Opening lines… By Nick Kyme

Imagine a magnesium bright desert. There is nothing as far as your eye can see, and the horizon and the landscape are so indistinct from one another that they merge into a single formless, toneless mass.

Welcome to the first page of your novel. Surprise, surprise – it’s blank. Better take on lots of water and figure out your route, it’s going to be a long road.

It gets better, though. Having a road map helps. You build it. You build the landscape too (though that can be capricious and surprising – it should be). It’s your world, remember?

Make no bones about it (there are many in the blank page desert, slowly bleaching in the sun), writing a novel is tough. It takes time, and isn’t for the faint hearted. If you are faint of heart, try some shorter at first. If that gives you concern too then I’d suggest getting the heck out of the desert at the first opportunity before you expire. This trek is not for you, sir/madam.

Perhaps toughest is coming up with that opening line. Thing is, once you’ve got your landscape up and running (your characters and the story they drive and inhabit), it becomes a little more self-perpetuating. Before that happens, there’s just the desert and all the compass directions laid before you.

See, the thing about opening lines is, there’s never just one. You might think there is, but that’s not true. There are lots, and therein lies the rub. So many places where you could begin, so many choices, directionless and amorphous.

It can be paralysing.

Terrifying.

Some advice?

Write more than one. Don’t be afraid to throw out what you’ve spent the entire morning agonising over. No words are that important that you can’t jettison them in favour of better or more appropriate ones.

Recycle and redraft. In the blank desert landscape, this isn’t only environmentally friendly, it’s economically sound too. I’ve dumped loads of failed opening lines, only to find them in my mental scrap and ready to be deployed elsewhere. Throw nothing out. Not completely anyway. With a little care and attention, it can be put to use again.

But I’m digressing.

I equate writing a novel to running a long race. Think of it as a journey. I remember an interesting quote about this very subject (apologies if I don’t remember this accurately): Writing a novel is like driving down a dark road with your lights on. You know where you’ve been, and you can see just what is in front of you, but no further ahead than that. The only way you know what is around the next bend is to reach it and have a look.

Think about your route. Have a route. We are back in the blank page desert again, but if you have a route you are much more likely not to get lost, especially when you start to establish some of the landmarks along the way.

Going back to the idea of a long race, the opening line is you on the starting line. It’s your preparation and thought process up to this point. You just need to put one foot in front of the other.

Endurance is the key. You have to have e physical and mental chops to stay the course. Break up the miles. It’s hot in the desert, but you’ll be all right if you just take it steady and try not to think about the journey in its entirety. That is the way to madness. You’ll end up (or rather the idea of your novel will) as one of those bleached skulls on the side of the road, the ruins of your story putrefying in the heat.

When I’m writing a novel, I prepare. Mind and body. I research and plan. I think. Then when I’m ready, I act. I consider the variant possibilities of my opening line, that first scene and simply pick one.

I take it step by step, mile and mile. It’s tough at first, and takes some adjustment. All long races are, I think. I find a novel doesn’t start to attain its own gravity (and thus pulling me along into its orbit) until I reach about 20 to 30k words. I know I’m in a long race then, not a sprint. I reconcile the fact it’s going to take some time. I double check my route map. Do it more than once, to remind yourself where you are going. I do the miles, I work at that everyday even if I’m only chipping away at them.

Write. Read. Repeat.

There is no cheat or trick. That’s it.

Opening lines, they are scary but think of all the possibilities and what might come of it all when the finish line is in sight and you get to cross it…

What Kind of Year Has it Been?

As we stare down the barrel of 2013 I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a bit of a Year in Review for The Shell Case. And I thought I’d start with the resolutions I wrote just over a year ago…

The first was to paint something. This I have managed. I had a fully painted Covenant fleet then my mother gave me even more sodding cruisers for Christmas so technically it’s not fully painted, but I got the whole lot down over 3 weeks (spread out over two painting sessions). I’ve partially painted other stuff, but that was the big achievement for me. A little lame that that’s the only stuff I managed to put brush to model to over the last 12 months, but it’s that or blog…

I was also supposed to finish Project Awesome this year. This I didn’t achieve. This was partly due to me getting involved with a separate project (which has also stalled due to time and me being lazy). But, to be honest, I’ve had far too much fun working on The Shell Case and the associated projects – such as Of Dice and Men – that I’m not too worried. That said, I really must be strict with myself in 2013 and crack on and get things finished.

