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Day 1: Writing a Novel—The Deep Blue Hold

Note: Unedited writings from my notebook for this novel. Square bracket items represent added comments.
... this is where it begins...
he start of my work on a new novel. And using a bound notebook instead of loose leaf or a spiral notebook. I hope this is the right choice. It feels right. [I have various preferences on what to write with, fountain pen, and what to write on. It has varied over the years.]
The objective isn’t just to write this novel but write it quickly as I can. Work on it as much as I can. Not just a couple of hours a day, but as much as I can. I hope to get a first draft done in a couple of months. [It didn’t happen.] Realistically I would be drafting and writing and having something done by January 31st. That seems doable. [It did.] That’s based on Ian Fleming who took two months to get a first draft down. If he can do it, I know I can do it. And page count. No more than 300pp. Between 250 and 300. Don’t make it too long.
[Note: In the past, a first draft might take four to six months to complete.]
I’m thinking about this story. I know I could write it. I saw it in my head and it simply become a matter of doing it. No doubts if I could.
  • complete this novel – a thriller
  • short chapters in the James Paterson style – fast-paced. I can write like him and he’s have sold. [There’s a market for his style of novel. For good or bad.]
  • book length 250-300pp
  • get first draft done by Jan. 31st
  • work on it as much as possible
  • be less worried about what’s plausible in the story or about word choice
The story. It started with a revolting premise. There’s a commercial ship in the oceans. The crew keeps a harem to help pass the time. Some women from poor parts of India. They aren’t sex slaves but close. They brain washed them… I think I’ve toned it down. In my mind, it’s being done by the crew for the crew. Then I imagined some rich Arabs coming on board…but that takes it into the sex trade and that’s not what it’s about. It about this ship, this crew and the these girls trapped on board.
[I fully recognize it’s a dark story and I will not write in any graphic way. That’s not me. I only hint at what takes place and the reader’s imagination can fill in the rest. For me, it’s a story about indignation about cruelty some inflict on others, about bring awareness to it and working to stop it.]
I just saw an image. Buried at sea. It has to do with what to do with a girl when they are no long of use. They toss the person overboard. That could be a way to get a message out from the ship to the rest of the world. Put something on the body. And to do that requires previous scenes.
The ending is clear. The guys behind these crimes have to get it. That will be a large motivation for reading. To see them get it in the end. I imagine some type of scenario where the ship’s captain and crew aren’t arrested because of political pressures and international laws [that won’t allow it,] but someone, somehow goes to work outside the law.
So who owns the boat? Where do the officers and crew come from? I’m going with Chinese [officers] and Philippines [as crew]. The Chinese can be the baddies. They are the closest thing to Nazis and Soviets. You could say radical Muslims are, and ‘tis true, but that’s been done to death and they have no history of shipbuilding and commercial sailing. Ships that go to Arabia for oil are European, American, Asian. So a Chinese owned and operated ship.
Then I was wondering about what woman [our heroine] gets on the ship and how. I have a solution. It’s a woman who is making a round the world sailing voyage. I see it as a solo voyage, but could be a large boat. Go with solo for now. It’s while the boat is stranded, damaged, she’s rescued by the ship. That gets her onboard. She thinks she’s saved but the worst is yet to come. [As a sailor I’m familiar with the many round-the-world sailing races and the like.]
I had an image. The boat [her sailboat] sends out a signal—a beacon. The folks at home send out a rescue—search and rescue. They eventually find the boat. No sign of her. They assume she’s lost at sea. That’s reasonable. That creates a challenge. How does she get off the boat? How does her family know she’s alive? That’s something I have to figure out. I think I know—she befriends someone who brings her food. Then a bribe. Or, …damn, I go sidetracked and lost my thought. She has to convince someone in the crew to help her. Then I imagined much later where she has a gun, kills some of the crew when she’s faced with the person who helped her, she shoots him as well. That’s a good twist.
