View Full Version : How should I handle writing this chapter?

08-28-2005, 11:40 AM
I'm currently stuck on the part of my book where my main hero is currently going through training to be fighter pilot.

However, since I don't know exactly how long pilot training schools are, and I don't want to show much training (as it's kinda boring to read about, other than key training points where the hero will put that stuff to use), I'm not sure how I should write this chapter.

Can anyone give me suggestions or books of other authors who have done something similiar where the training is largely skipped (I thought about starting the book with the hero already in the war, and then having flashbacks, but that sounds kind of cliche, and too many important things happen prior to the war starting, and I feel it's better simply to start at that point).

I do have some training shown, as the hero does put it to use later in the book. For instance, they have to learn how to use tow cables in space to haul stuff around. The reasoning for this is, despite them being fighters, there won't always be salvagers in space with them, and who's going to pick the dead bodies and broken down spaceships in space when there's no one else around?

Currently this section is covered in two chapters, one starts with the hero finishing his "planetary training", and the second one that shows the outer space training (which I like more, because the hero gets to finally see all those massive spaceships that the good guys have floating and flying around his training area).

I've decided that his training should be rushed as well, just as another excuse to speed up the training part of the book, and have the hero get thrown into combat right away (and performing quite poorly as a result, since the bad guys have excellent pilots as well). This chapter will also make the hero seem more mortal, because in my current draft, he never really has anything "bad" happen to him personally (although he and allies are constantly in danger), and I feel that showing the hero fail will make readers sympathize with him more (not because he does something stupid, but simply because the enemy shot him down first. I too would rather point and laugh if he screws up because of something he did, rather than simply because the enemy was lucky).

08-28-2005, 04:29 PM
thought i'd comment on this before my self-banning took effect. (that'll learn me.)

i think you're right in this case where training doesn't seem to have much to do with the story. sometimes depicting the brutal training methods is good, but since you express not one lick of interest in it, don't force it and see how it reads. if nothing of particular interest happens, indeed, why detail it?

rushing it, though, may not always be the way to go. how long is pilot training? impossible to say without knowing the details of your world. are pilots able to put on a helmet that picks up their brain waves and the craft's AI computers translate that instantly into action, so that pilots are chosen for no other reason than particular brain functions? training could be two hours. are pilots faced with control panels that makes a chinese typewriter look like hole punch? two years then. training time depends on the technology you're using.

again, not knowing some details, it's hard to make suggestions. how many times have we read statements like that? lol.

i think you've got three options here. first, detail it til you can't take it no more. second, rush through it, hitting on the highlights. third, ending the scene as he walks into his first classroom, begin new chapter with him in a cockpit, add flashbacks if/when necessary. of the three, i think the third option is best if handled right (minus the flashback).

of course, i'd go in for the fourth option, that being him entering his first class and all the nervousness that that entails, skipping ahead six months as he's questioning whether or not he's cut out as a fighter pilot based on his poor simulator results that day (have him confide in his bunk-mate, the only person he trusts-- gee wonder if *that* guy is gonna get killed? lol), then, after a pep talk from the bunk-mate that encourages him to continue, jump to the moments right before real combat as he's holding some trinket his bunk-mate gave him for good luck back in the middle scene (or some variation).

version four is a bit hack. okay, it's a lot hack. but it's there if you want to go all jerry bruckheimer. remember, it's hack, but it works. the fifth option is to do the exact opposite of #4. i'm just kidding, there is no fifth option.

salvage operations aren't just cutting things up with a blowtorch, throwing it in the back of a truck and dumping it off at the junk yard. military salvage is/would be a specialized field, so i'd want to know how a fighter pilot would be in that situation. if by salvage you mean simply dragging a ship back to a space port *after* it's been safety inspected so it doesn't blow up at the wrong time, i can buy that, no problem. still, there'd have to at least be the assumption that he's trained (sigh) to do it, which is easily enough accomplished with a few lines of dialogue. i.e.

'what makes command think fighter pilots can salvage derelict space junk?'

'aw, quit your whining, pard, and just remember that five minutes of salvage training we got back in A-school.'

'was that before or after quantum mechanics?'

'i think they taught it that time you had to go to the head after eating that base chow they give the ground crew.'

'damn, i was only gone two minutes!'

