I didn't do NaNo this year because I didn't have the time or anything I wanted to write, but I've been doing [community profile] origfic_bingo instead. If nothing else, it's got me wanting to work some more on stories that I'd given up as irreparable a while ago. But the more I look at them, the more I come to realize that all three ideas have giant flaws in the basic plot/premise. This is driving me nuts. I'm afraid this post was long; it seemed better than spamming the forum with a post for each plot problem.

I'm thinking of revising a story that's been gathering figurative dust on my computer for a few years (I wrote the first eight chapters or so and a thirty-page outline for NaNo a few years ago, then decided I was going to take it to a writing conference that some friends had been talking up and get a start on revising it and oh was that a bad idea). It's a world-crossing fantasy that moved between the little college town of Athens, Ohio in 1970 and a sort of steampunk-ish world called Meritea. Meritea, at least in that novel, was really a medium-magic world, where they primarily use magic to open gates between different worlds. The talent tends to run in families, who used it to build their own personal empires in the worlds they found. The people who have the talent are called Openers and are incredibly sheltered and spoiled; opening gates is physically and mentally taxing. The people who want gates opened want the Openers to stay happy and in good health so they'll keep opening gates.

In the story I wrote, an Opener named Adarios Melacorte got himself caught up in what was basically a power play by one family-company and bolted for the first other world he found, which was ours. This becomes a problem because once he's through, he finds out that no one from their world has ever seen Earth before. The main reason for that, it turns out, is that there's not enough of the magical energy here for them to be able to open gates back to their world. He's stuck once the opening he made between worlds closes. And because it was lousy NaNo planning, he ended up hanging around doing nothing much while his gate mechanic wife and police detective cousin figured things out back home. I've toyed with the idea of I've toyed with cutting the subplot dealing with him on Earth since it never really went anywhere--since he's physically unable to break through back to his own world, there's really nothing he can do here but wait around for someone to open a door from that side, and the characters he met here were really bland.

So basically I have this sheltered, naive guy who has no money, no supplies, no job skills, no knowledge of how this world works, no one there he knows, and no real reason that someone on the street would see him and be like "know what my house needs? A weird drifter like you, brother! Come on home with me!" If I keep it in 1970, there weren't anything like food kitchens or homeless shelters around then. If I move it up to present day, Athens County is still very small and very poor, and so far as I know people have to be able to prove county residency to use those services. So how the hell does he not starve four chapters into the story? Even if I cut to the part where his wife manages to reopen the hole he made, he still has to have done something to survive. Damned if I can figure it out, though.

There's one story I've been playing with on and off for years that is sort-of-on again. The plot is based on a very logical, linear dream I had about a woman who worked for some kind of medical research facility rescuing a man who wasn't entirely human from the lab where he'd been a test subject. The story I roughed out from that had the man in the box (Augustine) as the first sapient genetically engineered creature in a setting I found out later is called dieselpunk--advanced sciences in what was more or less 1930s America. The protagonist of the story, Marion, was actually a project supervisor who worked for the company that owned the lab, and the story was really more about her coming to decide that she couldn't stand for this any more than about the escape.

The more I worked on it, the more problems I kept coming up with: I don't know how science progresses well enough to say whether or not it was plausible to have intelligent bioengineered creatures while everyone was still using iceboxes anyway. I was uncomfortable with either addressing or handwaving some of the historical issues I'd have to get into if I set it in the 1930s (the eugenics movement, for example). The whole thing seemed kind of unlikely--even if you can replicate the results of an experiment, you can't prove anything with one test subject, and then there's the issues of the mental/emotional stress on the people having to work on a subject that looks and acts basically human and the bad press if anyone ever found out about this, so what would the lab even want with him? And for that matter, how would anything so boyishly kinda-pretty as Augustine is in my mind's eye result from throwing DNA together to see what happens in the first place? The plot seemed kind of cliched and kept wanting to turn into meandering courtroom drama since my protagonist and antagonist were both too pragmatic to do anything but sue each other over the whole stolen property/custody issue, so after a while I just kind of gave up on it even though the characters are still loud in my head.

Then about ten days ago, I had the sudden idea that this isn't science fantasy about genetic engineering, it's some other kind of low fantasy about faerie things. In thinking about how this plot structure would still work, I had the idea that all of these strange creatures just suddenly started appearing one day fairly recently before the start of the story and no one really knows why. This isn't so much a research lab as it is a facility for containing these things and trying to figure out what they are. But that still doesn't answer the question of why everyone who knows would be okay with treating a creature that looks basically human and can say "let me out of here right now" in the king's English this way. So pretty much I've changed the window dressing, but I'm still stuck with the question "how is Marion the first person to think something ought to be done about this?"

