Pre-Visualizing My Novel

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I’m still working on all the bits of writing required before you actually write a novel. In the film business we call this Pre-Production work. It’s all the planning that goes into filmmaking before the camera rolls. In writing a novel there are many things that have to be written before you start the actual telling of a story. You have to plot out the story, you have to invent and learn who your characters are, you have to research things and places that might be in the book and you have to decide things like who’s point of view each scene will be. It’s almost as much work as actually writing the book. But it’s so worth having done before hand because if you do it well, writing the book goes so much smoother and faster.

This is one of the more interesting phases of writing a novel for me. I’ve had to spend more time learning the characters of this novel than any of the other Star Saga novel. Primarily because they are all new to me. So I have to allow myself the time explore who they all are, what they look like and what they need out of the story. One of the newer things I’ve been doing for this novel is casting my main characters by finding either actors or real people on line who look my main characters and saving their images into a picture folder. Just wish I could add pictures to my Plume Creator program someday. This helps visualize them more than you might think.

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I have also created a static model of the SS Weippe for use on the cover of the novel. This actually helps me describe the ship and get a feel for how it looks next to other models I’ve built in this time period of the Star Saga. The more visual aids you have, the easier it is to write when you get going.

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Speaking of the corvette used in this novel, I finally settled on the hull registration number for it. I decided to pay homage to the Flower Class corvette used in the famous novel, The Cruel Sea. The Compass Rose was K-49, so I made my SS Weippe, 049. I have also finalized the name as Weippe, which is taken from a small town in my home state of Idaho. Weippe is where the Nez Perce tribe first met the explorers, Lewis and Clark. You may have heard of them. Anyway, in my novel the Weippe is the first Federation ship to encounter the Votainions. Needless to say, it does not go as well for my crew as it did for the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Another interesting tidbit, I have decided that my captain will look like this picture of Ernest Hemingway.

 

Modeling Update

Just finished the primer coat on the GCU Griffin model this weekend. I still have some bits and pieces that need to be added, so will have to coat again next weekend. But you can start to see the general shape and fit of the ship now. I’ll admit that the design is a bit unconventional, but I still think it looks awesome. I originally designed this one back when I was a kid. Even built it in cardboard in almost the same scale. If you read Starstrikers, you’ll learn all about this important starship.

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This new acrylic primer I’m using is much darker and bluer than the auto car body primer I was using. But it doesn’t stink near as bad.

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The other side of the model for reference.

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I used the whole bottle on the model, so will have to order a case of it or something. I also need to find some gloss coat and dull coat for decals. Probably use whatever I can find at Home Depot.

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This is where I hid the slider switch for the internal lights. Sometimes you have to be sneaky. I didn’t plan this nice over hang, but it turned out to be the perfect spot to hide the switch. It’s starting to get warmer out in the garage studio, so eventually I’ll have to move operations inside or suspend the modeling until fall. I’ll be building smaller stuff until it cools off again. 

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Sign up for Newsletter, Get FREE Ebook

Doesn’t get any easier than that. You want to be informed about my latest releases, I want to give you free stuff. Either way, you win!

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Now when you join my newsletter, Dispatches, you get a shinny new cover version of Starforgers. Chose the Kindle version or the epub version, heck, take both! After you finish reading Book 1, you can pick up Book 2, The Rising and be on your way through the first trilogy of the Star Saga. Later this month, I’ll inform you that Book 3 is out and bingo, you’re in the know and you never miss a release again.

If you enjoy Starforgers and want more exciting Devon Ardel stories you can always pick up Devon’s Blade which takes place a year after Starforgers. Amazon readers have noted the similarity to WWII fighter pilot stories and that’s exactly what I was going for, so if that sounds interesting, be sure to pick up Devon’s Blade.