'yeah, well, that's when they did it, pard.'

course that went on a little longer than it had to be just because i was starting to get into it, just trying to use it as an excuse for some humourous banter. i will say that space junk yards are totally cool. i mean, totally. don't squander that opportunity, please! kinda an aside that you might think to consider altering for your story, the U.S.S. arizona was made into a tomb when divers after the attack couldn't salvage the bodies still inside for all the twisted metal and such. (you may be familiar with that, just reminding you, not trying to insult your history knowledge. no one's dumb for not knowing it, but it's no secret, either.)

i agree, too, flashbacks are just... blech. i don't think i'd go that route. i don't like flashbacks because it sometimes takes too long to get to know a character, and often there's some key bit of information being withheld like it's a murder mystery or something. in this case, it feels gimmicky when you could have the pilot survive a poor performance, get scolded by his superior that opens up some past, talk to his bunk-mate which opens up some past, call his girlfriend, etc.. i consider that 'advanced flashbacking' without the overt gimmick of it. plus, that puts the character in the present. establishing a connection with a character from literally his own past via flashbacks, to me, divides the character and makes half of him pointless as a result of having lost that connectivity. does that make sense?

hope that helps a little. it's late, gotta crash. enjoy. :)

08-28-2005, 05:03 PM
Option 5: Start the novel with him on his first job. If you need to build up to the main conflict, give him a seemingly trivial adventure which will somehow plunge him into the middle of the action.

The snag with narrating training is that fictional training for fictional systems doesn't make for a very pressing conflict - few readers will care about it unless you have a really very clever idea (e.g. Ender's Game).

What you can do is use the training as a context for other conflicts, which is how school novels (and Harry Potter) work. However, if your character is merely passing through, you don't really have much space for this. Hence my suggestion of Option 5.

(Another option is to have protag trained "on the job", e.g. as a midshipman.)

08-28-2005, 05:30 PM
Is it important that we follow the hero through his training? Most characters have skill sets and backgrounds, but we don't see them acquiring their skills. If you tell me the hero is a fighter pilot, I'll accept that he knows how to do certain things. If it's important that the reader know he's doing something because he picked it up in training, you can show me that when it happens. You can show me the hero is green when he's forced into battle by the way he responds to the situation, how he performs, what his superiors have to say afterwards, etc.

08-29-2005, 01:36 AM
Interesting suggestions, keep them coming!

Yeah preyer, I did think about the "Why the heck are fighter pilots being trained on salvaging?", and I addressed it a little bit in the chapter where they're training on it. I also have many of the trainees joking about stuff similiar to what you posted (cause it's modeled slightly after me being in the army and aside from learning communications, I also learned how to be a grunt and a janitor lol).

The hero is indeed a decent pilot even before the war starts (as shown by him flying his friend's transport plane and later, um, crop dusting hehe), and I like putting him in the situation where his test scores aren't high enough to qualify him to be trained on being a fighter pilot (again, this came from a real life experience where I also didn't score high enough on a military test to get another job I was vying for, although my situation didn't have a "good" ending to it hehe).

I guess I can start a chapter where it shows the hero first arriving to training, then skip to the next chapter where he's done with it (at least part of it), and is training on new things. I never even thought about that part until you guys mentioned it, and once again, I can draw from real life experiences (joining the army was certainly a shock and life changing experience lol. I know, I know joining the army isn't the same thing as someone training to be a pilot, but I'm sure that the experience of leaving one's home to be trained in the military is probably similiarly felt to everyone who's not used to it).

I think though, that I'm going to get him rushed through it, because there's a huge war being raged, and he as well as everyone else is needed to fight it (hmm, this just gave me an interesting sub-plot to add to my later chapters hehe). Yeah, the training isn't an area I want to focus on too much, as it's what he does later in the war that's important, and I want readers to focus on that mostly.

Again, good suggestions and ideas, keep them coming if you have any others :)

08-29-2005, 01:49 AM
Since the character has some piloting skills, probably learning a new craft requires a much shorter training period than if he'd had no piloting skills to begin with. For example, my ex-boyfriend was an army chopper pilot. He went off to get trained on the Apache, and was gone 4 months. I'm no expert, but I don't think the Apache is the simplest helicopter to fly, especially considering it takes two people to do it, and both pilots need to know both jobs. Still, only 4 months.

08-29-2005, 04:00 AM
four months doesn't sound like a lot. then again, if four months is what it takes, i reckon that's what it takes. i imagine it's every day, eight hours minimum, no? if you think about it, that's kind of like a bachelor's degree (if you cut out all that crap you don't need to know about in real life, sure, you could probably condense everything you need to know down into about four months. you won't be an expert, but you could probably function at an entry level.) air force fighter pilots are practically perfect people, having to meet all sorts of requirements. you may meet them all, be an inch short, and not make the cut.

