Writers like me suffer from a very strange impairment. We tend to trust what our character tells us. This is possibly a form of insanity, because my characters tend to be the epitome of “unreliable narrators.”
I’ve been struggling with Darkship Revenge since I lost the second half since the move. I’ve been doing the equivalent of adding a new layer of paint, then removing it all with solvent, then again and again.
This is an unhappy state of affairs and it usually betokens a huge issue in what I HAVE written. If the months since this summer hadn’t been fraught with moves and cat illnesses, with kids moving out and their own issues, I would have, long since, figured out what the problem was.
The thing is, I’d finished the book once, d*mn it, so it must be finishable. Also, my outline (why do I do these, they lead me into trouble) showed exactly where the story was going, so why couldn’t I lay it down?
When Speaker to Lab Animals visited he illuminated the mechanism of a biological attack in the book and I thought “That’s it, now I can go on.”
Instead I continued to add layer, then remove, add then remove.
It wasn’t until I isolated myself in a hotel room (yes, there is a reason for this. If I’m not isolated and forced to think about what is wrong, I tend to find other things to do, like clean bathrooms, groom cats, and other things I convince myself are very urgent.) and forced myself to lay down wordage, that I realized what the knot at the middle of the plot was.
Bear with me, these are not so much spoilers as teases, and heck, the clue is on the cover.
Yes, sure, I know exactly what Athena is supposed to do. I know what she does in this book. I can sort of watch her and see that. BUT the why loses punch from about half way on. I mean, up till then she’s doing things for her survival and Kit’s. There is no thought. But from that point on and when things get rough, she has no reason to stay on Earth. She and Kit could leave to go to Eden with their daughter, end of story.
Oh, sure, she would be carrying the deadly plague back, but here’s the thing: from the moment they figure out the plague and what caused it, her actions make perfect sense. Only not even advanced medical establishments can figure something as tricky as what Speaker came up with that easily. So there are a few weeks in which she could easily just pack up and leave with Kit. Actually now I think about it, she wouldn’t even risk Eden, because the trip is six months.
So what makes her stay on Earth through some very unpleasant stuff? I can’t do it simply as “author says so.” Particularly because I’m not forcing the character in the least. I know when I am, and what that feels like, and sometimes we all have to do it, at least for minor things. But you can’t do it for what will hold the plot together for the last half of the book. And here’s the thing: I’m not. Staying is the natural thing for her to do. But WHY? Until I know why I can’t sell it to the readers. My idea of why someone would do something might be wrong or at least unbelievable to other people. I have got that mostly about why Kit puts up with Athena in Darkship thieves. “Why would a sensible man?” But I can believe that, because young men are stupid when they like a woman. And men of all ages often like the worst possible woman for them.
However, Athena is not a young man, and reckless though she is, there’s not an ounce in her of “selfless service to the needs of others” which is what she does, mostly, in this middle part. Sure, she’s grown up a lot, and sure, I can smooth some of it by having her think of what would have become of her if Kit’s family hadn’t taken to her and looked after her. But there has to be more, because until she can be her normal irresponsible self, find a way to leave her daughter secure and go kick butt, she’s going to be pushed into a very uncomfortable and indeed demanding position, which simply isn’t her style.
I went to bed disturbed by this, and slept very badly. And then this morning, lying in bed taking stock of my various appendages (sure, you don’t do that. Don’t come crying to me when you wake up minus an arm and don’t realize it till the evening,) I realized that the problem is I tend to take Athena at face value. You do, you know. And Athena is the LEAST emotionally unselfaware person in the world, except me in certain moods. I mean, it took thinking she’d lost Kit to realize she loved him.
I now know why she stays and why she does what she does. The good news is that I can probably go back and finesse it, without losing the wordage I did this weekend. The bad news is that it IS finessing. I need to work it in in such a way that the reader knows why, but Athena doesn’t know why exactly. Being exasperated with herself is part of her issues in this one. Hint, she never wanted to be a mother, and feeling maternal is the last thing she expects.