And speaking of projects, Super Mega Awesome Shell Case Project died a death. Through no fault of my own however. I was let down so completely by a third-party that I decided to can the project until further notice. It still may happen hence it remaining secret but for now this resolution can be scrubbed off.

But, and it appears I’m inadvertently working this like a criticism sandwich, the Shell Case Shorts did become a regular features. It made it to the full year. Sadly it will be the last ever Shell Case Shorts as trying to source prizes and maintain the community’s interest has proven too great a challenge and still allow me to focus on other things. I’m gutted to be honest but if the interest isn’t there it isn’t there. I may do short story competitions again, but nothing like SCS.

I did, however write more reviews. Lots in fact. And more than a few opinion pieces. I suspect I’m becoming as well-known for my rants as I am anything else. But one thing that has become apparent these last 12 months is that all the companies I’ve been in touch with consider The Shell Case to be honest and impartial which means a great deal. This of course has led to me falling out with a few people along the way. And when I say people I mean companies and I’m sure regular readers can take a stab at who they are. But I didn’t start the blog to brown nose the companies. Actually I started it to make me paint stuff, but you know what I mean.

On to number 6, the Shell Case Beatdown. This didn’t happen. Not even close. To be honest, I was naive to have even suggested it as I had no clue how to organise it or where to hold it. It won’t be happening this year either but I am working on something with a fellow #warmonger that may see a few of us getting together. But I did get to meet a few of the #warmongers at Salute 2012 and all systems are go for a similar meet up again this year, although I suspect it’ll be a little bit more hanging out en masse rather than meeting up for a picnic in the middle of the lobby.

And I did forgive the Games Workshop. At least as much as I could. And I’ve even started a new 40k army and gotten back into Adeptus Titanicus 2. Both projects are slow burn and I don’t see the Chaos army being completed next year between time, money and impending fatherly commitments. But I shall enjoy it and not worry about the prices. Despite them going up again in the New Year…

And I did manage to play more games than play Xbox. That was until Halo 4 came out… However through one thing or another the games have fizzled out a bit as The Chaps as a gaming entity doesn’t really exist any more. There are reasons for this that won’t be discussed here but one of my resolutions for 2013 is get The Chaps back on track and get at least one game in a month.

Although I am thinking about starting a games club you have to interview for to weed out the beardy and unwashed.

All in all, it’s been a great year as I’ve got to do far more of the stuff I like with the blog and cut out the shit I didn’t that I was doing to try to keep pace with BoLS and Tabletop Gaming News. My enjoyment and The Shell Case’s success is in no small part down to my sponsor, Firestorm Games who have allowed me the luxury of reviewing games and models that my finances would not normally permit me to explore. This has been a significant shift in The Shell Case as a blog and hopefully gone some way to making it a credible source wargaming reviews and opinion.

Since the blog went live I’ve written 588 posts, 441 this year. Assuming I write 500 words on average – which low balling it massively – I’ve written roughly 300,000 words. Although the reality is closer to half a million. Please don’t point out that it’s a novels worth of words, it’ll just make me cry. The record for most hits was smashed several times this year. The most recent was almost double the previous best, reaching 2,600 hits and the average number of visitors creeping ever closer to 700 a day. The busiest month for The Shell Case exceeded 20,000 hits. This of course is down to you guys – you awesome bunch of readers and followers so a massive thanks goes out to you.

So what of 2013 and what resolutions can you expect of me? Well…

1. Publish the Shell Case Shorts Anthology. This will be an absolute priority for me in January; getting all the winners’ work together in a free to download PDF for the world to share. Those winners that are reading this, there may be some editorial tweaks. Don’t be offended, you still got free shit and you’re still being published.

2. Continue to fucking paint something! I think my lack lustre approach to painting is as much to do with the fact that an increasing number of my paints are knackered and I resent paying GW prices for something that dries out too damn fast. So perhaps a part of this resolution needs to be to research a new paint system.

3. Seriously get a writing project finished. Part of this resolution will be to get a bit more organised with blog posts, plan out content a bit more than I have been so I have more free time to write rules for toy soldiers rather than just reviews for toy soldiers. Again, this will mean a little less Xbox, but that’s not a hardship.

I also need to decide what the best route to market will be when it’s finished, be it either pitch to a developer or go with a crowd funding scheme…Watch this space.

4. Keep going with ODAM. The first two episodes were a huge amount of fun and all being well episode 3 will be recorded this week. It’d be great to make it through the year and get as many bloggers and Twitterers as possible on to the show.

