Writer In Motion: Week One

Oh Lordy, here’s a pantser draft!

The half-baked idea and my drafting process

As the first week of Writer In Motion comes to a close, it’s time to reveal the unedited first draft of my story. I took various steps to go from prompt to half-baked idea, which told me the age range for my readers, a genre, some circumstances, a general problem for the main character, and that’s it. No idea about the character’s motivation, her arc, or how it ends:

“A girl stuck on her parents’ airship for the summer accidentally causes a major kerfuffle in the Sky Port where they are hovering.”

I wrote the draft I’ll share below in three sittings, and it has three parts – but they’re not the way the story will be told!! I wrote about the world in the first sitting. I wrote sort-of a scene with lots of exposition in the second sitting. By then I was at 843 words with no real shape to my story. And I was running out of time. You’ve got to get out, I told myself. So for the third sitting I wrote my way out by summarizing the rest of the story, which got me to 1070 words. Phew!

But also, wow-am-I-really-gonna-post-this? Normally I would have been self-editing as I went through these sittings and my first draft would have probably been closer to what I’ll have next week. But that’s not what we were supposed to do, so I didn’t. I even left a typo. It burns, it burns!

Typo!! It burns, it burns!!

So enjoy this Frankendraft…

Rainey’s Painting: Writer In Motion Week 1 Draft

The prompt, upside down. Image by engin akyurt from Pixabay

Summer on her parent’s airship wasn’t exactly Rainey’s idea of a fun break from school. And her mom totally didn’t understand.

“I would think a lot of your friends would love to travel the Undersphere for a season. You’ll be able to go back with tales of exotic ports and even more exotic wares. How many will be able to say the same?”

All kids in the Oversphere started summer internships in the trades after their eleventh birthday. Rainey knew she should probably be grateful, or at least relieved, that her parents had an import-export business. Jaime would be sweating in his father’s forge all summer, and Katria would be spending all her time ribbing corsets at her family’s shop. Almost any other family would mean boring summer days, but at least then she’s have evenings to spend hanging out with Jaime and Katria. There might be an interesting day for Rainey here and there, something to boast about later, but no matter what she would be able to impress her friends with later, the airship was its own kind of boredom factory.

Today their ship hovered in the [City Name] Sky Port, waiting for trading rights and clearance to land. Without being docked, Rainey had done everything on her chore list for the day. Mostly the list included updating the ship’s logs with the pressure readings from what seemed like a million different little gauges scattered throughout the ship. She had to use the ship’s blueprint to locate each nano-steam gauge and record the pressure and time of day in the log. Just as Rainey’s mother had tried to sell her on the [coolness] of the ship’s travels, her father had tried to sell her on the importance of her job. The nano-steam system powered the ship, and the readings Rainey recorded helped her father know when the ship needed service and head off any malfunctions before they occurred. Rainey yawned.

The air currents on the top deck rocked her gently in the hammock on the top deck. Her fluffy orange cat, Amadeus, dozed in the crook of her arm, his tiny nostrils flaring in the breeze.

The clattering of metal against the airship’s wooden deck caused Rainey to flail in the hammock, sending Amadeus scuttling for cover. Rainey dove for the narrow cylinder, grabbing it just before it went overboard. She hadn’t predicted how cold the metal would be, so cold it burned her skin, but she made herself tolerate the sensation long enough to deposit the wand into the hammock where at least she could look at it without dropping it.

Later at dinner, Rainey figured out what must have happened.

“Terrible, just terrible,” Rainey’s mom said, shaking her head.

“That’s what the nets are for, Lorraine. And they worked. She’ll be fine.”

Rainey didn’t see how a fall from such a height could be helped by landing in a net. But the cloud painters knew full well what they were signing up for when they joined the Corps.  Heights and acrobatics that [put any circus to shame], at least the circuses that came through Rainey’s town in the Oversphere.

[are the painters actually interacting with the clouds i.e. seeding them?]

Rainey still found it soothing to watch the cloud painters work. They sat or stood on perches that hung low from the bottom of their airships, a cloud wand strapped to each hand and foot, flowing out from the perch in arabesques as they added color to the clouds in the sky. If there were no clouds, they could make some, if they wanted. The only things holding them to their perches were a  bungee cord and a very long sheet of nylon, and the cloud painters used these lengths to fling themselves off their perches, diving into depths below the ship, then steering their way back with the bungee and braking with the nylon. To Rainey they looked like ribbon dancers who happened to be smoke writers.

But one of them had fallen. It happened sometimes. And Rainey’s father was right – it could have been much worse. Such was the life of a daredevil cloud painter, Rainey sighed. She wondered how many of them had run away from their summer internships to seek out danger in the sky.

The Corps were off for the rest of the day, grounded in air, out of respect for the fallen. Many of the cloud paintings were weather signals, and without them it meant Rainey had extra chores to do. All the airships had to monitor their own instruments, if they had any. Rainey’s father never liked to depend too much on anyone or anything, so he maintained the same instruments an airship father took their airship far into the Undersphere to many ports that didn’t have cloud painters. So he maintained all the weather and navigational instrumentation on the airship that the Air Navy required.

“Nothin’ on the horizon this morning, so I’ll leave you to it, Rainey. You keep an eye on these instruments and tell me if anything changes.”

Rainey gets bored and paints a picture of her cat on the cloud. She doesn’t really know how the wand works so she uses too much color, and soon the whole sky is orange – a signal the town below reads as a storm warning. All the ships have to land. Rainey doesn’t tell her parents what happened because she’s so scared of getting in trouble.

On the ground, a trial has been scheduled. A cloud painter has been accused of the orange-sky hoax that caused all the ships to land. The cloud painter is afraid to come forward and admit that she lost her wand, so couldn’t have done it. Because she should have reported the lost wand.

Rainey ends up coming forward because she doesn’t want to see the cloud painter go to jail. The cloud painter is cleared of purposely generating the hoax but she is suspended for a month for not reporting the lost wand. Rainey is grounded for not coming forward sooner. But the Cloud Painters Corps is moved by Rainey’s passion and curiosity about cloud painting, so they offer to let her to study with the Corps in any of the ports that have them while she’s traveling with her parents that summer. Her parents aren’t crazy about the idea but Rainey thinks she can convince them before the summer is over.

P.J. Powell

6 Comments

  1. Your creative take on the prompt is amazing! You made me laugh ‘bordom factory’ and sold me on the story fully with your MC’s fluffy orange cat! I can’t wait to see where you take it from here.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Stephanie! I was really stumped by the prompt at first 🙂

  2. Wow!! I really love the originality and uniqueness of the world you’re developing here! Airships, cloud painters… I’m so intrigued by this steampunk-sounding world. I can’t wait to see how this grows and changes!

    • Thank you, Megan! It’s my first attempt at anything steampunk, so I’m looking forward to spending more time there!

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