Here’s something. Instead of holding her as a sex slave, she’s held for ransom. Something to consider. [This may very well be the key to getting her off the ship, but it doesn’t end the story.]
I imagined starting the book with her boat in rough shape. Damaged. And then had doubts because it’s like, “It was a dark and stormy night…” Well that’s a cliché but I can get around it to make it fresher. [Not so sure now.]
Lots of thoughts going through my head. How to make the story worthy of being called a novel. The premise is one. The political intrigue. The characters. The setting. Try to put new things in there. [Life inside a massive container ship. The repugnant officers and crew.]
I was reminded of another story idea I had a years ago. Three men. Each loses a leg in a motorcycle accident [on the same day]. The story is about the contrast in how they deal with it. But that’s for another time. I have to focus on this story—make it happen. And I will.
The story will shift POV (point of view). Her POV. Her family’s POV. The search and rescue. Later the government. Plus the crew and other girls. At least that’s the thought for now.
Lost at sea. That’s short [a short scene]. Once on the ship, we get to a point where we learn the bad crap she’s in. Then the dead-end of the search and rescue. This creates a worse situation for her. No one is coming to rescue her. Then she’s on the boat and things have to get worse. How does that happen? False hope of being rescued. False hope placed in relying on someone. Betrayal. Discovery of who she is and possibility of ransom. There would be news of her disappearance on the internet.
I was imaging them, the family [hers], searching and keying in on ships travelling in the area. But they think she’s dead, lost at sea. So why would they search. Something to consider. I knew these ships send out beacons. Their courses are known. [You can follow course plots online.] It would be possible to locate, to know of ships in the area. I imagined they tracked down many but run into a road block when it comes to the Chinese. Hence the need for diplomatic help.
I was thinking about what type of ship it is. Not long ago I watched a documentary on the world’s largest container ship. It would make sense for the Chinese to surpass its size. But would a ship like that be able to rescue someone from a sailboat? Only with a launch. A speedboat. The container ship travels fast because it’s long and doesn’t stop easily. It would take 30 minutes plus to stop. Plus there is pressure to move the cargo as fast as possible. So there’s lots of things working against it. But it’s something I can work around.
Also wondering where this ship is travelling. Shanghai to US? To Europe? From Malaysia? Something to figure out. And also find out the sailing route. There would be a preferred route. Another challenge—the ship would be in shipping lanes. Lots of other ships. Wouldn’t they have stopped… We’ll perhaps the ship is on a secret mission, but not likely.
Maybe it’s making a once a year trip like to Antarctica or the North Pole. Something to consider. That would mean the ship isn’t the world’s largest.
A couple of thoughts about the family. Using influence to get in touch with US Navel Intelligence about ships in a certain area.
I saw the guy loading a container on the ship. Falsely labelled. Filled with explosives. Causes the boat to sink in the end. That might be too on the nose. [It would be cinematic.]
It would be easy to have this woman attacked by pirates. But that’s too on the nose. But what if while she’s on the ship, pirates attack it. It seems as if she’s going to be saved. But the crew dispatches the pirates. Then a navel ship in the area comes to investigate. Another potential rescue but they are in international waters and don’t allow the navy to board. I imagined a Dutch frigate.
The rescue could come from a navel ship, but again on the nose. Plus who would they knew to do so.
The containers on board would contain all sorts of things. Consumer goods. Foods. Chemicals. There would be a chance for her to locate a container to get something that would help. Chinese fireworks. Setting them off as a flare. And a fire on board.
What if a mate was behind the scheme [keeping a harem onboard] and the captain didn’t know or reversed. First mate didn’t know and surprise, helps her. Some compassion.
What’s part of a ship that isn’t know to most people? Need to find that out and bring it out.
It’s 0h40. I’ve been at this for over three hours. I can feel it in my brain. Not used to this much thinking—not recently. It’s exhausting.
