Writing Report October 12, 2019
How This Writer’s Mind Works #2,376; or, I can’t write a bad story.
That’s not the same thing as saying all my stories are good ones, however.
But they are stories.
There’s a coherent plot with rising action and a conclusion caused by the internally consistent motivations of the characters.
You may not like it, and it may not be one for the ages, but at least it’s a story.
Even when there’s ambiguity, it’s ambiguity regarding which of several motivations caused the plot twist / conclusion, not ambiguity in why it happened or -- worse still -- what happened. (How it happened can be easily kept off stage; let the reader do the work of imagining how the characters pulled it off.)
I recently ended a short story by rhetorically pondering if the criminal was justified in their crime (Spoilers: The possible answers are yes, no, maybe, and the criminal is an even bigger criminal than the narrator realizes).
I’m finishing up another story (over ½ to 2/3 written out in longhand at this point, but I know what my conclusion will be and now all I have to do is write it out).
That story’s cental idea came from my pondering an old sci-fi trope that requires technological advances we can only imagine today, and wondering if there was another way of achieving the same desired effect.
There is, and it’s shockingly low tech, but it is something that is within the feasibility of existing science and technology.
Do aliens use it against humans, or do humans use it against aliens?
If aliens use it against humans, then it becomes a simplistic rah-rah for our side story -- of course our gallant heroes will figure out some way of evading their nefarious scheme, no?
So put the shoe (or space boot) on the other foot (or tentacle):
What would justify humans using such a thing against aliens?
Well, they’re incredibly hostile aliens, downright xenophobic. Virtually hardwired into their DNA (or what passes for DNA in their physiology). They can’t not attack anything different from them.
So why are the humans mucking around with them? Why not just move on…
…oh…the humans are trapped in the aliens’ home system. They can’t leave and go somewhere else.
The only options are to negotiate (which the aliens won’t do), fight (which is not this story), or use the low tech idea to hold the aliens at bay.
I can have human characters sitting around and talking about this (go read some of the earliest issues of Amazing Stories; that’s the way a lot of early sci-fi was written) or I can show the idea in use, with an alien suffering the consequences.
Well, geeze, that’s a dick move. It’s like turning a flamethrower on a South Seas islander who comes rowing out to your battleship in a canoe.
Unless…unless the humans try to save the alien -- they only want to stop the aliens from killing them, they don’t want to wage war in return.
Now that gives me a nice complication and a good piece of action and allows me to show the idea at work.
Of course, I now need to resolve the story, so we’re back to a buncha people sitting around talking about…
Hold on…there’s a logical conclusion to my low tech idea that adds some complications to the humans’ situation.
It at least gives them something to do while talking about the alien --
…wait…no reason I can’t scale that logical conclusion up a notch or two, make it not merely a complication but an actual bona fide threat to the humans’ ship and crew --
Make it big enough to allow the alien
to escape and get loose on the human ship!
Now we’ve got a bug hunt and a saboteur capable of killing all the humans and massive problems caused by the low tech idea and the underlying tension between humans who just want to live in peace and an implacable alien culture that can’t abide us and --
-- and there’s my story.
© Buzz Dixon