July 10, 2016

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #1 “Hūmbūlance” (Submitted 8 Times Since 2008, Revised once)

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/9f/22/3b/9f223b1e57a36e14db3eb13715fbe3f9.jpgIn September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, In April of 2014,  I figured I’d gotten enough publications that I could share some of the things I did “right”. I’ll keep that up, but I’m running out of pro-published stories. I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it, but someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. Hemingway’s quote above will remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales, but I’m adding this new series of posts because I want to carefully look at what I’ve done WRONG and see if I can fix it. As always, your comments are welcome!

ANALOG Tag Line(What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?): Given a choice of finding yourself or living a glorious lie, which would you choose?

Elevator Pitch: A man who has been cloned and whose DNA has been altered a dozen times since he proved his worth as a brilliant soldier in the mid-21st Century, discovers he’s a spy – and discovers that a second of him, a massive, obscenely manipulated “living ambulance” works in the clouds of a gas giant, River. It is in a region that is On The Verge of the Confluence of Humanity and the Empire of Man. River is a world whose population is polarized between democratic, genetic experimenters and Imperial, genetic purists. After he is kidnapped, Gordon is offered a job working with “himself”. Raised in the purist Empire, he is horrified and attempts to escape. Then called to a serious accident, he and the creature work so well together, they not only save the lives of the victims, but one wants to defect to the Confluence. Will Gordon follow him?
Gordon Oyeyemi Daboh was a soldier who fought in a series of wars that ended up both tearing up and unifying the African continent. I’ve got a story out right now with his very first “adventure” in it. It takes place some six hundred years before “Prince of Blood and Spit” (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2016/06/writing-advice-what-went-right-with.html).

Opening Line: “Hūmbūlance” begins: “Dive-bombing through the air, the hūmbūlance opened his mouth.”

Autopsy: Not bad. It’s certainly grabs my attention. But this story is only 4100 words – the problem the main character faces needs to be next. Here’s what I wrote: “Hydrogen and helium from River’s atmosphere screamed down Irog’s kilometer-long throat raising an eerie wail like an old Earth, World War II stuka siren, growing louder and higher in pitch the faster he fell.

“Riding in a nitrogen-oxygen pocket inside Irog, black hand gripping a red plastic handle anchored on a milky white, cartilaginous wall, Gordon Oyeyemi shouted over the noise, ‘What are you doing, Irog?’ He slapped the wall with his other hand, shouting, ‘We’re in here, you know!’”

I’ve used 89 words and the story has gone nowhere. I don’t know whether Gordon is the main character or if “Irog” is what the thing is called or its name – and if it has a name, why is it so weird… I certainly don’t know what ANYBODY’S problem is – and unknown to the reader, there’s another character! There are only 4000 words left and in those words, I have to introduce a problem, make things worse, then solve it.

Another problem I noticed is that there’s a lot of jargon – and most of it I made up myself or is unnecessarily dense: nitrogen-oxygen pocket; milky white, cartilaginous wall; World War II stuka siren; black hand gripping a red plastic handle; down Irog’s kilometer-long throat. These phrases, while I know what I meant by them don’t clearly communicate what’s happening.

I get to the action on page 2: “Besides that, we just got a call.” What kind of a call? How does anyone know that? The reader is TOLD rather than SHOWN what’s going on. This is embarrassing for me. One of my primary lessons in the Writing To Get Published class I teach is on showing, not telling. Here I go and smash the rule myself!

Shortly after, I get to the conflict: We find out from the bottom of page 2 to page 3 that Gordon’s mad at Irog; Gordon is trying to impress the other guy; the other guy doesn’t like Gordon. In a 4100 word story, I have three characters among whom I need some sort of resolution of their conflict.

How is THAT supposed to happen? Do I have enough words to resolve it?

We may never find out, because now I throw an emergency at the characters. And I do it by writing a jargon-dense paragraph that the reader reads without having a sense of who the characters are and why she should care: “Patient Paolo Bianchi reports intense chest pain. He is a one hundred and nine year old male, with moderately modified DNA. His cloudwhale’s name is Reuben and they live in the upper temperate level of the Amazon cloud band. Reuben carries a twenty-two hundred hectare pharm and the corresponding buildings and equipment. The patient, four mod-mod minor children, two profoundly modified DNA adult children, and thirteen environmentally adapted humans work together as the Reuben-Perez Botanical-Pharmacological Cooperative. Bianchi’s mod-mod wife died two years ago of natural causes. She had a Do Not Resuscitate and a Do Not Intubate on file.” Again – I am telling the reader. I could have shown this easily and skipped Irog messing around. I should be able to better illustrate my background without sacrificing story. In fact, so far, there’s no real story here.

What Was I Trying To Say? I knew what I wanted to say, to explore, but thus far, I haven’t given any reason for the reader to follow me. What I want people to know is that half of this world judges your worth as a Human by how much original Human DNA you have. Sixty-five percent and more, and you’re part of the Family! Sixty-four point nine or less, and you’re an animal.

Did any of that come across? Did Gordon face ANY kind of challenge here? None. He seems flat and uninteresting and I can’t imagine that anyone would be interested in what was happening.

The Rest of the Story: By page eight, the intrepid crew of the hūmbūlance Irog have saved a life – which life was connected to a deep moral issue as well as a political one. They trick an alien creature called a cloudwhale that has a pharm on its back (jargon and enough implied backstory to write a novel) and a family whose inheritance AND internecine war at stake into reviving the tycoon into thumbing his will (jargon). Then they leave. Oh, and there’s a love interest here, too.

Then they’re off to save another life – oh, and this incident is fraught with political consequences! There’s an ethical issue as well when Rane (character #3) reveals he’s some sort of evaluating agent for Gordon and Irog, and he wonders if Gordon is bigoted against the Pure and would rather let them die than keep his commitment and help them.

Then I introduce a sport, intriguing even to me and I invented it: “It’s an airboard accident with a predatory cloud jelly.” (jargon alert!) And we also have wide-ranging consequences and show that both Confluence and Empire have problems: “Gordon exclaimed. “What’s the Purity League?”

Rane took a deep breath, released it and said, “Their little club makes the Emperor of Man and the Imperial Senate look like conservative candidates for the Confluence Congress.””

And this: “I’m a liberal Imperial” and “‘someone who’s fifty percent unaltered DNA is human?’ ‘I didn’t say I was a radical’” and “Liberals allow that sixty-two percent unaltered DNA is human” and “Hardliners need sixty-eight percent. Fundamentalists insist on seventy-five percent” and finally, “I’m a spy for the Reunification Church… [who] want to see humanity put back together again”…

End Analysis: I attempted WAY TOO MUCH here! I strained the credulity of the reader by having so many important things happen on this trip that the “story” became a sketch of this world. I never got to answer Gordon’s question, and the fact is that he never had a real  problem. There was no challenge, no climax, no resolution; this explains why it got rejected so many times – and that two of the editors commented on the world-building aspect, but didn’t get pulled in by the story.

The reason was that there wasn’t a story there to get pulled into.

Can This Story Be Saved? The simple answer here, is that as is, it’s unsalvageable. The more complicated answer is that there are elements of at least two stories here – the “Heart Attack On A Cloudwhale” one, and the “Sky Racer Nazis Get What They Deserve!” one. Either one would force Gordon to make a decision to stay in college and continue his masquerade as an Imperial or join the Confluan paramedic corp.

So – make it into two stories, slow down, and build Gordon and Irog up into believable characters. That whole vein of story is left unmined here.

Image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/9f/22/3b/9f223b1e57a36e14db3eb13715fbe3f9.jpg

No comments: