December 1, 2019

Elements of Cron and Korea #12: Character, Character, Character? It’s All, About. How...They React!

I may  have mentioned that one of my goals is to increase my writing output, increase my publication rate, and increase the relevance of my writing. In my WRITING ADVICE column, I had started using an article my sister sent me by Lisa Cron. She 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. I am going to fuse the advice from her book WIRED FOR STORY with my recent trip to South Korea. Why? I made a discovery there. You’ll hear more about it in the future as I work to integrate what I’m learning from the book, the startling things I found in South Korea, and try and alter how I write in order to create characters that people will care about, characters that will speak the Truth, and characters that will clearly illustrate what I’m writing about.

“Remember when Luke has to drop the bomb into the small vent on the Death Star? The story writer faces a similar challenge of penetrating the brain of the reader. This book gives the blueprints.” – David Eagleman

In considering my next move with the Korean Solar Expansion series, I’m going to look at these two elements:

“Cheomsongmae is an ancient astronomical observatory that not only survived the southern advance of North Korea during the war, but is now a place Koreans visit. It has existed since roughly since 640 AD – about 1400 years.”

Add that to the first, most important point that I extracted from Cron’s WIRED FOR STORY: “Story is how a character reacts; to the plot which is what happens.”

I’m going to add another element to this as well. From this essay, I’m going to extract this: “He grew up in South Korea, going to schools there until his family moved back to the US. He enlisted in the Air Force, became a pilot after going to college and getting his first degree in aerospace engineering.”

In addition to something like this happening to my grandchildren, I also have a former student who graduated from high school (not spectacularly, but he did graduate), who worked at Target. A fine job, but not exactly what he wanted. That was the problem though. He didn’t know WHAT he wanted. A little over a year ago, I ran into him at his work and he was excited – uncharacteristically so. He thought he knew what he wanted in life and he asked to come and see me at school. We met and he told me he wanted to enlist in the Air Force and become a mechanic. That was great, but being who I am, we talked a bit more and I suggested he look higher – maybe even to space.

The thing is, he’d never thought of that.

I remember when the desire of many kids was to “be an astronaut”. I haven’t really heard that sentiment in recent years. In fact, since the American Human space program essentially died with the moth-balling of the Space Shuttle fleet (which needed to happen, by the way. They were old. The first tested in 1977, the last landing in 2011 – so thirty-four years they flew the same design with only minor modifications.

Eight years later, and Americans still have not gone into space on anything but the Russian Soyuz spacecraft (though supplies have been delivered by the US (Cygnus), Russia (Progress), the European Space Agency (ATV), SpaceX (Falcon), and Japan (Kounotori).  

So, where does story come in here? What would happen if an amateur built a space craft? This was an “everyday occurrence” in the stories of Robert A. Heinlein; most notably ROCKET SHIP GALILEO. has several books delineating the creation of amateur rockets and pushing the boundaries higher and higher. One article linked below notes that government agencies actually need to monitor amateur launches.

While nothing like Rocket Ship GALILEO has happened, the operative word here would be “YET”. Some years ago, I tried a story in which NASA spread out its satellite and supply launches by creating a mobile launch platform. This is NOT a crazy idea. The military has the capability of moving missile launch systems and does so on a regular basis. The launcher is surrounded by support vehicles like a mobile “mission control”, tracking radar, and power generators. While the missiles are small, there doesn’t seem to me to be any barrier to ramping up the size. Also, with the development of SpaceX’s soft-landing system, completed successfully in 2015, seems to indicate that while I doubt we’d want to try and land rockets in suburban neighborhoods, it’s technically feasible.

So, the basis of my story? A fresh technical college graduate (yes, he understands theory, but no, he can’t calculate orbits in his head at the drop of a hat and then explain the physics of rocket launches…) with certifications in several areas pertinent to space travel; he has ideas and plans but hasn’t had any kind of experience in space.

Like Tom Godwin’s “Cold Equations” (ASTOUNDING Science Fiction, August 1954. Read a reprint here in LIGHTSPEED,, what if he stowed away? In recent years, there have been profound criticism leveled at this story. James Davis Nicoll wrote at, “But of course, the point of the story, as determined by the author and his editor, John W. Campbell, Jr., is to underline a moral: the universe doesn’t care about human feelings. Natural law dictates that hard men must make hard choices. What the story actually says is that lousy procedures kill. Just another instance of humans looking for justifications to be beastly to each other.” (

So, given a smart enough person (I’d write the main character as female (using my granddaughter as a template), but I don’t want to appropriate the gender narrative…but I COULD have my writer/daughter read it and comment! Hmmm…), they could get into such a ship and stowaway into space, take notes (probably dictating via cellphone – would a standard cellphone work in space?), return, and then go on to build an amateur spacecraft; possibly launching it from a balloon…or some such…let me see…where’s my clipboard? Excuse me while I start a story outline, working title, “The Manipulated Equations”…

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