December 6, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Jack McDevitt 7: Major Events Take Place Offstage

(The Twelve Blunders are used with permission of Jack McDevitt, from his webpage:

“Conflict is the soul of good fiction…Especially when the conflict arises between two apparently reasonable but mutually exclusive views…narratives dependent on villainous characters have a hard time rising to a very sophisticated level…” And that conflict has to take place front and center -- it's why readers want to read a story!

In my own writing, I discovered this after I’d finished my first “real” 110,000 word science fiction novel, INVADER’S GUILT.

In it, I’d played five characters and four minor characters off one another in five different story lines as they came together then parted ways and eventually arrived at the same place at the same time at the end of the book. I still like the story, but after re-reading it, I found that while their personal stories were interesting, there was no compelling overall “event” taking place. Their stories were all set against the Human invasion of the WheetAh homeworld at the end of a protracted interstellar conflict. While this is certainly dramatic, there wasn’t anything ELSE happening. It was a pretty average story of the conclusion of a pretty average interstellar war that Humans appeared about to win (of course…)

Then I found the real conflict; the reasonable but mutually exclusive view that was driving the story. There were actually two, one obvious, one hidden. I worked to bring out the first story line by eliminating two character viewpoints and focusing on three – a group of alien, plantimal WheetAh who were political prisoners of the planetary ruler and had a Human prisoner dropped in their midst and then escape their prison; a pilot/drug dealer and a Buddhist nun working to stop a plague; a Christian missionary with connections to WheetAh government because of her work with WheetAh and Human orphans.

The second conflict I’d never noticed: extremely powerful aliens have a plan to create God and Humans and WheetAh are part of it. Whether they want to be or not. Whether they even notice or not.

Suddenly – at least for me and a few beta readers – the story was more coherent and there was moral ambiguity: do Humanity and WheetAh have any right to decide if they want to be part of the Weaver’s attempt to fabricate God? Neither one could in any way stop the Weavers, who exist outside of the universe the two kingdoms inhabit, though their intent is clearly good.

Ah! That’s it! Now I have it!

Now all I have to do is sell it…

1 comment:

Vidad said...

Sounds like a slice of awesome. I'd buy it.