May 12, 2019

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #23, “God Bless You Gravity Modification” (Submitted 10 Times Since 2006, Revised Once)

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: We always thinks about how paradigm changes will affect “society”, but what about how will it affect the “little people”?

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?)
For the first time ever, I drew on my missionary experiences from my eight months in Nigeria, Cameroun, and Liberia. I wanted to imagine what the introduction of gravity modification would do in a situation of rebuilding after war – war that the “big countries” had never paid much attention to. I was modeling the story on John Brunner’s ANALOG March 1973 short story, “Who Steals My Purse?” In THAT one, repurposed ICBMs are used to drop small TVs on Vietnam along with tools, seeds, and other developmental material that the people could use to raise their quality of living (and presumably grow to love Americans and overthrow the communist regime…)

Opening Line:
“Gordon Oyeyemi Daboh huffed, shaking his head.”

“He said, ‘Building five new schools here in God Bless You isn’t impossible. We have clay, concrete, straw, lumber, paint, and bamboo.’ He flicked his hand at the meager supplies piled near the edge of the burned-out clearing. The faint concrete outline of the original elementary school was visible through a layer of fine ash. A pile of debris loomed on the edge of the gravel boulevard, waiting for removal or reuse. ‘But we don’t have time, and we have few volunteers. We have limited building supplies! Your, your,” he karate chopped the air in front of the young woman standing before him. Her eyes widened and she stepped back, ‘handwavium is as useless to us as our three buckets of glow-in-the-dark paint!’”

What Was I Trying To Say?
I wanted to communicate that technology, even when it’s incremental, can be used to dramatically change the lives of normal people for the better. (It contains the obligatory warning against the military machine…the fact is that my son, my father, two of my nephews, and some of my best friends have served and DO currently serve in all of the branches of the military. I STILL stand by my statement.)

The Rest of the Story:
Gordon and Comfort butt heads almost immediately. The shoestring operation of rebuilding the schools (the original title was “The Everyday Use of Gravity Modification in Rebuilding Liberian Schools”) is fraught and gets worse when a squad of wandering mercenaries get wind of Comfort’s gmod device. Expecting to easily find it, they have no idea it’s woven into strips of hook and loop (for a fascinating AND HUMOROUS (I REALLY appreciate the humor!) take on hook and loop and its registered trademark, watch this video: that are easily applied to pallets. There are accidents – and then a kidnapping of the village Elder and his daughters – and Gordon has to use the soldiering skills he swore off of to rescue them and get back on track…)

End Analysis:
OK, so writing the synopsis up above, I just realized what my problem is…Lisa Cron’s rules from her book WIRED FOR STORY clearly spell out the mistakes I made:

2) Grab the reader, something is at stake from the first page.
5) Plot (what happens) makes characters confront internal and external issues to confront their inner demons.
9) Start: character’s worldview is knocked down.
11) Character is action and anything they do makes things worse.
17) Challenges start small and end huge.
19) Character becomes one by doing something heroic.

First line has no grab; Gordon’s inner demon is NOT clear (“I REFUSE to ever be a soldier again!”), external circumstances don’t slam into internal issues (He wants to be JUST a teacher! He didn’t even want to be a principal!); his worldview stays pretty much the same – it should start with him thinking he’s escaped notice and that quitting Lagos’ special operations unit of cloning soldiers after meeting his has set him free; he can’t do everything right from the moment he leaves to rescue the Elder and his daughters, he has to screw up.

OK – I get it. I didn’t know about Cron’s advice when I wrote this one. Now that I DO, I can rewrite the story with the “rules” (she didn’t call them rules, I did…) in mind; which of course, answers the question below:

Can This Story Be Saved?
Simple answer – “Yes.”

BUT…if anyone would like a copy of the current work, and if you would read it AND maybe help me figure out a new name for it AND if you promise to be brutally honest with me…I would be in your debt.


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