Trope Tuesday: Gone Horribly Wrong

For this week’s Trope Tuesday post, I’ve invited a guest blogger to come on and discuss one of the tropes in his most recent book.  Andrew Saxsma is the author of Lonely Moon, a space opera / horror novel.  I haven’t read it yet so I can’t say much about it, but it looks interesting, and I’m a sucker for space opera.  So without further ado, here we go!

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saxsmaandrewThis trope is all about Science gone horribly, sometimes violently wrong.  Morality’s been thrown out of the window, compromised in favor of delicious success. Maybe the Mad Scientist played God; maybe mankind has accidentally awakened a Sleeping Giant.

This trope has many faces and masks and plays out in many different ways. In all cases, ethics are thrown to the wolves, and the big payoff is not as much a payoff as it is a new impeding doom the hero must now overcome.

Classically, this trope is mostly derived, if not invented, by Mary Shelley in her novel Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein’s obsession leads him to create what would eventually become the bane of his very existence. He unwittingly unleashes the mad dog from its dormant cage and makes it his mission to put it down. You might also recognize this trope from Deep Blue Sea, where scientists genetically enhance sharks for cancer research, but the predators get loose and begin eating their masters.

The key element is the backfire, the unforeseen consequence. It’s born of an innate character flaw, the inability to see beyond one’s good intentions. The character has a vision of a greater good in sight–to cheat death, to cure cancer. They’re so focused they never stop to think: was it worth it? Is this a line we should cross?

To make matters worse, this trope can become complicated when one’s intentions are infused with emotions. A dead loved one, revenge, a preemptive strike. Sometimes the choice is long decided before it is made.

In my book, Lonely Moon, the hero, Captain Hane, has a crisis of the monster. He faces a morally weighted fork in the road. Does he open a forbidden gate, opening our galaxy to a potentially devastating entity in an attempt to save us from an equally evil threat, or does he choose the path of uncertainty in hopes of finding a safer, less dangerous option?

Gone Horribly Wrong is a particularly fun trope to play with from a writer’s aspect, and I’m not sure if it’s a one and done. I plan on playing with this one again in the future.

lonely_moon

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Thanks, Andrew.  I think the Rule of Drama is one of the keys to doing this trope well.  Never pass up an opportunity to make things go wrong for your characters.  And if the problems are of their own making, that makes it all the juicier, especially when it adds the internal conflict of knowing that they’re the ones to blame.  We all love to watch a train wreck, especially in the world of fiction.

What do you guys think of bringing on more guest bloggers for the Trope Tuesday posts?  It’s something I’ve done occasionally in the past, but I’m thinking of doing it much more in the future.  I think it could be interesting to get some different points of view besides my own, and maybe introduce you guys to some new authors you might like.  Maybe it’s something I could rotate every other week.

I will turn this time suck into a powerful new writing motivator

ftl-game

Last night, I caved and bought the new FTL game that all my friends have been talking about.

OMIGOSH.

Six hours later, I was screaming in agony as my awesome starship went down in flames.  AGAIN.  In sector eight (on the easy setting, though, so not too impressive).

Seriously, this game is AMAZING.  I haven’t seen such a perfect combination of strategy, skill, random chance, and dumb luck since Star Control II.  There are SO MANY things you can do … and SO MANY ways you can die!  I love it!

Granted, with every game like this, there’s a danger that it will become a huge time suck (minecraft, anyone?).  However, this one is different.

Famous last words, right?

But seriously, each round takes only an hour or two, there’s only one save slot, and you die so frequently that it’s hard to become too attached to any one game.  In other words, this is the sort of game I can pick up and put down again without devoting too much mental space to it.  Which (hopefully) makes it a perfect carrot to get me to write more.

Here’s what I’m going to do: for every thousand words in my WIP, I’ll allow myself to play one (and only one!) round of FTL.  If I hit my daily goal, I’ll allow myself to play as much as I want.

It’s still too early to tell if this is going to work, but I’m going to give it a try.  Seriously, though, once I told myself “you can play FTL as soon as you hit that first 1k,” all I wanted to do was write!  And now that I’m more or less finished with this blog post, I think that’s what I’m going to do.

Later!

Man, I don’t write for this blog as much as I should.

Life is going well.  I just recently got a part time job doing telephone surveys; hopefully, it will help tide things over until I can get something better.  Between that and donating plasma, I should be able to pay the bills for the next couple of months.

I’ve also been writing quite a bit, hitting between 2k and 4k words per day.  At this rate, Mercenary Savior 3.0 should be finished by the end of next week.  That’s good, because I’m excited to start submitting it.  I’ve already got Genesis Earth making the rounds, but the sooner I can get another project out there, the better.

For my next project after , I want to recycle Hero in Exile (ugh, it needs a new title) and turn that into a complete novel.  I have a lot of ideas for it, but it will require some research, which may delay the actual start date.

For example, the main character (who I’m going to rename) has this major conflict where he’s trying to go home.  As a young boy, his parents put him in an escape pod that crash landed on the planet, where he was raised by the locals.  As the writer, I’m going to need to know about adoptions, know a handful o f adoption stories to pattern things off of, and maybe read a couple of essays  on the meaning of “home.”

As another example, one of the major themes I want to get across is the struggle to maintain personal moral integrity in a morally corrupt world.  I probably won’t have to look too far for that–being Mormon has given me lots of opportunities for research there–but I need to do a lot more to be aware of that particular conflict.  When you’re slogging away, it’s very easy to focus too much on plot and no enough on the rest.

