Writing Bits and Pieces, Going Rogue


What happens when you spend all that time making an outline and then toss it aside when you’re in the heat of a first draft? You go Rogue. It happens with just about every book I’ve ever written. At some point, I make a change and the next thing I know I’m going off outline. Swinging the machete and clearing a new path. Most of the time I circle back and find the trail again. With my latest Work In Progress I may have ventured too far from the path as set forth in the outline.

I scrapped many scenes in a few chapters and then ditched an entire chapter. At this point, I’m having to completely wing the final act. I mean the story is pretty much the same, it’s the way things happen that has changed. Just enough turmoil to make staying on the outline impossible. But that’s OK.

Novel outlines are not like blueprints for buildings. If you suddenly decide to knock out a wall here and add a new room there, it’s not going to cause the builder any headaches. You just press on and make sure your story has a proper resolution. After you’ve written a few novels, like at least five or six, you begin to develop a second sense about what needs to happen and can often pants your way out of the sticks and back to camp without being on the established path. Can I use any more metaphors here?

So you can see I have about 20 thousand words on this novella. I might have another 10 to 15 thousand left to write. It’s much shorter than a regular novel.

Military Challenge Coins

If you’ve read my novel Starstrikers, or have served in the military, you are no-doubt familiar with unit coins. The unit you are assigned to usually has a coin decorated with the unit symbol. Members carry the coin on them at all times. You never know when someone will take out their coin and challenge those around them. You’re supposed to take out your coin or risk buying the challenger a drink. Of course if you drop your coin on the floor in taking it out, you owe the room a round because you disrespected the unit.

Anyway, bringing this up again because my Civil Air Patrol squadron now has unit coins available to members. Sometimes the commander gives them out to folks who have helped out the squadron in some civic minded fashion. I know the Governor of Idaho has one. Below are some pictures of the Boise Composite Squadron’s unit coin. It’s a bit larger than the AMMO coin I carried in the Air Force.



Writing Bits and Pieces – Removing a Character


This week I had to rewrite a scene or two and remove a character and replace him with another. I don’t want to risk any spoilers, so I’ll be discussing this particular writing problem in slightly vague detail. In re-reading what I had written it became clear that a certain character should not be in the story. The scenes that I had written worked fine, in fact I loved having the cameo by this character from another novel of mine. But it reduced tension in this key Second Act scene and made the hero’s journey seem too easy.

I wanted the hero to have to face a new problem and didn’t want to give him anything familiar to lean on. I wanted the hero to have to trust a new character in a situation that was uncomfortable to him. That was hard to get across when he was interacting with an old friend instead of being faced with a somewhat threatening individual.

It was a hard couple of scenes to have to cut up and redo. I really liked them the way I had them. But they didn’t serve the story so they had to go. Usually I find this sort of deep cut editing in the second draft, but this one was found and handled in the first draft. Hopefully that will be one less thing to change down the line. I’ll still need to go in and tweak these scenes a bit, but at least now I have some tension right where I need it. Yet another reason to be familiar with story structure.


GCU Griffin Build, Part 2


The Griffin was not going to be a large and heavy model, like the Renoke. It was a smaller starship than the GCU Sokol and would be built to the same scale as that model, 1/350. I’ve had some success with these 1/4 20 female plugs that can be hammered into a pre-drilled piece of wood. So I went to the hardware store and purchased a 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch square piece of hobby wood and cut it to the width of the scanner section.

This would also be where I mounted the 1 1/2″ PVC pipe used for the Class-C engine. I drilled and hammered into the wood four of these plugs. This would let me secure it to the PVC with the top one and give me left and right and bottom mounts for the model.


Below we see the PVC and wood mounted with the scanner and head sections taped on for reference. 


This is a side view of the model. Proportions are slightly long in this shot and would need to be shortened a bit to match my drawings.


I’ve had great success gluing wood to plastic with this Gorilla White glue. The metal plug sticks out a bit so the plastic sheet on the bottom had to be removed so it set flush to the wood. I also glued some strip plastic to prevent the PVC from twisting.


I used 0.30 gray plastic sheet for the bottom of the head. I found a couple of parts from my bins that seemed to match the scanner gear under the head. So I went ahead and glued them onto the bottom. Normally I don’t do greebles until the boxing out is complete.


Here’s the model mounted on a stand. 


I’m always on the lookout for interesting details. These white plastic parts are only a couple centimeters wide and come from inside the keys of a laptop computer. I thought the ones on the ends looked like they could be escape pods for the side of a starship.


Here is a divider bin where I keep small parts. I’ve separated out the keyboard parts to make finding them easier.


Below I’ve placed a row or two of these greebles along the side of the head to judge size and placement. I’ll definitely use them.


Here is the head section of the ship after boxing it in. There will be more supports and I’ll have to figure out what to do with the fiber optics from the head. It’s a good bet the fibers will run through the PVC to the center scanner section where I’ll mount the LED light for them.


