Writing Update August, 2016

It’s been a while since I posted around here. Sorry about that. Summer is when I tend to stay inside and write and not venture into the furnace of my garage. So not much modelling gets done. Right now we have 90+ degree days and lots of smoke from nearby fires. So breathing is a challenge some days too.

I have, however, been working on my current novel, Corvette. I’ve left the Atom editor and migrated just the manuscript to Google Docs. I still use Atom for all my notes and outline, but all my writing is now linear in one GDoc. I’ve set up the writing scripts of Jamie Todd Rubin to help with word counts. I refer back to my outline open on another desktop, as I write. Currently I’m about a hundred pages into the draft and I’ve already added a few chapters to the outline. Actually, I don’t change the outline, I just add things to the manuscript. The outline is just a blueprint for the author and no reader ever sees it, so I don’t make it match the manuscript. That’s just wasting time and effort.

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In the above screenshot of my outline, chapter 11 does not match up with where I’m at in the story or the actual draft. Pictured above in the manuscript is the last paragraph of chapter 12. Looking at the Google Doc above, you’ll notice I am using a chapter outline. This makes jumping from chapter to chapter easier. Each scene in the chapter is separated by three stars. One oddity is chapter 9 witch is one long scene.

I’m well into the second act of the story and I’ve realized that there might not be enough story to make a three hundred word novel. So I’m drifting a bit and adding character related materiel that might normally only be added in a second draft. I’m also considering whether this might be more of a novella. Normally you shouldn’t worry about all that on a first draft. Just write the story and then analyze it after you’re done. In many ways though, until you write about 20K words of a novel, you’re just not sure if you really know the characters as well as you need to. So sometimes a good examination of characters is needed to keep the reader engaged and story moving forward. And that’s where I’m at right now.

I’d like to be done with this novel before October, so I need to keep churning word counts on a daily basis to make that goal.

 

Atom’s Back

I finally had a moment to investigate why Atom was refusing to let me type on the pages of my current WIP. It turns out that it must of been some kind of bug in the file system reader. I opened a different folder and then closed Atom and reopened it. Then I opened the novel folders and suddenly things were back to normal. Strange. I suppose it had something to do with using Dropbox folders and the fact that I rarely close programs. So my new SOP is to close Atom after I finish a writing sprint.

While Atom was down, I used Bluefish HTML editor to write Corvette. But that was only for a few sprints. Happy to report no problems using Bluefish or reading the newly created files with a working Atom editor. So for today’s lunchtime sprint, I’m back in the saddle again and raring to write. Below is a screenshot from the Bluefish webpage. Still one of the best HTML editors on Linux.

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SS Weippe

This is the principle vehicle of the novel I’m currently writing – Corvette. It is a 1/350 scale model with multiple mount points. (For scale reference, it’s a few inches over a foot long.) It’s the first model I’ve built with RenShape material for the core. RenShape is a special polymer block that cuts like wood and allows me to drill a hole for a mount rod and then drill a hole and tap it for a set screw to secure the rod into the model. The rest of the model is simple sheet plastic and kit bashing. I’ll have a page for this model showing how I built it soon. The model does not have any lights but it does have drilled out portholes where lights would go. I later used Gimp to light some of the portholes.

The model was mounted to a tripod in front of standard blue screen and lit with the Master Key, or the sun. The blue screen material covering the mount rod caused some blue reflection on the bottom of the model. So I chose a blue nebula star field image to matte behind it for the finished image. I used Gimp to assemble the composite.

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Blue Screen Shoot

The sun was out, I had a new model stand and it wasn’t blazing hot yet. All the elements were in place yesterday for a decent photo shoot. For those of you who don’t already know, I scratch build the starships from my novels and photograph them for use on the book covers. My brother Byron does all the compositing required for making the covers shine. We’re a pretty good team in that respect, with him being a graphics artist and me being a modeler and amateur photographer.

My shiny new C-stand arrived on Saturday, so it was a good excuse to go out into the sun and take some model pictures. The blue screen material is the same that is used in Hollywood and it’s clipped to a PVC frame.

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This is a Votainion warship and a corvette from my WIP entitled Corvette. Both models are to the same 1/350 scale and are separated by about three feet.

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This is a Votainion KiV-3 starfighter, scale is 1/32. Not sure how the glare off the gobo head was created. Could just be excessive shine.

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I shot this all in my driveway with a Canon DSLR. I was able to get a pretty high F-stop needed for depth of field.

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This is a starfighter from later on in the Great War. It’s one of my favorite designs.

Writing Life

Over on Google+ I’m posting screenshots of my latest novel as I write it. If that sort of writer wonkery is up your alley, go check it out. If not, safe to ignore to avoid spoilers. The novel is called Corvette and its my attempt to write to the Military SF ebook genre. It’s also the final Star Saga book on the docket for this year. I’m going to be stepping away from that universe and trying my hand at an original, stand alone Sci-Fi novel. I’ll be back to the next trilogy of the Star Saga probably late next year.

Writing in Atom

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I’ve switched to yet another writing program for this novella. Now I’m using Atom, the programmer’s editor from the creators of GitHub. Basically, I’m a nerd and I love using programming tools to write my fiction. While this editor was not designed to write prose, it handles that task pretty good. I like how all my files are arranged in the tree to the left and it lets me view them as a web page with included images for the character descriptions. When I’m done with my draft I can export every scene into clean HTML files which can then be cut and pasted into Sigil for ebook creation.

The only hard part is going to be stitching them all up into one file. I may avoid that step by doing my editing in Sigil. Stay tuned to find out if I figure that bit out or not.

Pre-Visualizing My Novel

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.

 

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.