i said there was no option 5 as a challenge. i mean, come on, there's more ways to attack the chapter than the few i mentioned. in this context, though, at least how i understand it, on-the-job-training should be removed from the table as an option as that falls under one of the other options already and the other option 5 ('option 5 from outer space'?) i don't know is an option as much as how to portray things very differently than you said you wanted as opposed to strictly an arrangement issue on how to go from point A to point B. other than that, i completely agree with Z's post and i really like how he presented the problem of training with it not having many pressing issues. if the character is rushed through training, that may worth noting, though. it doesn't change things that much, but it can were you wanting to show the training.

shoving pilots through a crash course in training can have a great effect on the pilot. imagine yourself in the cockpit while the enemy pops up on your scopes and you're thinking, 'oh, holy crap, i'm not ready for this!' showing a rushed training like this can indicate a seriousness to the situation and an overall urgency for the good guys. the problem i foresee is losing any urgency by depicting too much training. that is, you probably do want to skip the training save for a scene or two.

kamikaze (sp) pilots were trained on how to get their planes in the air and some basic things. they weren't trained on how to land. how much of a bare-bones education can these pilots get away with? i mean, in space, spending a month on expensive docking training may not be worth it if the pilots can just get near a space station, turn off the engine and basically waft around until they're picked up with 'scoop crews.' pilots who show they can survive will pick up on how to dock/land, get a little training thrown their way, but otherwise training 20 pilots to dock when only 5 of them will survive their first space battle slows the military down and costs them more money than a magnetic line shot out from the station to drag the ship in. just a thought.

and desperation breeds opening the doors to other situations like accepting sub-par recruits. had i known this before... lol. where once the pilots were male-dominated white guys, now you've got chicks in the locker room and people unspoken tradition dictated weren't invited into the club. short example: where i used to work, delphi, had a large maintenance department. scoring high on the qualifying test and having the credentials didn't mean you'd get in even if there was an opening. the guys in the department dictated who they wanted to work with. consequently, the gay guy who was vastly more qualified to get in the department went continually overlooked in favour of the guy the maintenance guys *wanted* in there, qualified or not. they just didn't like the gay dude. now, that's not right and it's not fair, but that's the way it was. maintenance let only enough blacks and women into the department as company intregration policy dictated, else it would have *all* been redneck crackers in there.

i imagine the military is no different, especially in a pilot programme where it's conceivable that old prejudices become tradition. if they had their way, it forever would remain an ol' boys club. just, you know, food for thought. your army experience may have been different or the same, don't know.

as an aside, remember last year (?) when that army person (i think she was a staff sergeant) was busted for stealing parts for her own machinery in the car pool, or whatever it's called. but it was her job to procur parts? i had a buddy who did that, and, gasp, what that person did was standard operational procedure. need a set of tires for your hummer? you take them off someone else's. that's how it got done, that's, i'm sure, hasn't changed. that someone got busted for doing the job as it's been done since day one is BS. start a thread titled 'share your military stories' and you might get flooded with replies, lol. the point is, what happens now has been going on forever and there probably won't be any differences in the future. to me, it's the behind-the-scenes details like that which makes a military story interesting.

glad these posts helped. :) personally, i approach problems like this with the idea 'were i watching it in a movie, what would i like to see?' i know, that's a movie and this is a novel. to that i can only say my style has always been noted as fast-paced, which is what you seem to want right here.

08-29-2005, 05:40 AM
glad these posts helped. :) personally, i approach problems like this with the idea 'were i watching it in a movie, what would i like to see?' i know, that's a movie and this is a novel. to that i can only say my style has always been noted as fast-paced, which is what you seem to want right here.

You know, now that you mention that, this story was originally intended to be a screenplay at first, which explains the "fast pace" of my story (but I also don't want to emphasize the training stuff anyway, since I don't think people will really care about it as much as when the hero starts fighting the bad guys).

But then I found out that once you sell a spec script, you essentially lose all the rights to it (at least as an unknown writer), and going that route, I'll either get blamed for it (if it flops, esp. if it's because the director, producer, or another writer changed the story), or get no credit for it (if it succeeds. Funny how directors get credit for movies, at least if they didn't also write the script. But I know, film and books are different mediums, and I'm hoping to master both someday).

Yeah, yeah, being paranoid hehe. And yeah, if the book does well, I would still like to see a movie version (and it would certainly make an interesting game if done right). I imagine that the screenplay would be heavily action oriented (big space fights basically, cutting a lot of secondary characters), while in the novel version, I can take my time to develop the characters if need be, and go slower (although my ultimate goal is to try and have the novel and the movie both complement, rather than contradict each other. For instance, in the book, a big battle may be mentioned briefly, but in the movie, you'd get to see it. I'm still working on it, but I hope it works out).

08-29-2005, 12:52 PM
well, good luck with it. make the characters tight, keep the logic legit, add a little humour and cool action, and who knows?