The premise from the last one came from thinking about the Ohio Territory/Old Northwest and folklore about things like selkies and fox-women and wampus-cats. What came out of that was kind of historical fantasy about a country, Sauvenna, that's coming to the end of a string of revolutions and political strife sort of like France had all through the 19th century. Sauvenna is also stuck in between the coast and the barrowlands, the wild-magic faerieland where the waupas live. The waupas are shapechangers along the line of selkies or fox women, shapechangers that change between being women and cougar-like cats. They're wayfaring spirits, who guide human traders and settlers across the barrowlands in exchange for whatever it takes their fancy to claim.

The plot has to do with Eveline, a young waupas making her first solo ferry, which is a major rite of passage for the waupas. She's the daughter of one of Sauvenna's previous monarchs and his waupas wife. The passenger she's assigned for her solo is an irritating boy who also happens to be related to one of the important politicians in the current republic. Of course it's much more complicated than she's told at first, and involves Eveline, her passenger, and her outlaw half-sister trying to keep a new pretender to the throne (who claims to be from the old royal family) from setting the political instability off again. My problem is that I don't know exactly how to do that. If someone has enough of a following that they're a threat to the current order, just killing that one person off isn't going to calm things down. And since so much of the story thematically is about letting old grudges go and moving on from the past, it seems kind of hypocritical to raise an army to put down the counter-revolution. Also I suck at martial fantasy. But how do you stop a brewing uprising without resorting to violence?
msmcknittington: Queenie from Blackadder (Default)

From: [personal profile] msmcknittington

1. I think you need to up the conflict when Adarios is stuck in 1970. Like what if he ends up being injured when he comes through the gate, and at first he thinks that the reason he can't open a gate is because he's hurting too much to do it? Then someone takes him in, and he heals up and discovers he just can't open the gate regardless, but by that time he's been drawn into a conflict involving his "rescuers" in 1970. Or maybe there's just enough magical energy for him to open a gate enough to get a message to his wife and cousin but not send himself through?

And does it have to be 1970? If you kick it back to the 1920s or the 1930s, then drifters/hobos are a possibility and a strange guy who's dressed weird wouldn't be that much of an issue. Hey, he's just a hobo! You also have the possibility of traveling vaudeville acts, musicians/bands, or circuses, and I doubt any of them would bat an eyelash at a weird drifter in need of a job and some food. Also, if it's rural, my family owns a farm, and there were a couple hired hands who lived here while my dad was growing up in the '60s and '70s. We even have a little two-room cottage where the hired hands lived.

2. Eugenics might actually be the answer to your problem! What if the scientists were trying to produce the perfect man, free from being sullied by "inferior races", and what they ended up with was this guy who is not what they expected. So they decide to "destroy" him, as one does with lab rats when the experiment is over. This would match up pretty nicely with Marion coming to realize that she cannot hitch her pony to that cart any longer.

Also, something I keep in mind while writing is a quote from Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett: "Sometimes you needed a bastard." It's OK for villains to do horrible things, because sometimes they need to be bastards. So, pragmatic though your villain is, he can still destroy/threaten to destroy Marion's life or career with a lawsuit or by firing her without a good reference. Gossip travels fast in science communities, so there's the possibility that her career is over and she's soon destitute. And then all her friends desert her because her name is dirt in the community. Up the ante! Sometimes you need a bastard!

Or maybe his lawyer's an asshole. Or his secretary or assistant.

Also, something keep in mind about steampunk and dieselpunk is that people in those setting frequently have achieved a level of technology that is equal to ours using the prevalent technologies of the day. So, even if the steampunks haven't discovered electricity and applied it like we have, they still have computer-like apparatuses using cogs and gears and steam engines and such. It doesn't have to be entirely plausible in the real world, because it's not the real world. It's fantasy.

And just because people were using iceboxes in their homes doesn't mean the possibility for greater refrigeration wasn't there -- check out this history of refrigeration. "The first known artificial refrigeration was demonstrated by William Cullen at the University of Glasgow in 1748." It's fantasy! Run with it! You can make things up and exaggerate!

So pretty much I've changed the window dressing, but I'm still stuck with the question "how is Marion the first person to think something ought to be done about this?"

What if she's not? What if there's a preexisting underground radical movement? What if one of her colleagues left the project before she did because of ethical issues? What if there's an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union that's willing to take up the lawsuit?


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