Bombe Chests & Writing

Ships, bricks and bombe chests – the stuff of my obsessions. Did you know YouTube is lousy with videos showing you how to build boats? I’m partial to wooden boats, as the craftsmanship involved in building a large wooden thing with few if any right angles or straight lines that has to withstand all sorts of intermittent and rapidly changing stresses while remaining watertight is awesome to behold.

Consider this: (found at

There are videos of this Viking dragon ship being made:

They use what is called clinker or lapstrake construction: each strake – the long horizontal pieces on the outside of the hull –  is individually curved and fitted, and overlaps the one below it. The lap is shaped to snug and the lower strake lined with tar and plant fibers. Then teams of people curve and fit it on top of the last strake. The strake is clamped and nailed into place, then reinforced from the inside. The ends are cut and carved to fit into the bow and stern. The end product, many tons of lumber with thousands of feet of seams, is supposed to stay in one piece and watertight out on the open ocean. Wow.

There are hundreds of videos out there on wooden boat construction, showing how to build everything from  a birch bark or cedar strip canoe to bronze-age stich-ships to East India Company ships. There’s even a lovely young couple building the ship of their dreams.

Anyway, watching these videos is hypnotic. My woodworking is almost always straight-line, right angle, stays put stuff – bookcases, tables, boxes, that sort of thing. I don’t have to consider the possibility that the next wave will twist a few tons of oak boat one way, then the other, within a matter of seconds – and not only can’t it break, its must stay watertight. Over and over. For years.

Now, that’s some serious woodworking. I almost wish I liked sailing, to have an excuse to build my own boat. I’d need a lot more room, a bunch more tools, and a lot better woodworking chops. And a cure for seasickness.

Or maybe I need to make a bombe chest:

It’s only a little curvy, and doesn’t go anywhere, so the requirements aren’t quite so high as with boats….

Getting real, though, way beyond my current skill level. I’ve never successfully (long story) cut dovetails, for example. So – maybe after I retire?

There’s also the whole design and planning aspect. With a bookcase, say, all the structural elements are straight and square. No need to layout complex curves that will need to fit other complex curves. With a bombe chest, you need to cut and fit a number of curvy surfaces – you’d better know how they are to fit together before you start sawing away! There is unlikely to be any recovery if you cut something wrong – you’ll probably need to throw the piece out and start over.

Writing, it seems, is getting to this point for me, the point of designing a bombe chest if not a boat. I see all the carefully fitted pieces, the caulked seams, the elegant lines – and the planning that went into it – and see that the story I’m working on needs that level of care if it’s not to sink under its own weight.

I understand and am even doing this. Progress is being made. It is slow. This piece by John C. Wright (h/t to the Puppy of the Month Book Club) pretty much sums it up.

The last thing (apart from time) that is a stumbling block: balancing the desire that this story be perfect with the need to just get it done while also not accepting anything less than ‘pretty good’. Very hard to judge from the inside, especially since, while I’ve written my 1,000,000 words of sundry blog posts, I haven’t written 10% of that in fiction. Just a newbie, really.

With boats, the masters made sure they would float, handle and not fall apart by sticking to traditions, building on the backs of centuries of empirical engineering. With this in mind, I’m planning on rereading a couple of my favorite novels just to see how they do it. (Aside: one of the things that made me want to write was Have Spacesuit Will Travel – because it’s obvious what Heinlein is doing! Very straightforward. In the hands of someone less skilled, it might even have come off as paint-by-numbers. Every chapter is Problem-Resolution-Bigger Problem until The Fate of The World! is in the balance. Then he gets even with the school bully. Marvelous!)

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

One thought on “Bombe Chests & Writing”

  1. There used to be a website called “Write Like Rowling” that now goes under the name the Friendly Editor that made some fascinating points about structure.

    The blog writer took the shortest and longest Harry Potter books, ran them through the story structure as defined by some guy named Larry Brooks (who wrote a how-to-write book about his theory), and ended up confirming that Rowling’s books naturally hit upon every point in the story structure PERFECTLY, right down to the percent number of pages it took to get to each point.

    It was pretty fascinating. Here are the links:

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