In 2008, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. To learn more – and to satisfy my natural tendency to “teach stuff”, I started a series of essays taking the wisdom of published writers and then applying each “nugget of wisdom” to my own writing. During the six years that followed, I used the advice of a number of published writers (with their permission) and then applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda to an analysis of my own writing. Together these people write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Today I add to that list, Lisa Cron who has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. Again, with permission, I am using her article, “A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story” (2/16/18 http://blog.creativelive.com/essential-storytelling-techniques/)...
13. The reader expects that as the protagonist tries to solve the plot problem, she will only make things worse, until she has no choice but to face her misbelief.
“We expect that the protagonist will have two mutually exclusive goals: first, to resolve the plot problem; second, to remain true to her misbelief while doing so. The irony is that the thing she thinks is helping her – her misbelief – is actually what’s keeping her from getting what she wants. This reveals the most fundamental, and potent, source of conflict in any story: your protagonist’s internal struggle – what she wants vs. the misbelief that keeps her from getting it.”
OK – I’m going to analyze a set of three stories I’m working on now. “Panhandlers” is in submission; “Hermit” is nearly done; and “Immigrants” will be the final story in what I have named, in an act of extreme creativity, TRIPTYCH…
At any rate, let me think out loud about the protagonist, Carlos Bander. In the first story, Carlos, the first child of a family of migrant field workers (who in fact, lived down the road from where I grew up) to benefit from their bold move to buy a house and settle in our 100% white, middle-class, suburban neighborhood. I can’t imagine the courage that took or the pressure they were placed under to leave, nevertheless, in reality, that eldest son became a celebrity chef. The main point there was for their children to get an education beyond what they received.
The main plot problem of all three stories is he’s been “kidnapped” into service to the Unity of Sentients. Why? Because a measure of civilization is the willingness of the species (as a whole) to embrace sacrifice as a sometimes necessary response to challenge. Also, because in a multi-species union inevitably, conflict will occur. When evaluating new members for the Unity, agents investigate how a species deals with conflict. Carlos is one such Human.
Wars don’t automatically eliminate a people from membership in the Unity. It’s HOW war is fought that might eliminate them. Also, the Sentients or their culture must have something of value to trade and a desire to ask for what they need.
In this future (as in reality), Humans have a vast knowledge of domestication of a wide variety of species as well as medical skills that have little precedence in the Unity civilization.
Neural, cell, and organ regeneration is virtually ubiquitous in all other Sentients; in fact, it’s considered a necessity for intelligence to develop. Earth life is nearly unique in that while complex life forms can regenerate cells and sometimes other major organs, in most mammals regeneration is limited and selective. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regeneration_(biology)). As a result, Humans developed transplant technologies virtually unknown in the Unity.
As for domestication, Humans have domesticated 39 different animal species; 12 insects; and over 100 plants. We use many others, but these are the most significant. In the Unity, there have been very few species with a high domesticability factor on the home worlds of most members of the Unity. Certainly, there have been nowhere near as many such species on a single world. Unity experience with domestication is limited at best.
At any rate, Carlos knows his family history and his goal is to help as many people as possible. His misbelief is that he has been called to work with young people as a counselor and a social worker. It’s become his self-image. Others in the Unity have evaluated him (and thousands of others, of course), as possible candidates for Contact in Human society and ones who might receive training to help the Unity with its next step: integration of Humans into Unity culture. So far, they liked what they saw. So, they put Carlos to the test.
In “Panhandler”, Carlos is fired from his job, tossed out of his home, and must survive on the street. But, for some reason he is unaware of, his test has accelerated and he must choose saving the life of an alien being on Earth, or saving his own life.
In “Hermit”, Carlos, now linked with two aliens who see him as “their project”, has to face his prejudices and his loneliness (his wife died before “Panhandler”). He also has to think on his feet and while the story will end fairly well, it will also exacerbate his loneliness.
In “Immigrants”, I hope to delve into the current Human drama playing across multiple cultures on the planet. While we in the US seem tunnel-focused on pursuing our own self-righteous efforts to lead the planet in our inclusiveness, we ignore other cultures whose resistance to immigration is worse than ours. The ten WORST: https://haskewlaw.com/the-top-ten-toughest-immigration-laws-world-wide/; the ten BEST: https://www.immigroup.com/news/top-10-immigration-friendly-countries.
So – generosity, isolationism, and immigration. Issues that the Unity is looking at in Humans and areas that Carlos doesn’t understand the reactions he has in himself. He’s internally conflicted and externally conflicted as well. He gets into trouble when he doesn’t make what he thinks is the “right choice”. (He’s also secretly a Christian!)
However, I just realized that I may have been a bit too easy on Carlos in “Hermit”. Excuse me while I go give him a worse time!