Trope Tuesday: The Chessmaster

The Chessmaster is a fun trope, especially when done well. A good villain is always at least one step ahead of the good guys, so when it turns out that he’s three or four or ten steps ahead of them, it can make for some interesting plot twists.

Of course, the chessmaster isn’t always the bad guy. Sometimes, it turns out that the mysterious figure behind the scenes pulling all the strings is actually working for good, even though he may sacrifice a few pawns along the way. Or is he? There’s always that tension, simply because of the chessmaster’s manipulative nature.

I’ve played it both ways. The last time I wrote a chessmaster was Gunslinger to the Stars, but the Patrician in Heart of the Nebula definitely also qualifies. In both cases, the character was introduced as a mysterious employer. I won’t tell you which one was the bad guy, and which one was the good guy.

I’ve never written a story from the perspective of the chessmaster. I imagine it would be quite difficult, since all of the plot twists would have to be telegraphed and/or th reader would have to be kept in the dark about the main character’s plans. Dune is an excellent example of the former, but I can’t think of any good examples of the latter. The Davinci Code comes to mind, but the way it kept the viewer in the dark (seen the movie, haven’t read the book) didn’t work for me.

Even as a non-viewpoint character, the chessmaster can be difficult to write. Careful plotting is key, of course, but so is the iceberg principle. For everything the reader can see, there has to be a bunch of stuff beneath the surface that they can’t see. It doesn’t require the same level of detail as the surface level stuff, of course, but you have to at least have an idea of what the chessmaster would do if the story went in a very different direction. Even if the chessmaster never reveals those plans, you can bet that he still has them figured out.

In part, this is what made Heart of the Nebula so difficult to write. The final draft bears little resemblance to the first draft, with characters and subplots cut out or combined with others. Still, I’m satisfied with how it turned out, and it seems that the readers are as well.

In Sons of the Starfarers, Gulchina isn’t a chessmaster so much as a magnificent bastard with delusions of grandeur. She has plans and does tend to be three or four steps ahead of everyone else, but she’s less interested in manipulating events than she is in manipulating people. Her ultimate goal, as revealed in Captives in Obscurity, is to establish a proud warrior race that will one day wipe out and take over both the Empire and the Outworlds. She doesn’t know how that’s going to happen, but she knows what needs to be done to lay the foundation for that work.

The chessmaster is a challenging trope to write well, but I’m sure I’ll use it many more times in the future. The storytelling potential is just too great to leave it out.

Trope Tuesday: Chekhov’s Armory

The famous Russian writer Anton Chekhov had a rule:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

This is, of course, where we get the trope called Chekhov’s Gun. If a gun shows up at the beginning of a story, you can almost always be sure that it will be fired at some point before the end.

Chekhov’s armory is where the story starts out in a place like this:

Or this:

Or this:

What the hell, I might as well just give you the link to the blog where I got all these photos. There’s plenty more gun porn where that came from.

My first time playing with this trope was Gunslinger to the Stars, and I have to say, it made for a really fun story. My outline literally consisted of listing a different gun for every chapter, and figuring out how to work it in. Chapter two was where all most of the guns were listed, but after that, it was pretty much “open fire” and “reload” right up to the grand finale at the end (with a little bit of kissing thrown in for good measure).

Seriously, though, it’s not a bad way to write a book: list all the things that need to go boom and figure out which order to put them in.

The biggest criticism I’ve received for Gunslinger to the Stars is that I should have described the guns in a more personalized detail. To be honest, my life experience is sadly lacking in this regard. I own a couple of guns, most notably an old Mosin 91/30, but most of my shooting experience comes from the Boy Scouts (though to be fair, I did impress the shotgun shooting instructor with a 40+ shot streak). This is a shortcoming that I am eagerly working to rectify.

So yeah, Chekhov’s Armory. It’s a really fun trope to write. When I’m finished with Sons of the Starfarers, I look forward to doing it all again with the next two books in the trilogy: Gunslinger to the Galaxy and Gunslinger to Earth. Expect book two before the end of 2018!

Gunslinger to the Stars

Gunslinger to the Stars

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Sam Kletchka here, freelance gunslinger and interstellar privateer. This, my friends, is how I went from being stranded in the armpit of the galaxy to becoming the luckiest human being in the universe. More info →
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Late November Update

Is it time for another update? Why yes, I suppose it is.