On the other hand, KIT needs to raise this before the second part of the adventure starts. He needs to say “We have powerpods to deliver. Why would we even DO this.” It needs to stick. Because it needs to be there for people like me, who must have a reason.
And beyond the writer nattering… How often do we do that, and lie to ourselves about our own motives? I will confess I didn’t realize how depressed I was leading up to the election, nor why. I thought I was in one of my episodic downturns, but not that the cause of it was that some part of my brain had decided we couldn’t survive Hillary.
Can we survive Trump? Who the heck knows? But there is a chance. A chance is needed so that I don’t feel like I’m fighting through the darkness without end.
And the indications — admits — that I’m seeing from friends who are politically connected are surprisingly good. He’s too statist by half, but all of them are, and also, I’ll be honest, I don’t think either the culture or the technology are at the point we can reach the sort of freedom I would like. We must get there, and avoiding going further down the socialist rabbit hole is all we can do right now. And that — knocks on head — seems to be sort of working.
You need to stop the car, before you can turn around and wrestle bozo the state from the seat.
I will also confess the reaction from the left makes me very relieved with the results — and makes me realize why I was so depressed before the election — because it shows they have interiorized politics as revelation, with the certainty that their way is not only right but inevitable. It’s going to take a few slaps with the cold fish of reality before they realize it’s neither. It’s going to take a few slaps for them even to THINK about whether the outcome they’re working towards is worth it.
I’ve long suspected the Marxist science fiction writers yeah, and those who are “soft socialists” and internalize the ideas without examining them, know exactly where their preferred model would lead. Suddenly, the future went from being desirable to something rusty and full of scarcity and poverty, where all wonder and excitement was killed dead with dogma.
They know. They just thing it’s inevitable, and as such have decided to justify it and push it. Perhaps they hope they’ll be the last eaten. And perhaps it’s guilt at how much they have that drives it. (Yes, even for those of us who were never rich. I have a post planned for this week about secondary stream wealth.) Having been sold the finite pie as a model of economics, they’re convinced the best future for everyone outweighs their own comfort, needs and desires.
Of course, since economics doesn’t work that way, what they’re really doing is driving everyone towards a more impoverished, darker world. And their subconscious tries to throw up flags, which are lost, because they can’t get through the “conscious dogma” that has been pounded into their brains.
So they convince themselves these rusty futures are somehow desirable, and seem determined to write 1984 as a utopia.
Because we’re human. And humans are broken right down the middle, with our conscious thoughts going “lalalalalalalalala” in the face of what our gut knows.
Which is why I’ve come to the conclusion Trump’s election is a good thing. Oh, I wish we’d elected a more strict constitutionalist, or a constitutionalist at all. But just stopping what the left thinks is inevitable enough to make them pause and think is a goal in itself.
Not that they are, of course. Right now, they’re blaming it all on “we weren’t heard.” And “we must message better.” Which means they need a few more smacks on the nose.
And people like them, and me, who live way too much in our heads, need to think a little less about macro movements of society and go back to doing things as much as we can. Write and create, and build. Because those too speak a language of their own. And in the end, it is that language that carries the day.
Humans can convince themselves of the most stupid things and talk loudly about them. Like Athena, being convinced she never wanted to be a mother or how much she hates being responsible for anyone.
But if the left truly believed the individual doesn’t matter, or that humanity is a blight upon the world — really believed it, at the gut level — they would all have committed mass suicide.
That they haven’t means their guts, their “below the dogma” actions and thoughts are all right.
Take that with you into Thanksgiving dinner, particularly those of you who have family of a more left political persuasion. Remember that what they say might not be exactly what they think or are, not at gut level.
Meet them there and build upward. This too is a political fight to the extent that politics is downstream from culture.
Be thankful for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and convey your happiness and your joy that they too have that. Then talk of recipes and kids and pets. They’re not ready yet, but you can reinforce their gut and let their thoughts be quiet a while.
In the end, it is not dogma that wins but works.