Honors Program


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Klug, Julia. Stretching Between Earth and Stars. Undergraduate Honors Thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2024.


Copyright Julia Klug 2024



Working on this thesis has been one of the hardest writing projects I have ever had to do. It has pushed me to work through mental blocks I didn’t know I had prior to starting this project. That being said, I have found it an enriching and enjoyable process. This creative novel has been a work of labor, love and starting over.

I first started writing this thesis in early March 2023. Since then it has been through several drafts which have ultimately made this story better. I have put this work through several workshops to try and flesh out the ideas that were bouncing around inside my head to make sure that they were on par with what other people would be reading. Going into this project I knew that it was going to take a lot of time and effort to make sure that it was one of the best pieces I have written in my life. It is a process that involved me experimenting and trying new things in order to find my ideal method for writing creatively.

As an English major, one of the biggest things I have learned is that it is a good idea to get more than one set of eyes on a project. Learning how to take the criticism and utilize it in a way that will help my writing become better was a road that had its roadblocks to say the least. Over the course of this novel, I have taken intermediate and advanced fiction writing through the English department. This has allowed me to see what has worked and what needed a bit more time to incubate within my head.

One of the first things that Dr. Jonis Agee told me on the prospect of this story that I was going to need to do a lot of research, and I did. I spent at least ten hours working on researching different elements of my story. I have looked at books on flowers and plants, and even what type of telescopes that are used in university observatories (University of Denver’s telescope type is listed in the first chapter of my novel). This was to further my understanding of what my characters, Vernon Hawthorne and Kiara Hunter, would be looking into in their respective fields of interest.

Another major way that I was able to prepare for this story was to look into several different books in the genre of young/new adult fantasy and read as much as I could in order to get a feel for what the genre was interested in. I have always heard that if you want to be a writer you should read as much as you can. This led me to start looking at the books I was reading for fun and sometimes even for classes in a way where I could pull out useful literary tools. I found myself being drawn into reading books about retellings and how to effectively write a story that would leave my readers feeling engaged but also satisfied with the way it turned out. This is in direct relation to the story I wanted to tell and it helped me gain inspiration as to how to get my characters through the story.

It reminds me of a class I have only just begun taking during the spring 2024 semester, my Shakespeare adaptations and appropriations class. This class is giving me the tools to look at what it means to adapt a story and what it means to appropriate a story and how those two can sometimes be the same thing. This class is teaching me that many of the stories that have been told already are good jumping off points for people to catapult their own stories into motion from. I like to use the metaphor of the existing stories being the skeleton and the appropriation/adaptation of a story being the flesh and muscle of the creature. My story is similar, at least in the sense that I took my story about a boy whose parents died when he was seven, and turned it into a much bigger plot.

I want to say that this story came to me overnight and it was well thought out, but that would be wrong. In fact this story started out as a text chain between my best friend and myself as we hypothesized what one of our favorite actors would do within a role where he was an astronomy student. From there it grew little by little, idea by idea, as I slowly crafted a narrative out of it. It was something that I worked on by bringing in different interests that I had. I knew that there needed to be a bad guy and that I wanted it to be connected to a dark or corrupt secret society that my main character, Vernon’s, parents were a part of. After that I remember wanting to incorporate some sort of magic system because I thought it would be cool to see how the secret society would function if there was something as intense as magic was introduced. This was also the time I started wondering how incorporating parts of the King Arthur legend would work. I am a big fan of the television show Merlin (BBC 2005), and that influenced this partially but I also have been interested in the story for a while. So I started looking into what the legend consisted of, knowing that I wanted to morph it into my own story. Which is how the idea that it would be the second coming of King Arthur and his knights, as they would have to come defend their descendants from the evil clutches of Morgana. While I wasn’t quite able to get that far with this piece yet, I know for a fact that I would like to keep working on it until I can try and get it published.