 

Introducing Manuskript

I’ve started testing a new writing program for Linux users called, Manuskript. This is a very promising first draft tool along the lines of Plume Creator or Scrivener. If you want to give the program a shot, I suggest you use the develop GIT version, instead of the pre-release. But if the terminal causes you anxiety then just wait for it to go out of beta, because this one is still unstable and going through rapid development.

I started outlining my latest novel using Manuskript and found it quite nice to use. Unfortunately, I was not able to recover from a file system location change and wound up losing some of my outline. For this reason I’ve returned operations to Plume Creator and will be coming back to Manuskript to test and play around with it as I write Corvette. What this means is I’ll be cutting and pasting my completed scenes into Manuskript after I create them in Plume. Then I won’t freak out if something happens to them.

But if you want to install and play around with Manuskript I highly encourage it! It’s a pretty slick tool already and as it becomes more stable it will be another welcome addition to the Linux writing tool set. While I was using Manuskript I introduced the program’s developer to Plume Creator’s developer, hoping the two of them could share experiences and ideas. I’m pretty sure this will help improve both tools and give us Linux writers a huge productivity boost.

As time permits, I’ll be doing more posts about Manuskript and showing you some of the features I really enjoy. If you have any program testing chops, this is the perfect opportunity to help a new project out. Download the develop version from GIT and let the developer know about the issues you find. That’s called giving back to the community and I believe it’s an essential part of being a writer. Very few folks use Linux to write books, but those of us who do, have the unique ability to help developers make our products better. Something users of proprietary programs like Scrivener, and Word, can not do.

Opening Day

Major League Baseball is off an running for the 2016 season. This Cubs Fan has been loyal since about 1982 and I’ve seen many good teams come and go without being able to win a World Series. Last year I saw a fantastic team come very close. It was a great year of listening to the Cubs play and watching my son play for his American Legion team. This year, I got to watch the first Cubs game on TV and was treated to another masterful performance by Cy Young winner Jake Arieta. But the offensive big guns on this team were silent. It was the unsung heroes who hit and scored runs in their 9-0 take down of the Angels. Which gives this year’s Cubs team that special and rare talent of having a nine man slugger line up. Anyone can be a hero with the bat all up and down the lineup.

Here’s to a great run in 2016! Go Cubs Go!

Spring Break

We are back in Tennessee this week for Spring Break. My father-in-law passed away and we are attending his memorial service. Here’s a picture of a Dogwood tree in their front yard.

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The Rising Now on Kobo and Nook

Just a quick update to let you know that The Rising is now available on the Nook and on Kobo e-readers as well as the Kindle. If you’re wondering why no Apple version it’s because I don’t own a Mac computer, so I can’t do Apple Store self-publishing stuff. I could go through other sites to get that, but I don’t really care about Apple. When Apple starts allowing someone with Linux to access it’s store, then I’ll care. Don’t hold your breath.

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The Rising, Now on Kindle

It’s been kinda crazy around the household these past few weeks and I completely forgot to mention here that I released a new novel on Kindle. You can now finally get Book Two of the Star Saga – The Rising, on Kindle. It’s only $2.99 and it’s available here. If you are new to the series, you can get Book One, Starforgers on Kindle, Nook and Kobo for .99 cents or snag it free here on the blog in the column to your right. As it happens, Book 3, Counterattack will be out in April. Just as soon as I finish proofing it and we get a cover completed.

So lots of reading ahead of you if you like my fiction. For the first time all three books of the Star Saga’s first trilogy will be available. I’ll be spending some time on advertising after Counterattack launches, so be ready for that media blitz. As a reminder, the reading order for the Star Saga is as follows:

  1. Tales From Ocherva, Volume One (anthology) – Devon Ardel’s days as a Stellar Ranger.
  2. Starforgers, Book One (novel) – Devon joins the Federation Stellar Fleet and helps start a war with the Votainion Empire.
  3. Devon’s Blade (novella) – Devon is assigned to a demoralized fighter squadron on a backwater world, to help turn it into a fighting unit.
  4. The Rising, Book Two (novel) – Devon goes home on leave when her mother, the President of the Alliance is blown up by a Silicant.
  5. The Blood Empress (novella) – About the rise in power of Empress Nykostra.
  6. Counterattack, Book Three (novel) – Devon commands a starship named for her mother and must stop a massive enemy counterattack.

