A Peek Inside: The Making of a Science Fiction Novel

I've had several people ask me (No, really!) how I go about writing a book. Most of those who have read some of my work have wanted to know, also, how I can write each novel in a different genre and still come up with good stories or story lines. The last question is hard to answer, as I really don't know. I don't put a lot of thought into it in the sense that I'm thinking, 'Man, how I do I write a story completely different than the last one?'. As with my poetry, the idea just happens, and then I flesh it out.

I have set aside my murder mystery for now and have put my entire writing focus on the science fiction novel. Having eclipsed the 50,000 word mark last night, I'm still excited about the story and where it's going. So, I've chosen this one to answer the first question...How do you go about writing a book?

When I set out to write a sci-fi novel, the first thing I wanted to have was an original idea for the story line. That's the hardest part. Science fiction has been around for a long time and adventurers have been exploring the far reaches of the universe for over a century or more in novels, magazines, short stories and even poetry. The most recently super-successful sci-fi concept, in my opinion, was The Matrix Trilogy. How awesome was that?!  Anyway, I began doing research on a planet I'm more familiar with...Earth. The story I wanted to write had to have an element of truth to the fiction. I wanted it to have fear, action, neat gadgets and weapons, robots, sex (not robot sex), and more importantly I wanted it to be believable. I put a great deal of time looking at existing theories for propulsion that have some merit in science. Then, I researched the kinds of beasties we have here that could be metamorphed into a science fiction beastie with little trouble. For the unique part, I wanted to create my beastie within a beastie and eventually found the perfect angle...I hope. Once I had those two things, I researched whether or not it had been written about in the past. This process takes about a week to be certain you are on a road of originality.

Now comes the synopsis. I write down a short premise of the story line. This is a living document, in that it can change as the story grows and becomes more complex. The synopsis is merely a guideline to help me along the way. During the course of writing a novel, the synopsis changes three or four times. Once that is completed, which may take several days to perfect it, I begin my character development.

Creating characters is the best part. It's like being an evil scientist putting body parts and brains together on a laboratory table and then infusing life into them. I first come up with a name, based on whether the character is male or female. Then, I develop the person's physical attributes. After that comes their personality traits and quirks. Finally, I create their personal abilities, both physical and mental. Are they brilliant? Are they kind of stupid? Are they fearless or fearful in certain situations? What are their strengths and their weaknesses? Those that have read some of my work know that my heroes or main characters are not supermen, but rather have weaknesses that require help from others, sometimes from the most unexpected people around them. Character creation is never final. I have discovered that while writing a story there may be a need to plug a new one in to help the foundation of the story. Usually these are minor characters, but they most often have a major impact. In The Last Medal there is a character named Blue who you only see one time, yet his influence on the story is quite big. Blue didn't come into the picture until I realized his expertise was critical for the main character to complete his mission.

I never start writing a story unless I have a title. This is the worst part for me. I agonize over titles. But, I have this disorder in my brain that if I don't have a title I can't start the book. Yes, I need therapy and I've always admitted it. Titles are difficult from a uniqueness standpoint, as there are so many out there. The internet is a great tool. If you go to Google and type in a title idea, it will tell you right away if it already exists. I wanted my Western to have an original title that sounded really rough and tough and had a very difficult time finding one that wasn't already used in some form or fashion. I was greatly surprised that Hell's Gunman had never been used, so I quickly picked it up and now have the book and its title copyrighted.

After all this, the first words of the book are written. My rule of thumb for each chapter is ten pages. I rarely go over this, and never under. This self imposed restriction helps me to keep from chasing too many rabbits and getting too wordy (even though I still do that), staying strictly with the story and its development. Writing the story requires patience. A lot of patience. I want to get into the action right away and have to keep the reins tight as I progress into it. There has to be character development, setting the story, creating interest without over-boring the reader. One person that read The Last Medal told me that almost halfway through the book it wasn't that interesting, but they understood I was setting everything up. They then told me that once the action started, they couldn't put it down. That's a great compliment for any would-be author like myself.

Too many science fiction books and movies have been about Alpha Centauri and other stars and planets, close and far away. I wanted mine to be original. Therefore, I chose one of the stars on NASA's 100 stars list that might have a habitable planet. The one I put my finger on was Beta Comae Berenices. This star is 29 light years away. The propulsion method I chose was gravito-electromagnetism. Crewed by scientists and three soldiers as a security team (believe me, that's all they need...these guys are BAD ASS), they strike out to a planet called Ajax Strata Prime (my invention) to see if the people of a dying Earth can choose this as their new home. The story starts in 2164. Several 'incidents' occur on the trip, and soon they find out that a rival State has also launched a ship to claim the planet for themselves. Once there, the rival ship is discovered and found abandoned. There is no sign of their crew.  Their mother ship is sabotaged, marooning them on the planet just as they find out another ship from the rival State is on its way. The soldiers are blamed for the destruction of their only way back home, and conflict among the crew begins. But, their main worry is the planet itself and its destructive weather patterns. Compounding their problems is one form of animal life that seems to have a way of affecting the new guests. Lieutenant Austin Rooney has to find a way to convince the scientists that he is not the traitor, find out who is, get ready to meet the forces coming against them, and come to grips with what is affecting them all to the point that they, too, might vanish into thin air...just as the crew of the first ship did.

So, that's a peek inside my latest offering and how I go about writing a novel. I hope to finish it by the end of the year. I'll keep you posted. Thanks for reading.