Writing Bits and Pieces – Second Act Conflict

Plume Creator_006

The above scene from my WIP is a perfect example of a Second Act hurdle that your main characters must face and eventually overcome. I’ve raised the stakes a bit and made Kiloe’s fighter completely disappear right when he was supposed to be picked up by Tamia. It was a relatively simple mission, made more difficult by my First Act problems that were eventually solved by Kiloe and his partner, Tamia. The reader was all set to have them reunited and the mission be a success. But it’s only the second act. You just know things are going go awry or what would the rest of the book be about?


In the Second Act, the hero is given an even more difficult problem to deal with. Something that will force him or her to work harder than before to survive and overcome. It’s up to the writer to ensure that this second act builds drama and suspense by putting the hero in ever deeper water until he either learns to swim or drowns. Sometimes writers call this chasing your hero up a tree and then setting the tree on fire. Now how are you going to get out alive? Easy, giant Eagles will come to my rescue. 

I know what’s going to happen next. I know about the surprise guest appearance, I know about the harrowing fight that’s coming and I know who wins in the end.


Novel Bits and Pieces – Re-Reading Before Writing


This is my first week back from break and I often feel out of touch with my WIP. So I take some time to re-read what I have already written to get back into the ebb and flow of the story. Sometimes I find glaring errors that I need to fix before moving on. Sometimes I just marvel at how well the story is moving, or cringe in horror if it’s not going anywhere. I’d rather catch plotting errors earlier rather than later.

All this week my daily lunch hour writing sessions have been spent reading what I have already written for K’nat Trap. Above is a screen capture from my Plume Creator from chapter 8. The writing’s not that amazing, but I reintroduce the stakes involved so the reader knows the hero has to get moving. I’m not so much examining the writing at this point, just making sure it makes sense and things are moving. I know the story is wavering a bit from the outline and that will take some adjustments. But this happens all the way through the first draft for me. I write strong for days and then wander back and forth as I try to find the correct path forward in the high grass.

Because this is a novella and not a full length novel, I may need to pare down some characters and maintain focus on just a few. There was at least one subplot that I can’t remember where it was going. I hope today’s reading offers some clues, otherwise I may need to edit that one out. See how important it is to re-read before you dive back in?

Novel Bits and Pieces: Theme


I used to just write my novels and never worry about crafting a message. I mean, they were just supposed to be fun reads, I wasn’t trying to change the world or examine my navel. But after reading Larry Brooks’s Story Physics and Story Engineering, I started to look at my written creations differently. I started to break them down into manageable chunks and pick apart their insides as I tried to figure out how they worked. Or more appropriately in my case, didn’t work. I mean let’s face it, I’ve written ten novels and not one of them has been a best seller. Not even close. So I had to be doing something wrong.

I’ve slowly come around to understanding theme and now I won’t start without knowing what my novel’s theme is. Once you know your one or two word theme, you can have it in the back of your mind when you’re plotting your story. It may even cause you to restructure events or change character motivations to stay on theme. While you’re writing your novel your theme gestates in the background of your subconsciousness waiting to be inserted into action or dialog as needed. Often times you don’t even know you’re doing it until the first draft is over and then you go looking for where the story reinforces your theme. Then you see that your brain was doing more than just putting words on the page, it was secretly making those words bring out your theme.

This all results in a narrative that feels right when the reader consumes your book. She probably won’t be aware of it, but when she puts it down after finishing it, she’ll have this warm glow inside. At least that’s how I like to think a good novel affects it’s reader. Of course both of my readers are males and I’m hoping they decide to go out and buy the next book in the series. Or at least stare lovingly at the awesome starships on the cover, which in turn might lead them to buy another shiny cover.

For my current WIP – K’nat Trap, I have established that the theme is simply Trust. The extent to which characters trust each other, determines how successful they will be in the story. It’s not just the main characters either. I carry the theme down into the minor roles too. It’s a novella, so there are less characters with arcs as in a typical novel, but even the bit characters have to learn to trust. Or they don’t learn and suffer the consequences.

My wife always gets mad at me and the boys when she reaches over to put something she’s been cooking into our mouths. She always gets mad when we insist on knowing what it is or looking at it first. Her argument is that she wouldn’t ever give us something that wasn’t good. So we should just trust her and eat whatever she hands us in the steaming spoon. She’s never given me something nasty tasting so you’d think I would have learned that by now. Still, I have to look at it before I eat it.

There are many forms of trust in life and the more ways I can work examples of trust into the story helps solidify my theme.


Upcoming Model Builds for 2016


I don’t normally just build random spaceship models these days. I have a plan, as the Cylons would say. That plan is closely related to the cover art of my novels. All the cover art for the first six books of the Star Saga has been completed. I won’t be building any more models of Starforgers Era ships. My focus is on Starstrikers Era ships now. So if you look at my model builds page you can see what has been built and what will be built for each trilogy. If the ship name doesn’t have a link it means I have yet to build it.

Capital Ships

The scale of these models is usually 1/350 meaning an average model is less than three feet long. At this time I’d like to build three models in this scale: the GCU Griffin, GCU Sherman and a Votainion cruiser to be named later. These models are usually very large and very costly not just in parts but in time to build. They usually have fiber optic lights and more than one mount point. They also can cost a couple of hundred dollars in model kits alone to build. Not to mention all the PVC and sheet plastic needed to box out their basic shape.