This story also developed several plot lines where I am hoping to explore different familial relationships between both the main characters and those outside of them. There are at this time five main characters, and so far I have written three of their perspectives. I have Vernon, my main character, who is ultimately faced with trying to uncover why his parents were killed, and along the way will be struggling with finding out what exactly happened the night they were murdered. He also has the added issues of finding and bringing back King Arthur, his knights and Merlin, in order to defeat Morgana. Then we have Kiara, the main female lead, and she is facing what to do when she realizes that her family might not have always been right. She finds out over the course of the novel that her parents were apart of the group that killed Vernon’s parents. This will ultimately put her in a position of having to rectify the idea that she can love someone and still think that what they did was wrong. It will not be an easy lesson for her to learn. As for the other characters we have Lyra, Kiara’s best friend, and then the twins, James and Seth, who are Vernon’s adoptive brothers. Lyra will face finding out her identity as it is placed into question when Kiara and Vernon are separated from the group and Lyra becomes a leader in her own right. James is the older twin and the eldest of his five siblings, and so he will be struggling with the issue of what it means to want something for himself especially when it goes against everything he had been preparing for. He is supposed to take over the family business but isn’t really sure that he wants to do that, and so he will be exploring how sometimes selfishness is one of the best things that a person can do for themselves and others. Seth on the other hand is almost the forgotten sibling and he is going to be figuring out how to love himself outside of seeking his parents, siblings and even friends approval. I am planing on having him be the one to talk Morgana down at the end of the story because he relates to her the most and by that point will hopefully be able to speak to Morgana and talk her off the ledge.

I realized over the course of this project just how much I love to write and how much I would enjoy sharing this project with the people I know and love, but also with the world. It is something that I used to help keep me going when I found myself lacking motivation, yet needing to keep going. I asked for friends and my family to be my accountability partners, something that I found helpful when in college and there was a big deadline coming up, in order to keep my progress steady and moving forward. This was during the summer when my motivation would be low but my time to work on this project would be high. It helped keep me on track because I didn’t want to disappoint those I had told about the project, but I also didn’t want to waste time when I knew having the most amount of time would yield the best results.

This technique was combined with a technique for writing that I had heard of but never really tried before: planing on notecards. It was something that several professors within the English department recommended doing if stuck with a paper or a project. The idea of writing down your plan or ideas on paper and visually being able to see them move around in your physical space was something that really helped me when I got stuck in classes like Writing in Literacy. It was a class that was designed to help me learn what it means to be literate (even outside of the regular literary spaces like writing or reading). This class encouraged us to think outside the box for papers and it was around this time I started thinking about how notecards could help me in my attempt to plan novels.

Another huge component of this was learning about the Antinet Zettlekasten, which is basically a fancy way of saying Analog notecard box. It was something that I found out about online when I was doing research on how best to plan out a novel. I know that writing is something that is ever evolving and becoming bigger and better, which is why I am constantly watching people who write on YouTube for advice, as well as looking to other communities both in person and online to find the best tools to help me write the most effectively. The analog notebox was a tool developed by a man named Scott Scheper who actually went through and translated the work of Nikolas Luhman, a German philosopher who utilized his notecard box as a second brain. I knew that this was something I could likely tweak in order to serve my purpose of writing creatively. I started using notecards to try and plan out scenes and write down ideas that were coming to me when I didn’t have a notebook ready to go. It was a quick and simple way of taking notes and then organizing them into a system that allowed me to find what I was looking for. But I did struggle with creating my own system and so when I found out that other people within the community were also attempting to use it for writing creatively I started to look into their methods.

This ultimately took me to Kathleen Spracklen, a retired professor of computer programming. It is quite odd saying that on paper, but she recently launched a free youtube course on how to utilize the zettlekasten to create vibrant characters and she offers tips for people who struggle to write in long blocked out periods of time. It sounded like something I could use so I started to watch her videos and it was able to give me a system that I could ultimately use not only for this project but also in my classes as well. I have started to take notes on notecards and it has helped me learn how to be succinct and to the point while keeping relevant information on hand. I am planning to use this method in the future and I am happy I stumbled across it when I did.

