not well thought out then chances are you won’t succeed, and it will be just another reason for self-flagellation. (Of the non-erotic kind, and hopefully only metaphorically. What’s wrong with this world that I need to make those two caveats?)

So let’s look at April with some thinking behind it.

April2017EstimatedUsing my Excel basic writing calendar (which you can download here) I estimate that I’ll have 47.5 hours of writing time in April. Note that I’ve factored in my known other commitments. I’ve also been a bit pessimistic with this – only times where I have a >= 50% chance of writing get put down. So in reality I’m hoping to exceed 47.5 hours… anything more than that is a bonus. (And I will be releasing a cooler version of the writing calendar when I get around to making it. Knowing me, probably soon).

Now I think I can write at about 700 words an hour, or revise about 500 words per hour. I’d like to say I can do more, but until the data supports it I can’t. So with those figures in mind after 47.5 hours I should have revised 23,750 words.

Naturally it’s not quite that easy. As part of my revision I’ll be writing new scenes, but I’ll also be doing blog posts etc. And not all of that time will actually be spent writing. Undoubtedly I’ll hit problems or mind-games that will have me pondering, undecided or back-tracking on my work. Rounding down, by the end of April I hope to have revised 35% of The Rebel Queen.

Balance in the Writing Process

As a disabled man I have a great appreciation for the importance of physical balance. Gravity and physics have an inelegant way of alerting me when I’m not paying enough attention. Balance in a writing process is something I’m still learning.

I’ve done very little research in my writing to-date. My first two novels Vengeance Will Come (with beta readers) and The Rebel Queen (draft) are fantasy, futuristic, other-worldly. That tends to give me a lot of latitude when it comes to ‘putting down accurate information’. I suspect as an inexperienced author I maybe over play that excuse, but it suffices for now.

My new writing project (let’s call The Hostages for now) is set in the near-future, located in the US and Brazil. Research is therefore a must if I don’t want to have the average reader confronted by gargantuan gaping flaws in my setting (or subject matter).

Last weekend I began to research. My intention was to front-load: do all my research before beginning writing. Mustering all the enthusiasm of a new project, much akin to a present-laden child on their birthday, I visited the library and started to plow through source materials. …I’ve realised this approach doesn’t work for me.

If I spend weeks researching (without doing any writing) it will put out the embers of enthusiasm, dulling my writing edge. I need to at least be doing some writing in conjunction with the research, even if it’s only world building or plot sketching.

A Change in Plans

Not too long ago I came up with a writing plan for 2017. I did it because I know it’s something that I should do. The only problem was, I put very little thought into it, eager just to tick the box as having been done. There was zero science (or maths) involved beyond just aspirational goals. Which means it’s value was zero too.

It seemed logical to work on revising The Rebel Queen next. After all, I’ve done the first draft already so that’s the next easiest one to complete. I had a long weekend in which to write, but like a naked man crawling over glass it was painful and I didn’t get far. The few hundred words I did manage to write were not worth the frustration and disappointment that the lack of progress caused. Today, however, I read:

You’ve done a lot of work and you need a period of time (how much or how little depends on the individual writer) to rest. Your mind and imagination – two things which are related, but not really the same – have to recycle themselves, at least in regard to this one particular work. My advice is that you take a couple of days off – go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle – and then go to work on something else. Something shorter, preferably, and something that’s a complete change of direction and pace from your newly finished book. (On Writing by Stephen King)

And now I’ve decided to change plans radically. I am not going to work on The Rebel Queen (at least not immediately). It may be a whole new story, but it does share some characters and overlap with Vengeance Will Come. My brain wants a break from that.

So instead I am moving to a whole new world. I’ve had an idea bubbling away for months now, and I’ve been eagerly waiting to write it. The concept is grand – perhaps more than my skill-level, but I’m going to give it a crack. I see it being a series, probably of novella-length.

Tomorrow night I shall begin planning; tonight I shall take Mr King’s advice and spend the night on the couch relaxing and watching Vikings.