Sons of the Starfarers is coming along quite well. Book 6, Patriots in Retreat, is up for preorder right now with a release date of January 19th. My editor just got back with the edits for book 7, A Queen in Hiding. Haven’t had a chance to look through those yet, but I will in the near future. Come January, that book will be up for preorder as well, with a release date of March 16th.

Right now, I’m writing book 8, An Empire in Disarray, with a hard deadline of 22 December (just before Christmas). Normally, I’d be panicking right now, but I’m trying out a new outlining method that seems to be working quite well. If everything works out the way I hope, I’ll finish up book 9 sometime in February and move on to other projects.

Looking back, it was a mistake to set out to write a nine-book series before knowing how the first one would do. If I could go back to 2009 and do it all over again, I’d stick to trilogies, where the first book stands well enough alone that I can abandon the other two books if it doesn’t gain much traction. That’s going to be my modus operandi from here on out.

So here are the trilogies I need to finish:

Genesis Earth Trilogy

This one has been outstanding for a long time. The first book did much better than I was expecting, and while its popularity has fallen off in recent years, it still gets very good reviews. For a first novel, I’m honestly surprised that this book has done as well as it has.

The second book, Edenfall, is still on the back burner for now. Partially written, partially outlined, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of months to get it done when I finally sit down to finish it.

As for book three, The Stars of Redemption, I have no idea because I haven’t even outlined it yet. Perhaps that’s what I need to get the ball rolling: outline the last book, so I know what has to happen in the second book. In any case.

Gunslingers Trilogy

Gunslinger to the Stars hasn’t done as well as I would have liked, but I enjoy this universe so much that I’m going to finish the trilogy if for no other reason than the fun of it. I’ve already written the first four or five chapters of Gunslinger to the Galaxy, and it’s coming along swimmingly. In fact, I’ll probably go right back to it after finishing up Sons of the Starfarers and call it a vacation. Expect to see more Jane Carter soon!

The Twelfth Sword Trilogy

I am super super excited to finish this trilogy—which is good, because the way the first book ends, it’s definitely not a standalone. Definitely not. Haven’t formally outlined it yet, but there’s a ton of stuff I’m going to throw into the second book, The Sword Bearer. Mercenaries, sorcerors, death mages, winged cataphracts, desert ruins, and mountain strongholds—it’s going to be great fun!

The Outworlds Trilogy

For a while now, I’ve been playing around with the idea of condensing all of Star Wanderers into a novel and then turning it into a trilogy. The first book will basically be made up of bits and pieces from all of the Star Wanderers novellas, spliced together to make a coherent novel. In particular, I’d like to expand on Noemi’s viewpoint and trim out some (or a lot) of the extraneous stuff that made the series drag on. Basically, turn it into less of a sci-fi romance and more of a classic space opera.

I’ve already started the sequel, Children of the Starry Sea, though I haven’t gotten past the first chapter. Where Star Wanderers is a series of novellas, though, Children of the Starry Sea is definitely a proper novel, and it would probably work a lot better to frame it as a trilogy than anything else.

I suppose it’s a bit like how Orson Scott Card turned a bunch of his early short stories into The Worthing Saga, which in my opinion is his very best book. I won’t unpublish any of the old Star Wanderers stuff, but I may just let it fade into obscurity as I push the other stuff.

These are the books that are on my mind. I’ve got to be honest: Sons of the Starfarers feels a bit like a ball and chain, but I’ve committed to finishing it and I’ll do my best to finish it well.

On the publishing front, there’s so much stuff I want to do that I’m having trouble keeping up with it all. My main goal is to get to 10k subscribers on my email list. Currently, I’m just shy of 4k. InstaFreebie has been hugely useful for that, but I’ve got to try other strategies as well. One of those strategies involves a new signup incentive, so if you’re already signed up for my email list, I’ve got a surprise for you soon.

So much stuff going on. I swear, this is the best depiction of what it’s like to be an indie author:

Late October update

I’m running at about 70% to 80% right now, but should be back up to 100% next week. However, since the blog is usually the last thing I get up to speed after a major life event, it will probably be another week or two before the blog is running like I want it.

Right now, I’m finishing up A Queen in Hiding and getting ready to send that to my editor. I’m still shooting for a November 3rd deadline. After that, I’ll take a week to go over the edits for Patriots in Retreat and put that up for pre-order.

I’m also working on a short story for an anthology with a deadline of November 1st, so that might throw a wrench into things. Fortunately, I’ve got a lot more time to write now, so that shouldn’t be as much of a problem.

