October 30, 2016

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #6 INVADER’S GUILT (Submitted 16 Times Since 2009 (and several before that as well), Revised Twice (at least))

In 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: In most science fiction novels, the aliens invade Earth and we fight them off, victorious and united, but what if WE were the evil invading aliens?

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?): We’re so certain that Humanity is perfectible that hard core SF fans can’t imagine that we’d be the alien aggressors, invading another world for material gain. “We’re not LIKE that!” But what if we are? What if WE are the horrible, alien invaders?

Opening Line: “Escaping her past should have been easier than getting off the alien home world.”

Onward: From that opening line on, I rotated between four (or, originally five) characters. Three were Human, one (or two) were members of the alien WheetAh. I have a Human trader; a throw-away Human soldier, unbeknownst to him, loaded with a genocidal bioweapon; and a Human, Christian missionary to the WheetAh; and Weoofei, alien advisor the main planetary leader. (Originally, I included Mehrifei’s viewpoint as the planetary leader, but eventually cut him out and used Weoofei exclusively.) They all witnessed the Human invasion of Wheet, the alien homeworld, after a long, hard-fought space war. Their lives cross paths several times, then two of them join forces, three of them, until all of them are together at the end of the book as they save Humanity from itself.

What Was I Trying To Say? I confess that I was trying to be profound. In a universe that contained only Human and WheetAh intelligences – colloquially known among each species as Weasels and Weeds – who were by nature completely opposed to each other, could they learn to not only get along but grow together?

The Rest of the Story: The rest of the story devolves into a sort of Weasel for me: literally. It turns out that NOT the entire of Humanity wants to destroy the WheetAh. It’s just a rogue fleet. And even though the evil Vii, a powerful faction within WheetAh that desires the same thing the rogue fleet does – the eradication of Humanity from the universe – works against the invasion fleet, they have a plan for their own invasion of Earth. It also turns out that Mehrifei is insane and would rather destroy Wheet than let it fall to Humans.

I say that I weaseled this because it’s my unfortunate belief that most Humans are good – at least as good as living without God can make them; but that evidence shows clearly that we are NOT self-perfectible. A benevolent United Federation of Planets is impossible – and the fact is that the only thing that drove the whole Star Trek franchise was the search for ever more evil empires against which “poor Humans” had to FIGHT. True interstellar peace would be incredibly boring and the ratings would plummet and not one would bother watching the show. Oh, and the “aliens” are just devices to personify the scriptwriter’s personal belief system. Roddenberry and the other keepers of Trekdom would tweak the writing to keep it in line with their own belief systems as well…

At any rate, I didn’t let Humanity be evil. I let PART of Humanity and WheetAh be evil while the majority were “good people”.

End Analysis: I missed my mark by quite a bit – witness the number of times it’s been submitted. I suppose I can try to blame its rejection on the mild antipathy the SF community feels when regarding blatant Christianity, but I can’t because the last editor to read it was a Christian brother, so I have to conclude that I screwed up. Though it’s unconventional, I still like the rotating character format (I did the same thing in my unsellable YA novel, VICTORY OF FISTS, where I go back and forth between first and third person viewpoint of the same character). I like it, but clearly I haven’t been able to pull it off effectively. Also, when I started, it wasn’t clear in my head that Humans and WheetAh were the only intelligent life in the galaxy. I even added the “transcendent” Braiders to the most recent mix. It didn’t work – and I also found them intrusive to the story I was trying to tell. The slush editor who was both a Christian brother and who rejected it wrote a number of helpful comments he was under no obligation to do, but this is what I remembered, “The narrative was quite strong, and in places even powerful; however, some sentences were difficult to parse…The preponderance of alien names made for some confusing passages, though, and we find our readers prefer things a bit more straightforward -- smoother, with less chance of getting jarred out of the story…The alien physiology was quite interesting…”

Can This Story Be Saved? Clearly the answer is “yes”. I wrote this book a long time ago and I am a better writer now. I also have a clearer vision of what I wanted to say and how I goofed up. I have another universe where I can explore the interaction of wildly different aliens. I have another where there are NO aliens.

This is the one I think might be unusual enough to get published – though I open the book with there clearly being OTHER aliens. So…if I could disappear the others and carefully examine the interaction between the only two intelligences in our part of the galaxy, I think the story could be powerful and accomplish what I want it to accomplish.

But here’s the big BUT: I have to start all over again. I’ve been trying to do this by exploring the smaller stories, but they haven’t been successful yet. But I’m learning. Just like Hemingway says I should be!

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