This is the third blog in an ongoing series of designing a story using my writing process so others can get an in-depth look of the process in action. As before, this process works for me. If you find something you like, use it. I won’t even ask for credit.
In the last blog, we covered the Hook for the new story that we are going to write about marines in space. That hook (“A team of special forces Confed marines investigates a distress signal on the fringes of space.”) will serve as the baseline for everything moving forward. It’s simple and basic enough that we have a lot of options moving forward.
In looking at what I have in mind, our story could be a full length novel which is usually 90k-110k for a hard science fiction story. The question is, do I want to write a full length novel? My gut says no based on the fact that this is a single mission that our marines will be on in a secluded setting. Sure, I could add a lot of unnecessary details of exposition to increase the length of the story, but I think that would do more harm than good. The story is as long as it needs to be and I am imagining that it would probably fall better into a Novella length of 17k-40k. A nice tight story focusing on our marines in a fight for their lives.
One Paragraph to Rule them all
Now that we know the general length of our story and we have our hook to tell us what we are going to write, it is now time to get into the meat of building our story. The next step in our writing process is to turn our hook into a single paragraph that encompasses the whole story. This paragraph should highlight each major event of our story so we get a better look at how our story will play out.
To start with, we want to figure out how our story begins. That is really the easy part, our marines get deployed somewhere to deal with a distress signal based on our hook. The question now is, who are our marines? Where are they deployed to? Since we are writing about marines, I did a quick read through the US Marine Corps and the British SAS unit structure to get a better idea on how they are put together so I can better design our story to be more authentic. During my reading, I focused on special forces teams such as Navy SEALs, Rangers, SAS, and Delta Force for inspiration and settled on a mixture of Delta Force and Ranger for my story. As for unit designation, I decided on the 7th Special Forces Company in honor of a friend of mine who was in the 7th Infantry Division.
Lastly, for our first sentence, we need a location for our story. I first toyed with the idea of it taking place on a science complex on a distrant planet, but it immediately felt too big. I wanted something more confined and small with a sense of claustraphobia. A space station works much better for this. Now it just needs a name. This is where my wandering mine jumped to what the story will be about: aliens or something similiar and somehow tied in with science. Genetics? I sense a Alien 3 theme here, but better of course. As names should have meaning in a story, I decided on HC-456 Mendel Station named after Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics. The HC-456 stands for Hydra Corporation (our evil science corporation and nod to Red Skull and his Hydra with mad evil science) and 456 stands for Gregor J. Mendel’s initials. For the end of the sentence I put the Vega Sector of space as nod to Wing Commander.
Our second sentence now gets to the setup of the action. Our Marines arrive and then something happens to intiate the action. Well, a platoon of marines is typically 40 soldiers and is way too many people to try and write about at length. So we need a way to break off our main characters from the group. When investigating an unknown location, the military will sweep said location to look for hostiles and dangers. The platoon will break off into squads to make this more efficient and this will allow us to section off our main characters and focus on them. Since we are on a space station, this is very easy to do. By shutting off a main causeway or hallway, we can easily cutoff our squad and force them to take the long way back to safety while fighting our bad alien things.
The next sentence should be plot driven, something that heightens or adds intrigue to the story. Perhaps our marines discover something about the station and the corporation behind it? Maybe the leader of the platoon secretly works for the corporation (or is being paid off by them) and tries to get the squad killed? Eh, I think I will let that last one slide as I want this story to be about comradery rather than treason. So lets go with the first one where the corporation is doing some dark black research work that gets away from them, sort of a play on the quote “the way to hell is paved with good intentions.” When our marines discover information about what is going on, they have a dilemma on their hands that will drive the plot forward with conflict which is always good.
Our last sentence focuses on the end of the book. Our marines, now with a handle full of knowledge, must make their escape while fighting their way through more aliens. A classic climatic ending is having to fight the head alien who stands between them and the way back to their ship. The survivors of the battle finally get away from the station and then must decide whether or not to destroy the station with the aliens and all the research with it. Though it is a pretty standard ending, I like it for its simplicity. There is a reason it is a standard ending, it’s because it works! Twists and turns in an ending are fine to a point, but always remember that readers like some degree of familiarity with the format of a story. If you go too far off the beaten path, you could lose your reader in the end.
With all of that said, here is how my paragraph ended up:
“A platoon of special forces operators from the famed 7th Special Forces Company are deployed to the space research station HC-456 Mendel in the Vega Sector to investigate a distress signal. While at Mendel Station, 1st squad is cutoff from the rest of the platoon when an unknown hostile collapses a causeway. 1st Squad must make their way through the complex while dodging attacks from an unknown alien species. The squad uncovers information about the aliens in a laboratory. The survivors of the squad make their way to their ship, have a final encounter with the aliens before leaving and blowing up the station.”