5. Play some games. As mentioned above, I’d really like to get The Chaps back together and get gaming again with some regularity. I think campaigns may well be out for the time being, but I don’t care it’ll just be great to hang out with my mates, play toys, roll fist gulls of dice, drink sugary drinks and eat far too many snacks.

6. Improve content across the board on The Shell Case which includes getting back into my musing posts, sort out some of the pages and revisiting the contributors part of the site. This project has been somewhat of a failure as contributions have been practically nil. I think I need to start this from scratch and bring people on board who are local to me so that I can beat them with a stick until they write something.

7. Make it to Salute 2013. Simple enough, needs no more explanation.

8. Run another #warmongersSecretSanta. Overall it was a resounding success with #warmongers from all over the world taking part. Although one participant couldn’t be bothered to send a gift and has avoided all attempts at contact regarding the matter. I won’t name names but they know who they are and my disappointment is absolute. For a member of our community to take and not give back, especially at Christmas is low and they won’t be permitted to take part in any future competition, give away or community project I’m involved with.

9. Be a Dad. My first-born is due in March and I couldn’t be more excited. That said, if I drop off the face of the Interwebs during that month don’t be alarmed, it’s just my sanity unspooling as the kid cries me into early senility.

There’s other stuff I could put on the list but these are the big ones. And with that I wish you all a fantastic 2013 with all the healthy, happiness and good fortune you deserve.

Shell Case Shorts 12

So we’ve finally come to it; the last (ever) Shell Case Shorts competition. It’s been a long and interesting road with some awesome entries and as we stare down the barrel of 2013 I’m really excited about the anthology which will be out in the New Year.

As it’s the last competition I did my best to make the prize as awesome as possible. And this month I’ve been helped along by the awesome Nick Kyme, Gav Thorpe and Sarah Cawkwell. A huge thank you goes out to them as they’ve already been so generous with their donations to The Shell Case in the past.

So this months prizes are; Tome of Fire and The Great Betrayal by Nick Kyme, Ravenwing by Gav Thorpe and Valkia the Bloody by Sarah Cawkwell.

UPDATE - The prize now also includes a signed copy of Battle of the Fang by Chris Wraight.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to add to this prize over December to give the Shell Case Shorts the send off it deserves.

scs12prizes

So, what do you need to do to win this pile of awesome? Well, here’s the rules…

Write a short story of between 3,000 & 5,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Monday 31st December 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 11

Well here we are in November and you know what that means? The penultimate Shell Case Shorts.

This months prizes have been donated by none other than Chris Wraight, Black Library author and all round top chap. His interview with The Shell Case can be read here. Up for grabs are signed copies of his novels Wrath of Iron & Luthor Huss.

Rules are as follows:

Write a short story of between 2,000 & 3,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Friday 30th November 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 10

We’ve made it to double digits and we’re hurtling towards the end of the year. That means only two more competitions after this one and another step closer to the Shell Case Shorts Anthology.

I’m taking a slightly different tack with this month’s prize, paying forward some extraordinary generosity showed to me by those fine chaps at Studio Sparta. I refer to the two Firestorm Invasion start sets they sent me to review. To keep both would simply be greedy so the prize is nothing less than the Dindrenzi Federation kickstart set.

Rules are as follows:

Write a short story of between 2,000 & 5,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Wednesday 31st October 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 9

This month’s Shell Case Shorts is extra special for me as the prize is a signed copy of the utterly awesome Gruntz 15mm written by Robin Fitton, an honoured member or the wargaming community and all round top bloke.

I had the pleasure of reviewing Gruntz v1 a while back and loved it and I’m really excited that it’s coming out in print. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning is the following:

Rules are as follows:

Entrants have two writing options.

1, Write a single short story of between 2,000 & 3,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Or

2. Write a pair of short stories of 1500 words the second following on from the first set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Sunday 30th September 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 7

This month’s Shell Case Shorts is a little bit special because the prize is not a signed book, but a signed rule book. Those fine chaps at Spartan Games have donated a copy of Dystopian Wars signed by all the development team.

With this in mind, the Shell Case Shorts is going Steampunk. All entries should be based on a Steampunk IP such as Dystopian Wars, Wolsung, Empire of the Dead etc. And, because I’m nice, I’ll even include Warmachine in the mix.