These six books cover the career of my heroine, Devon Ardel, from a gun slinging Ranger to a gun shooting fighter pilot to a starship captain. There are lots of reoccurring characters throughout the series from Silicants to space pirates, politicians and military personnel. The overall story is of the beginning to a millennial war between the Alliance and the Votainion Empire. There is about a 500 year gap between Book Three and Book Four, so all the characters and the situations change in the second trilogy. You can read the first book of the second trilogy, Starstrikers, but I’ve yet to write Book Five and Book Six. If you really want to know how it all ends, skip to Book Seven and read Starveyors. I know, it’s complicated.

Pre-Production, Part 2 Original Source

Original Source

One of my favorite authors, Tobias Buckell, wrote a series of articles about being a new professional writer that were later turned into an audio podcast. Joe Blo NeoPro can be streamed here. The third episode touches on the idea that all great writers draw from some other source for their ideas. Go and listen to that episode for further details.

The Original Source for my novella, Corvette, stems from the research I’ve done into two primary areas. Currently best selling Indie Military SF and historical novels and movies about the Corvette’s of WWII. I’ll start with the current best sellers.

Current Best Sellers

In order to understand what is selling in the market you are writing to you must actually read what is popular now. That means going out and getting a few ebooks in that genre and studying them to see what makes them popular. If you have read Chris Fox’s book Writing to Market, he lays out what books he’s read to research his own Military SF novel, Destroyer. I’m reading the very same books he read to study how they are satisfying the current market. Bye the way, you can listen to Chris talk about this for free on episode #137 of the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast.

Some of the books I’ve read that are hot on Amazon Kindle now are: Constitution by Nick Webb, Warship by Joshua Dalzelle and Battle Cruiser by B. V. Larson. Reading these books one after the other the plots all seem to blend into one, which I guess is Chris Fox’s point above. Familiar, yet each one slightly different.

Historical References

I could have gone back even further to sailing ships, but decided to stick to WWII for now. It was an area of modern military history that I knew very little. So I Googled around for popular fiction that involved WWII corvette class ships and destroyers. Turns out there is a seminal novel and movie of the same name called The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat. I first listened to the BBC radio adaptation of the novel and it was riveting. Next I’ll be reading the novel and then watching the movie. But that is just one example for me to draw inspiration from.

     

I’ve also started watching every WWII naval movie I could find. There are some real gems out there like The Cain Mutiny with Humphrey Bogart. The movies made during and after the war always have this annoying subplot of someone’s love interest so they can feature the popular actress of the day. But they all have great shots of the ships or at least models of the ships.

Cover Model

Something that I always wind up doing that most writers don’t do is build a model of a ship that’s featured in my novels. Below is the unfinished model I will be using for the cover of my novel Corvette. It’s a 1/350 scale version of my corvette starship. So before I even start writing my novel I have this totally detailed model to play around with and dream about what it looks like inside.

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When I was writing Starforgers I was building a slightly larger battleship version of this model and it led to me actually figuring out a key action scene by playing around with the model. So who knows what I might dream up while waving this model around?

Pre-Production, Part 1 – Premise

PRE-PRODUCTION

What follows is an overview of how I go about starting a new novel. It’s not a very detailed explanation but it is specific to this novel. I’ll not give away any salient details of the story so as not to ruin it for potential readers. My aim here is to inform you about my processes. I’ll also be updating this blog in regular posts with my progress. I’d like to move rather quickly on this one and see how fast I can conceive, outline and write a novel. I’ll be recording the time spent writing it in a spreadsheet so I will have an accurate account of how long it takes to complete each phase of book construction. For me, a book goes through three stages, Pre-Production – everything done prior to actually writing it, Production – the actual writing of the first draft and Post-Production – everything that happens after the first draft to include editing, proofing and publication. If you know much about how films are made, you will recognize these phases.