As my skill increases with each capital ship I build, I will get faster and the models will be stronger and will last longer. The last ship I built of this size was the Renoke and it has a metal pipe and wood frame inside. This makes the model sturdy but also very heavy to move around. I will probably build the next capital ship with similar metal pipe and wood framing.  So my woodworking skills will need to improve and I’ll have to explore new ways to build the models as light and as strong as possible.


There are two more starfighters to build in this era, the K’nat and the Tache. I suspect they will proceed just as the last few models of this scale have. They will be built with 1/4 20 screw mounts and possibly lights. These models seem to go together faster and take less resources to detail. Most of the greeblies (model kit parts) used on them are small. They are be built up from scratch using sheet styrene.

Miscellaneous Models

There is one more important ship in this era that is the size of the Renoke, and that’s the Nova Starstriker strike ship. Well, I could do the GCU Thrusher, but there are no plans to have it on the covers at this time. Not sure if I will even build the Nova yet but it’s a possibility. Another ship that might be built is the Eclipse. The Eclipse would have to be built to a smaller scale than 1/350 as it’s twice as big as an Alliance carrier. So the jury is still out on that one too. But I do need to build a standard Votainion cruiser warship of this time period.

My next build will be the K’nat fighter and I shall finish the Spieron fighter already started. After that, who knows…



Triak Starfighter Build, Part 5


This is one of my favorite steps in modeling. I love making a model look like it just came out of the real world where it has lived a long and hard life. Weathering sounds like it should only be for machines that live inside an atmosphere, but all machines get worn and used, even in space. So it really refers to damage, chipping of paint, fading of paint, grease and oil leaks and sometimes dirt and grime.

All of my models have that George Lucas look of being in a well-used universe. Because my models are also built specifically for my book covers, sometimes I don’t put unit marking on them or anything too unique, so that they can be copy and pasted into many fighters for cover art. But with this particular model, I decided to get individual. Which meant I could do unit badges and make unique mods like the starboard engine nacelle being removed.


In this wide shot you see the whole model as it stands now. Decals are applied and paint chipping has occurred on the painted areas and we have some dusting with artist’s charcoal.


I applied a light wash to the stern details but I will be going back over this area with more grime and oil as it looks too clean for my tastes.


The paint chipping was achieved by – wait for it, actually chipping the paint. I used my finger nail and a hobby knife. 


I think the nose art is from a WWII airplane kit. I just have a stack of decals and pick and chose from it randomly.


You can see the chipping details around the black area behind the pilot. Panels get chipped by ground crew constantly removing them and handling them with dirty fingers.


I think this engine art decal was from a Japanese F-1 kit.


I painted the blaster tips a darker gray since I had to do some gap filling on them post primer. I also made some of the raised panels different shades of gray.




Below we see a more extensive wash of black for the back details.




More wash applied to the intakes and exterior. 


Oily stains on the bottom are a bit of a trademark for me.


Another look at the bottom details. Even if I don’t model landing gear, I include the landing gear doors.


And here she is, complete. I don’t have any Votainion Empire symbols on it or any of my models, actually. That’s because I don’t have the ability to make my own decals. Easier to let graphic artists apply them in post.


This might be the last model I work on until winter releases it’s icy grip on my garage. Right now the temps are in the teens and my garage is just too cold to be in, even with an electric heater at my feet.

Triak Starfighter Build, Part 3

All of the parts and pieces finally come together in this post. This has been a fairly quick and dirty build for me. I’ve never done a kit bashed starfighter before and in many ways it felt like cheating. I even spaced putting a mount in it and had to screw one in last minute and epoxy it. Not ideal for a working model. There are no lights and only the one mount. I do have a pilot figure, but he’s not very detailed.

Still, it does look pretty cool and I’m glad I did it for the experience. It’s not exactly like what I drew but it’s close enough to give the feeling that there are more than one kind of starfighter in the Votainion livery.


Above you can see the body with the blaster masts in place. Simple plastic tubing was used for that. You can also see some of the scratch built details on the top and at the canopy.


These over sized tips of the guns were from the loose pieces bin and matched the original drawing pretty good.


Here is a side view of what I believe were some kind of rocket launcher that were wing mounted. No idea what kit they were from.


This belly view shows the tips of the guns in place and the panel covering what I assume would be the nose landing gear.


Here you can see the mount point, big and nasty, as well as some new details from the parts bin.


Top side details are visible above. Not sure why I painted the blue-gray interior color here, before I sprayed on the primer. Dumb move.


Some putty and sanding was required on the blaster canon tips.


I like this shot above of all three Votainion starfighters from the Starstrikers Era of the Star Saga. The white one is a card board prototype of the next one I will build, the K’nat fighter.


All ready for primer, the cockpit is masked off to preserve it’s paint job.


Rare side view.


Here you can see the final details of the engine area and the top. 

20151228_141713And here you can see the final details on the bottom. A few panels added and various other doodads. 

She’s finally ready for primer and then paint, next time on the blog.