Returning to the idea that I brought up in the beginning, I mentioned having to do several drafts. In regards to this, I have started and restarted this project about six different times over the course of the last year. I wrote a bit and then rewrote it. I turned it in for feedback, and then rewrote it with the feedback, trying to get it to come out better every time. One thing it has taught me is that there is a very thin line between good writing and going overboard into what people claim to want from the story. Often the critiques were either telling me I was doing too much telling and not enough showing and then the next submission would be telling me that I was doing too much showing but not enough telling. So trying to thread the needle became something that I would have to look out for. It is one of the hardest parts of writing because the piece can always be rewritten.

It is hard to say if something is done, especially with writing. I feel like this piece was one where I was having issues with knowing when to call the piece edited enough. The hardest part is knowing that eventually you have to move on from editing in order to get the rest of the story on the page, or it will never be done. Revising and rewriting this piece became something of a habit as I worked on the ideas and it became a little painful when it was getting close to December, because a lot of the feedback that I was getting from friends, family and teachers was that the magic in my story was coming out of left field and it was jarring enough to push people out of the story. I didn’t want that to happen and I wanted it to flow a bit better, and so I decided to start over and actually attempt to plot the story out.

One of the biggest problems I think I was having was that I knew where the story started, and I had a vague idea of where I wanted it to go, but I didn’t have a definitive end point. So I sat down one afternoon and went through what I wanted the characters to achieve by the end of the story. This helped me a lot in finding a place for my writing to work towards. As with any good story, a writer wants their piece to keep moving the reader forward, and it was something that I was lacking in the early drafts of this novel. Sitting down with myself and looking at what I actually wanted to happen by the end of the story was something that was desperately needed and helped me greatly with getting a direction to heard my characters towards. It also lead me to figuring out what the midpoint of my story was and also lead me to planing out by hand what each characters emotional three act archs were going to be. It helped me figure out that I wanted Seth to be the one to talk to Morgana, even though Vernon was going to be the decendent of Merlin.

This lead me to start trying to figure out how to write out the idea of magic in this world being possible. It came to me as I was talking about the story with my best friend. I realized that having a prologue about King Arthur and his knights capturing Morgana, and swearing an oath would allow for the secret society and the magic system to be set up in one go, which is always nice when plot devices are able to pull double duty like that. So I ended up scrapping about fifteen thousand words or so of writing to re-write this story better and with a more solid plan in mind.

It was one of the more painful growing pains this project put me through. But I found that it improved the story greatly after I started working on it. It allowed for me to write knowing where I am going. This was new to me since I hadn’t really ever written a story with such an interwoven plot, even though I had been pumping out writing since I was in middle school. I found that I am the type of writer that has to write a story in order to get an understanding of it before I can edit it and make it better. It takes a lot of time and energy to really puzzle out how I want a story to go and I almost always don’t know where the characters will end up unless I start writing and then shift it around, rewrite it and rewrite it again.

This process can be painful but I found that my writing has been made ever stronger for it. Thesis writing isn’t a joke and neither is writing a novel. I know I didn’t quite make it to the lofty goal I set out but I do think I was able to craft a really solid beginning to what will be an exciting novel. I know that this story will be one that I hold near and dear to my heart as I move forward in my life and hopefully as I move forward in my writing career. It has shown me that I can do a very difficult task and do well at it, but also how to ask for help and how to lean on others when it comes to getting a big project done, even if the project seems like a solitary act.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department has done a wonderful job of giving me the tools and resources needed to synthesize texts and understand writing craft in a way that I can utilize it within my thesis. It has also shown me how to take criticism and put it towards making constructive changes and how to listen to my gut when dealing with criticism that doesn’t always feel right to the story I am trying to tell. I feel like this project has helped me realize how many skills it takes to write a long paper like this and I am hoping that this writing muscle I have been utilizing to create this story will stay strong and healthy long after my time here at the university has ended.