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.


The Origins of My Protagonists

240lisbokt via Compfight

The protagonist of my novel Tyrmia is a white, human female. The protagonist of Starforgers is also a white, human female. The protagonist of Starstrikers is a white, human male. The protagonist of Starveyors is a blue/black, human/Votainion mixed female.

The origins of my protagonists are pretty different. Szeredy, the hero of Tyrmia was very consciously created as a white human female. I needed her to be a woman because I wanted her character to naturally be more protective of life and I believe that’s a very positive female attribute. I needed her to be white because I wanted to contrast her to the primitive and colored alien natives. I wanted her to stand out and be completely different to the green skinned Tyrmians and the blue skinned Votains. I could have gone with a black woman, but I chose to make her white so that she would appear more other-worldly to the primitive natives. I also chose to put the white human in a position where her skin color would not be an advantage. White really stands out in a green jungle.

The hero of Starforgers, Devon Ardel, was my attempt to feminize Starbuck from the original Battlestar Galactica. I wanted a rough and tumble woman who was also beautiful. Unfortunately, Ronald Moore came along and did the same thing with his remake of that classic TV show. There are still many similarities between Devon Ardel and Kara Thrace. Both are physically strong and have scars, physical and mental that cause them to falter.

The hero of Starstrikers, Centar Havic, is a white male with a black beard. Starstrikers was based on a story my buddies and I filmed when we were in Junior High School. We animated twelve inch G.I. Joe’s in an epic ten minute silent 8mm film. So naturally, Centar Havic looks just like my G.I. Joe doll. Go figure. A stunning lack of creativity that I didn’t change as I wrote the story for my first novel.

G.I. Joe 02Chris Murphy via Compfight

The hero of Starveyors, Cryse, is a blue-black human/Votainion female. This character was originally supposed to be the daughter of Szeredy from Tyrmia. But I soon realized that the story had to have happened before Tyrmia. So I recast her as a human/Votainion half breed. She then became just another mixed breed working in a combined, human and Votainion branch of the military. But then I had another realization and she crystallized as a black human woman and blue Votainion mix. I can’t say why without causing spoilers.

Perusi .craig via Compfight

The heroes of my next two novels will be a human male and a female Silicant – The Rising, and a blue Votainion male – Voton.

As a writer, I’m more inclined to have female heroes in my novels. I just find them more interesting then males. But what it comes down to in the end is story. My characters are usually created after the story is conceived. I just insert who I feel best serves a particular story. I don’t have a hidden political or racial agenda. At least not that I’m aware of. The challenge is always the same: come up with interesting, flawed and likable characters that people can relate to and then set to work causing havoc in their fictional lives.


Starforgers Character Art

Sometimes I like to sketch out what my characters look like while I’m creating them for a novel or a short story. I don’t claim to be an artist, just an art hack. But those sketches are useful to me for setting the tone of the story. I’m sure other writers do this and just never show them off, but you know me, Mr. Open when it comes to these kinds of things. So with that in mind, today’s post will showcase some characters or uniforms from my next novel, Starforgers.

Votainion Commander

Starforgers is set in the First Generation of the Starstrikers Universe. It deals with how the Great War between the Alliance and the Votainion Empire started. The Votainion warship commanders of that time were wilder and often participated directly in combat. I pictured them dressed in vibrant colors and carrying swords and blasters and generally mixing it up right along side their warriors. Pictured above is Lord Kantor, the leader of the armada that first encroaches in Federation space and winds up starting the Great War.

Kantor pilots his own Eight-wing and overseas planetary invasions dirt-side. He’s a little crazy and definitely well-loved by this troops. The “V” shape of his uniform is a visual cue for the “V” in Votainion. This design also reminds me of early Klingon uniforms from the original Star Trek TV show.

Starforger Uniform

The early Federation uniforms pre-Alliance era, are considerably more swash buckle than the conservative war weary uniforms from Starstrikers. Men and women both wore their hair long and in a single tail and the uniforms had capes. Gotta love capes. Totally impractical, but cool looking. Before the Great War started, uniforms were more for show and bravado than functionality. They were designed to entice recruits to join the fleet and see the universe. Whenever you saw someone in a starforce uniform, you could count on them to tell you some fantastic tales of adventure from beyond the Outer Rim of the known galaxy.

Stellar Ranger Uniform

The Stellar Rangers were the cowboy lawmen of the Outer Rim worlds. Based on the Texas Rangers and just about every 1950’s Space Western. I wanted them to have a real earthy tone, wearing leather jackets and tan or brown clothes. The hero of Starforgers – Devon Ardel, comes from a backwater world where she leads a rag-tag group of Rangers. If you’ve read any of the stories in Tales From Ocherva Volume One, you will already be familiar with the Stellar Rangers.

Reoccuring Characters

Many of the stories in my new anthology, Tales From Ocherva Volume One, feature the same cast of characters. This is intentional. When I started writing short stories a few years ago, I decided that I would concentrate on one particular planet and a handful of characters. I was not completely sure about all of the characters, but as I wrote the stories they emerged.

Principle characters like Devon Ardel, my Ranger captain and her android, Thirty-seven were already known to me because of an early draft of a novel. But new characters like the android Eighty-eight and Cole the programmer emerged as their stories came to life. I wanted to explore the lives of the Rangers and tell many stories about their bravery. They were partly based on the Texas Rangers with some 1940’s pop SF mixed in for good measure.

While I was in Moscow, Idaho on a book signing for the Barren Worlds anthology, I talked with a customer who had read my story, Ocherva. He mentioned that he enjoyed the connection between a physical place and the people who lived there. It got me thinking more about the planet of Ocherva and what made it special to the humans and androids in my stories. Many of my stories have explored that connection between the barren moon and those who live there.

When you write a novel you have more time to develop the main characters than you do with a short story. But short stories can paint a much more detailed picture of your characters if you feature them in many different kinds of stories with various points of view. For instance some of my stories about Devon are from her POV and some of them are from her android’s perspective and a few are from her friend’s viewpoint. That kind of range is not possible in the novel format. But a series of related short stories gives you that freedom.

Over time, you can build up a perception of your characters in the reader’s mind that grows into a complete picture of them. This is only possible with a series of novels or perhaps a television series. Since my medium of choice is narrative fiction, I like episodic short story collections for exploring these particular characters and this particular planet. There will be more volumes to the Tales From Ocherva series. As I complete a dozen or so stories, I will release a new volume. The release schedule for these anthologies will continue to be early summer.

I will begin writing he next novel in the Starstrikers universe this summer. Starforgers will focus on some of the main characters in the Tales From Ocherva stories. But that novel takes place after all the stories in the Ocherva series. So I have to be careful what I have her do and say in writing this particular novel. It helps to have already written about much of her life as a Ranger as I begin telling what happens to her at the start of the Great War. Starforgers tells how the naive Federation is transformed by the events that led to war with the Votainion Empire. It features Devon, her mother and father and her trusty android, among many other new characters. Again, if you have read Tales From Ocherva, you will already have background information for the next novel. Again, I’m building characters and telling a larger story than what is possible with just a single novel.