Lots and lots of stuff going on behind the scenes. Right now, I’m getting my tasks all lined up so that I can hit them all in quick succession. One of the things I want to do is put out a print version of everything I’ve published electronically. KDP Paperback has advanced to the point where I can finally do that, so be sure to look out for that in the near future. Right now, I’m typesetting Gunslinger to the Stars.

I’m really looking forward to getting all the Sons of the Starfarers books written. Should happen within the next three to four months, if all goes well. There are so many other projects that I’m excited about, but I’ve committed to this series and I’m going to finish it. I don’t know if it will be my best work, but without sacrificing any more time I’ll strive to make it as good as I possibly can.

You may have noticed some changes in my prices. I’ll blog about that in the next few days. Also, I need to catch up on book reviews. I’ve found that I can dramatically increase my writing when I make a conscious effort to read more books, even if my writing time goes down. So that’s another goal.

Point is, things are happening even if it doesn’t seem like it. Ideally, I want to be up at the point where I always have something on preorder, and a short story publication coming out every month or so, most of them reprints, some of them new. So far, I’m at two short story publications this year—better get out and submit to more markets!

Now, back to writing!

Beginning of September Update

It’s September, my favorite month of the year! Maybe I’ll revisit that post in a blast from the past or something. So many reasons why September is awesome.

Things are going well on the writing front. I’ve switched up my daily routine to make more writing time, and it’s working well so far. My alarm goes off at 5:45 am (just after oh-dark-thirty) and I write for about an hour before heading off to my part time job. I’ve found that I tend to write a lot more when I start first thing in the day, so the earlier I can start, the better.

I won’t bore you with the rest of my routine, unless you want me to write a post about it. There’s a bunch of interesting lifestyle tweaks I’ve been trying out, like reading a couple chapters from one of the books I’m reading as soon as I get back from work in the afternoon, in order to refill the creative well and not get caught in a Youtube / general internet trap. Stuff like that.

My current WIP is A Queen in Hiding (Sons of the Starfarers, Book 7) which is proving to be a surprisingly difficult book. It’s definitely one of the weirdest things I’ve ever written, and that’s saying a lot. In Captives in Obscurity, Reva and Isaac get assimilated into a hive mind, and things only get crazier from there.

Sometimes, stories come really easy, almost like they spring fully formed from the mind. Other times, I’ve found I have to throw out almost the entire first draft before I discover the story.

The weird thing is that it has nothing to do with actual book length. Stars of Blood and Glory and Outworlder are totally different lengths, but they both came out almost perfect in the first draft. However, almost all of the Star Wanderers novellas took multiple drafts filled with stuff that had to be cut. Heart of the Nebula took years to finish, and I had to throw out multiple characters and subplots. I struggled for a long time with Genesis Earth, until I decided to throw the whole thing out and start with a blank page. The book was finished less than four weeks later.

The holy grail, of course, is to write a perfect book in four to six weeks (or less!) every time I set off to start a new one. But as awesome as it would be to barf rainbows and poop gold, all of those things sadly remain out of reach.

My goal at this point is to publish the last four Sons of the Starfarers books in 2018, two months apart from each other. Ideally, I’d like to have the next one up for preorder in time for the previous one’s release. It’s going to take some coordination, but I already have all the covers, which leaves just the writing and editing (metadata and formatting doesn’t take more than a day).

Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen unless I can get A Queen in Hiding ready to go by December. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

Gunslinger to the Galaxy is on hold for now, though so far it’s coming along very nicely. I should be able to pick it up and finish without too much trouble. Edenfall is also on hold, for how much longer I really don’t know. Before the end of 2018, I’d like to publish either the one or the other, but publishing them both is probably a bit of a stretch.

Also, I haven’t even started The Sword Bearer yet (second book in the Twelfth Sword Trilogy), though I have lots of great ideas for it. Since The Sword Keeper is coming out in just a couple weeks, I should probably get on that.

On the publishing side, I dropped the ball a bit in August. It took so much energy to get The Sword Keeper ready for publication that I totally spaced publishing anything. I do have a bunch of shorts that are nearing the end of the submissions gauntlet, and some bundles that can go up too.

I don’t sell many print books, but I want to get print versions of all of my books up, including short stories. That’s going to be an ongoing project for a while. I also want to put up audiobook versions eventually, but it’s going to take some time to get that ball rolling. However, it has moved up the priority list.

That’s pretty much it. So much stuff I want to do, so little time to do it. Time, money, or youth: you can only pick two (and one of them isn’t your choice).

Take care, and thanks for reading!