Pre-production is everything that happens before I actually start to write. In order to write this novel as quickly and efficiently as possible, I will be outlining it down to the scene level before commencing the actual writing. This is normal for me so I don’t anticipate any difficulty other than doing it much faster than I normally would.

SET-UP

When I begin a novel I usually start a new book in Plume Creator my first draft writing tool. I have areas for the book itself, notes on character, plot and locations. This lets me keep all my written notes in one place right with the actual chapters of the book. Under Plot I create a synopsis page. This is where I start hashing out the overall plot of the book in a few paragraphs. I’m just noodling at a distance, no details and usually just the main character is known at this time. Once I have the overall plot described almost as if on a back cover blurb, I start thinking about the main characters and what changes they will endure. I also start trying to figure out the theme of the book and what will be the original concept. What will make it unique and what about the story will follow common tropes.

This past week I managed to do all the above paragraph in about two hours. I spent a third hour breaking the plot down into the necessary story structure elements needed for a four act novel. This will look familiar to those of you who have read Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. I use this format for every novel and novella I write.

STORY STRUCTURE

[ACT ONE] THE SETUP

HOOK – Setting a killer hook

Introducing your hero

Establishing the stakes

Foreshadowing events to come

INCITING INCIDENT – Launches Hero On Mission

FIRST TURNING POINT – AT 25%

[ACT TWO] THE RESPONSE

PINCH POINT #1

MIDPOINT

[ACT THREE] ATTACK – The hero fights back

SECOND TURNING POINT

PINCH POINT #2

[ACT FOUR] RESOLUTION

 

CONCEPT

This novel will follow the current Military SF tropes that are selling for Indie authors.

1. Old captain with an old ship on perhaps a final mission.

2. Only ship in the area.

3. Secret military mission.

4. Happy ending with only side characters dying.

5. Violent, overpowering enemy that prove to be cunning and dangerous.

6. They have to beat the larger, better armed enemy vessel.

If you have read any of the top selling novels in this genre these tropes will be quite familiar to you. They all have a cool looking starship on the cover and many are named after ship classes or starship names. I have followed this convention closely. The name I have chose for this novel is Corvette. A corvette is a small, fast ship that usually escorts civilian ships in a fleet or convoy and protects them from submarines. The inspiration for my starship corvette is the Flower-class corvette’s from World War 2. I have spent time researching the Flower-class corvettes for original source material.

These ships were small, no longer than about 200 ft and had a crew of about 50. They were simple and sturdy vessels that could be build fast in smaller ports and were initially designed to stay in ports to protect them from enemy subs but as the progressed they were pressed into escort duties across the North Atlantic. They usually had one main 4 inch gun and several smaller guns aft.

As part of my research I’ll be watching the films The Cruel Sea and Deep Six as well as reading the novels the films are based on. Both of these films have ships the size of the corvette or slightly larger. In researching naval life and battles I’m looking for interesting bits that are common to all such stories. While my story is set in space and with space ships, they are not much bigger than these sea ships and so I can draw parallels quite nicely. While I have never been to sea in a Navy ship, I’ll have to rely on my research and talking with friends who were in the Navy.

My corvette starship was sketched out on paper and I’ve already started building the model that will be on the cover. Modelling is a hobby of mine and I love that I can use it to prepare unique covers for my SF novels. This model is built to 1/350 scale and will be about 400 ft in length if it were real, but the total living space is about that of a WWII corvette. In other words it’s tiny.

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Because this corvette is so small I need a large enemy warship to illustrate how out gunned it will be on the cover. So I will be using my Votainion warship model, actually built to the same scale as the corvette. I hacked together a cover concept that will no doubt change over time but gets my creative juices flowing for writing the novel.

Corvette

Next up I’ll talk about my main characters and some more about the original source material for the novel.