Adding atmosphere in a navy novel
If you have watched movies set on board Navy ships, you have probably seen the captain use the “1-MC” shipboard-wide public address system to make announcements. Or, if the main characters weren’t bridge officers, you probably heard 1-MC announcements in the background. Some, like “General Quarters” require an immediate response. Others are informational in nature and/or apply to certain people.
In my recent contemporary fantasy The Sailor, I wanted to give a bit of the flavor of ship board life by interspersing 1-MC announcements in between segments of action and dialogue. If my book were an audio book, complete with sound effects, I might have these playing in the background. In print, I hope I achieved the same effect by distributing them throughout the text.
My book is set aboard an aircraft carrier. A sailor on a large ship can easily get the feeling that 1-MC announcements are impersonal, come out of nowhere, and are examples of a lot of paperwork and regimentation and tradition that doesn’t always mesh with the reality of most of a man or woman’s hour-by-hour duties. Typical 1-MC announcement:
“Now hear this, now here this, secure from General Quarters. Now set Condition Yoke.” Condition Yoke was the readiness condition set while at sea or in port during wartime.
I added to the atmosphere by also using interspersed bits of “from the bridge” dialogue and official “from the deck log” comments. These are rather stylized in nature and further serve to make the ship at times seem like a rather alien place. Typical bridge dialogue:
“Left five degrees rudder.” “Left five degrees rudder, aye sir, my rudder is left five degrees.”
Typical deck log entries:
00-04 Maneuvering on various courses and speeds while conducting flight operations 04-08 Steaming as before. 08-12 Steaming as before. 0939 Received daily muster report. No new additions or deletions. 12-16 Steaming as before. 1225 Completed flight operations for this date. Set course 140° Speed 25 knots.
If I were writing about a downtown Chicago car chase, I might mention the weather, the sound of the elevated, and the horns of taxis. For a wilderness scene, there are birds, animals, bad weather and inhospitable terrain. Some times, such things provide ambiance and sometimes they directly impact the plot.
As both a reader and a writer, I like it when a story contains the sighs and sounds around the edges of the action because such things provide atmosphere and even some unexpected plot twists.
“Sweepers, sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a clean sweep down both fore and aft. Sweep down all lower decks, ladder wells and passageways! Now sweepers.”