So where am I and what else to write about? Not sure. Wondering about plotting. This is a plot driven story. I have [want] an outline that goes from A to Z. Lots of hooks, cliff-hangers
I was thinking about a definition for this and I have one. A cliff-hanger introduces new information that raises a question that begs to answered. The reader has to keep going to get the answer. Then you provide the answer with a twist. It can’t be an answer the reader expects. That’s the twister. [See also headlines online that are referred to as click bait. e.g., Exclusive photos of Trump without his toupee.]
Ugh. I’m feeling tired. I’m surprised at how quickly it came. I should think about going to bed.
At this point in the story development I don’t have any characters other than a few placeholders. No names. No images of these people. Something will come.
And I don’t have a title for this book. Not even close to having a title. Something will come and it will probably come out of the blue.
I’m not too worried about coming up with character details. That I can do [it] without trouble. The bigger issue to me is the plot. Is it possible to list some points and will it help? Yes and yes.
Ugh. I’m feeling zapped, yet I feel I should push myself to get this novel…[missing thought]. That’s what I feel I need to to. A different approach from my previous writing. [Previously working a certain amount of time each day. With this one, the plan is to work as much as possible like building up food reserves before winter sets in.]
Chp. A1. On the sailboat in a storm—the mast snaps, she’s struck and passes out.
Chp. A2. Wakes up. The sun is out. Storm has passed but the boat is a mess. Scans the scene. Pinned by mast and rigging. Starts to move and sees blood in the water in the cockpit.
Chp. A3. She searches for where the blood is coming from. Where is it coming from? Head? Arm? Leg? Foot? It’s her lower leg. Her wet weather gear is ripped. Skin on her leg—abrasion. Like a grater run down her leg. [Splinters of carbon fibre lodged into her leg.] She crawls into the cabin to find the first aid kit and discovers the bandages are soaked and useless.
This is working. [Well, it’s something rather than nothing.] I have 3 chapters. And I can keep this going. The question is at what point does the outside world come into play. I should do it soon so that the reader knows about the shifts in POV—to get used to it [POV shifts].
Chp. B1. [A presents her POV, B presents the container ship.] On the ship. MV [Merchant Vessel] (Unknown name). Not sure what to show. On the bridge is a natural spot but what to have happen? Then I was wondering about a first drill, as they often do, somewhere on the ship but that’s unsettling. Then I was thinking about spotting the sailboat. That might be too obvious. But what if they hear a distress call [an SOS] and ignore it. It’s an electronic signal. Here we see selfishness. The pressure to maintain the schedule and speed. [Commerce before humanity.] They ignore the signal so a cliff-hanger. Here’s something that could taint the choice—pirates could use it as a ploy. A false flag. I don’t like that. Then there’s the issue of speed and time. The sailboat needs to be close but not too close for the ship to do anything…And they can’t see it, so ignore it…I’ve got it. The ship has to circle and come back. So he—the third mate---has to be off watch. It’s the second mate who wants to ignore. Then the captain comes to the wheel house and changes course because he knows it’s a woman. So.
Chp. B1. 2nd mate picks up SOS but knows he’s going to ignore.
Chp. B2. Captain on watch and changes course because there’s a female voice on the radio.
So I have five chapters, but I wonder if it’s all lame. Been done before. That worries me. Keep or change? Add to it or start somewhere else… Hmm. Why would it work? Things happen fast. It’s short chapters. It’s like a new genre—hyper-fiction. So I can see it working but it has to work. If not, people will skip the book. So how to tell if it’s good enough. Trust my instincts. Get someone else to read it, but that doesn’t always result in an honest assessment. So I’m not sure what to say. I think I have to push and push to get the new world in this world. [Not sure what I meant by that.] I have to bring an experience that people haven’t experienced. Ultimately I’ll know when people read it. But by then it’s too late…I have to trust my instincts.
Note: Unedited writings from my notebook for this novel.
Square bracket items represent editorial comments.
James Piper
Kitchener, Ontario
Posted 2017/03/10 at 12h34ET in The Deep Blue Hold | Writing A Novel


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