Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bare bones

So I came up with this idea for a steampunk/sci-fi story earlier this year, got really excited developing it and carrying out the historical research (my idea of fun is probably a little different to yours), and then felt all my enthusiasm exfoliate away when I tried to actually write the thing and remembered I'm not actually all that good at writing. My optimistic first draft got as far as chapter three.

Then recently, my MP3 player broke which tragically meant I had to spend time actually thinking about stuff, like I was from the 1950s or something, and I finally figured out an ending to the story that worked and (most importantly) could be fun to write. It was pretty irresponsible of me to come up with a comprehensive plot outline so close to National Novel Writing Month, but maybe I need that ridiculous, needlessly stressful 30th November deadline to finally get this out of my brain and onto the page. By which I mean the Microsoft Word 2003 file in Arial 10. Even if it's rubbish, at least I can get it out of my system.

Here's a summary of the situation and plot that I've kept as brief as possible, with minimal aren't-I-clever explanations of my genius ideas. Think of it as the York Notes plot synopsis for extremely lazy English Literature students who've already structured their timetable of minimal lectures and seminars so they only have to go to campus on Mondays and Tuesdays and have the rest of the week free, but still consider it unreasonable that they have to actually read stuff.

While Paradise Lost and Ulysses arguably lose something when stripped down to a 500-word synopsis, in this case it's the ideas I'm happy with and the joining-the-dots exercise of inserting conjunctions, verbs and dialogue that ends up spoiling it. If you fancy reading it and letting me know if you think it's worth writing, that would be great. Alternatively, if you think it's awful, this disillusion will save me lots of wasted hours in November.

Then again, once you know the story, there's no reason for me to actually right it - write?


It's the Edwardian times and the Earth/universe is a concave sphere, alright? This was known by the Ancient Greeks, who observed that ships on the horizon seemed to hover slightly before vanishing into the mist, and subsequently forgotten about under religious tyranny in the Dark Ages until the Super Montgolfier Bros made their ill-fated balloon flight in 18th century France and burned up as they approached the central sun, like Icarus before them.

I could go into more detail about this inverted universe (your antipode is about 12,000 miles above you, but due to atmosphere you can't see the curve; there are clouds but no moon, planets or stars; the sun goes dark at night) and how its (pseudo-)physics and ramifications affected humanity's development (people living at higher altitudes naturally have darker skin for protection) and religion (more sun-based than Son-based faiths), but this is the stuff I need to pad this mother to 50,000 word novel eligibility.

Anyway, it's 1902 and the H.M.S. Discovery under Captain Robert Falcon Scott is sailing to the Bentley Subglacial Trench in Antarctica, the lowest point on Earth and thus the ideal site for an intrepid expedition arranged between Britain and America to dig through the Earth's crust and discover what exactly lies on the other side. There must be another side, right? An outside, even? Some fear the icy realm of the Devil, others are sceptical that it's rock all the way.

After a couple of plot-stretching, explosive, exciting setbacks, the Apollo drilling capsule is launched on its downward/outward voyage and its crew - dashing Captain Scott, American palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh and an Irish navvy - spends the next few days discussing the nature of the universe and humanity's progress from their conveniently different perspectives. If it turns out I can write reasonable dialogue, anyway. Let's be optimistic.

After three days, the drill suddenly stops in its tracks, and the terranauts contemplate their next move. This ambiguous finale was as far as I'd got until I realised (SPOILERS) that they've come upon the fabled underground realm of Agartha, populated by living dinosaurs. So that's what the dinosaur expert is there for - not just so I can spend time writing his flashbacks to the Bone Wars, but presumably because the Royal Society knew something about this and sent an expert.

After some fun Jules Verne/Jurassic Park-style dinosaur chase antics in underground caves (they're flocking this way!), the terranauts hear a rumbling sound and witness another drilling machine break through the ceiling. (For orientation, Apollo came through the 'ground'). The coal miners from Our Normal, Convex World Above are understandably confused.

Probably something with Nazis too.

There'll be more stuff than that - snippets from the slightly-different history, exploration of social/spiritual attitudes in this alternate Edwardian 'present,' tedious/bold attempts to explain the impossible physics of an inside-out Earth, peripheral cameos from more historical figures, more masturbatory literary references and plenty of character angst junk. But this is the framework.

Be brutal... actually, no, be gentle. Oh I don't know, try a combination of the two.

Though if I feel more comfortable writing a 500-word plot summary than stretching it out into a 50,000-word novel, maybe I should write 99 more plot summaries instead? A book of the 100 best books I never wrote!


  1. I was going to encourage you to write the first book, but I actually really like the idea of 100 summaries.

  2. So do I, except any others I tried to think of ended up being extremely thin with no real potential to ever expand beyond the summary. And it wouldn't be long before I made them deliberately stupid and my contempt for the whole idea started to show through.

    If I thought about every one of them with the attention I've given to this (most of the details wouldn't even end up in the 50,000 word version), the project would take forever.

    Anyway, I'm pretty sure I heard about someone who already did a book of just synopses, because he didn't like writing full-length stuff but had lots of ideas. Google doesn't tell me who though.