Rules are as follows:

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

Short story entries word limit should not exceed 3,000 words.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Tuesday 31st July 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Sponsored by

Six Month Review

At the beginning of the year I wrote a post laying out my wargaming resolutions. As we’re now half way through the year, or near as dammiy, I thought I’d revisit them and see how I’m doing. So, here we go…

1. Paint fucking anything!

Hmm, not doing too well on this front. I partially painted a venerable dreadnought and a chaplain. I’ve managed to undercoat my Covenant of Antarctica fleet but I wouldn’t say that really counts. Although I have another scenery review in the pipeline so I shall have to paint that. Plus I’m hoping to organise a hobby day with The Chaps to paint Dystopian Wars stuff. But, to be honest, that’s a resolution to do a resolution, which is a little weak.

2. Finish Project Awesome.

Now this is actually going quite well. The core rules are pretty much finished which means it should be ready for playtesting in the next couple of months. I’m giving myself a slight extension on this so as long as I have Project Awesome completed within my 30th year of being on God’s green Earth I’ll call it a win.

3. Complete the Super Mega Awesome Shell Case Project.

This sadly has been canned. For reasons that are too tedious to go into it’s not happening. Sad but not the end. I hope that I can come back to it one day but we’ll see. On the upside; the time can be put into The Shell Case and Project Awesome instead. So it’s not all bad.

4. Make the Shell Case Shorts a regular feature and put togethe an anthology for Christmas release.

Well so far so good on this front. It won’t be a Christmas release for the anthology as the competitions are monthly (didn’t think that one through) but the Shell Case Shorts have become a regular feature. It’s been tough finding prizes, or even getting the community to take part but I shall keep at it.

5. Write more reviews.

Well I’ve certainly been doing that! And I’ve got 3 in the pipeline at the moment.

6. Organise the first, and hopefully not the only, Shell Case Beatdown for all my #warmonger chums.

This didn’t really pan out. Again the uptake in the community wasn’t what I had hoped. I might try and arrange a smaller, invite only, version as a starter and then see what might happen after that.

7. Forgive the Games Workshop.

I was doing so well on this one! And then they put their prices up again. To be honest I think I have forgiven, as far as I can. I still play 40k and the Specialist Games range and I love the fiction. I’m just not going to give them my money any more. Not directly at least. With stockists like Total Wargamer offering their stuff at as much as 25% off why by Bonaparte’s balls would I go direct?

8. And finally play a little less xbox and a little more toy soldiers.

This is actually going quite well. With the exception of Mass Effect I’ve been all about the toys. That’s been helped in no small part by the reviews I’ve been doing and The Chaps getting into Dystopian Wars. That’ll change when Halo 4 comes out but I’ll worry about that in November.

So that’s where I am. My big drive is Project Awesome but fear no The Shell Case will continue on its merry course. And, if anything it’ll be getting a lot busier on the blogging front, but more on that another time.

The Shell Case Shorts 6

Half way through the greatest short story competition in the wargaming world! Who’d have thought it?

This month I’m mixing it up again giving entrants two ways of participating. June’s criteria are a wargaming IP (as always), it can be anything you like; Fantasy, Steampunk, Sci-fi, you name it. And you’ve got the choice of writing fiction or doing a comic strip.

The reason for this momentary shift is entirely down to the awesome person who has donated this months prize and the awesome prize itself.

I refer to the community’s very own Chris Webb, aka @Curis and his awesome compilation of comic strips Punishment of the Dice Gods.
You can visit Curis’ website here.

Rules are as follows:

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

For short story entries word limit is up to 2,000 words.

For comic book entries it should exceed no more than a DPS (2 pages of A4 or single A3, whichever).

All entries must be received by midnight Saturday 30th June 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document (prose) or PDF (comic strip) attached to an email to phil@theshellcase.com

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Staffing Up

John of The Chaps emailed me this evening with a very good idea which was to expand horizons of The Shell Case by bringing on board some new writers.

The Shell Case has always been about supporting the wargaming community through reviews, news, hobby articles, scenarios, painting guides etc. for almost a year now. However, I am but one man and I so I can only write about what I have time to do.

So, ever with the community in mind, and with such a tremendous wealth of talent within it I’m launching a test balloon and offering you all the opportunity to write for The Shell Case.

If you’re interested complete the form below making sure you indicate the type of article you’d like to write. Please bear in mind:

If, based on the form, I think you could be right for the blog I’ll ask you to write a sample piece.

You’ll need to be fairly prolific and be able to provide content as often as weekly.

The Shell Case isn’t monetized so you won’t get paid, just credited.

This is a test programme and will only go ahead if enough people want to join the cause.