Probably the biggest preparation is going to be working through the character motivations, and that inevitably means building a background, since motivations grow out of the character’s history and background.  But that’s going to involve a fair degree of pre-writing, which I may or may not be able to do before I start page one.

And that’s another scene; I’ve got to completely revamp the beginning.  What I have now involves the main character staring out over the desert just before a sandstorm.  Picturesque, but essentially navel gazing with little real character development.  Instead, I want to show him thinking or doing something that reveals the central, most important aspect of his character, the way Brandon Sanderson did it in Elantris.

So anyways, lots of work to look forward to, in terms of writing that is.  Other kinds of work…well, it’s good to have a sense of security.  Even though I’ve been producing a lot, I’m sure I could have been producing more (upwards of 6k or 8k per day) if I’d had that sense of security provided.

Anyways, there is more that I could say, but I’m going to go to bed because it’s freaking 2:22 AM.  Night.

something

So…I figure it’s been a week and I should probably post something on this blog.

Wow.

Well, work is underway on Ashes of the Starry Sea, and I’m starting to have a love-hate relationship with it.  Most writers say you first novel isn’t that good, and you just need to get it out of your system so you can write the real stuff.

Well, this is my first finished novel…but it’s not my first novel attempt.  My first novel attempt was in 8th grade, and I am happy to report that it no longer exists.  Anywhere.  No, seriously, I lost (or destroyed) it after my mission, and I am perfectly happy with that.

My second novel attempt was in ninth grade, and I still have a copy of it, though I haven’t looked at it in a while.  Somewhere around page one hundred (single spaced) I realized that the story wasn’t going anywhere, and I got all angsty and depressed about it.  Then, midway through tenth grade, I realized that the problems were fixable, and stopped being angsty and depressed.

And then I got bored and moved onto other things.

For the next two years, I started all sorts of projects but never really got anywhere with them.  This was when I came up with my “great golden idea” that I wanted to hide from the world until I had the skill to turn it into my masterpiece.

I’ll tell you what the idea was right now: a high school kid learns how to control his dreams and realizes that the dream world is just as “real” as the waking world.  An amazonian dream mage named Lachoneus takes him on as his apprentice and he saves the world from demons while struggling to turn his dream-world relationship with his hs crush into a reality in the waking world.

It’s got potential, but if this is the best idea I ever come up with, I’m going to be very disappointed.  Fortunately, I kept writing through this phase.

My next project that got past page ten happened my senior year.  I created an island fantasy world with a Greek aesthetic and started what I thought was a character study on my sister.  If she ever read it, she probably wouldn’t see any similarities between Sareli and herself, but she was kind of distant from all of  us in those years.

Then my mission happened.  Not much time for writing there, but even so, I had this one idea that was so good that I spent a handful of p-days in my second area writing it out longhand.  It was supposed to be this incredbly poignant allegory based around Lehi’s dream.  I got about two chapters in it before things got too busy for me.

When I came home, I picked up a story that I’d started before the mission and got pretty far with it…word-wise, at least.  The pre-mission version was based on this game I used to play with my Zaks building blocks.  When I got back, I renamed it Planet New America and envisioned it as Jesus’ second coming as experienced by American colonists on another planet, under Chinese occupation.

Sound pretty bad?  Yeah…about 60k words in I realized it had no plot and put it on the “back burner.” I haven’t picked it up since.

Sophomore year went by, and I wrote a short story and an undeveloped novel that I thought was a short story.  Decision LZ150207 was the short story, and it’s getting published!!! in The Leading Edge.  I signed the contract yesterday (woot!).  The Clearest Vision was the undersized novel, and…it was pretty bad.  Cheesy, sentimental, poorly written–but some of the ideas were cool.  Too bad it probably isn’t marketable.

Then, in the summer of 2007, I decided I was going to start another novel!  This one was going to be…<drumroll please> a Final Fantasy 6 fanfic (huh?!).  Thankfully, I had a much more original idea in gestation, and Aneeka convinced me to run with it.

Thus began the rough draft version of Ashes of the Starry Sea, my first finished novel and my current primary project.

So, yeah, they say to throw out your first novel…but I wrote at least five significant partial drafts before I got to Ashes. I think that’s enough to justify my assessment that this story’s going potential.  I still worry about it, though…I’m only in chapter 4 and I’m already struggling with the same angsty doubts that don’t usually hit until about halfway through.

The other day, though, I sent out my first three chapters to Charlie, who read them at work and gave me her assessment.  I thought that the main character, Ian, was weak and boring, that the first chapter didn’t have enough of a hook, that it took too long to get into the action, etc.  To my surprise, this is what she said:

Charlie: “Charlie is the coolest person I know”
say it.
me: charlie is the coolest person I know
Charlie: thank you.
me: because she read my first three chapters
Charlie: I just sent them to you
me: oh, nice
Charlie: 😀
me: they kick my other characters’ trash?
Charlie: yes
me: really?
how so?
Charlie: I like them
I can see their dinstinct characteristics very well
they’re developed subtly and efficiently
me: yeah?
Ian isn’t boring?
Charlie: no
I like him more than michael
me: ???
how?
Charlie: because he has definite character
me: he does?
Charlie: I totally understand how he thinks and his motivations after three chapters
yeah. He’s a passive weenie of a guy, but I like him
me: he’s a passive weenie and he isn’t boring?
Charlie: nope
I like him
me: you like him even though he’s a pansy?
Charlie: yeah
I like him because he’s a pansy
me: really?
huh
I don’t understand
Charlie: I’m sorry?
I like that you don’t have a complacent protagonist
me: Ian isn’t complicated?
sorry for all the questions
I’m just trying to understand
Charlie: no
me: so you like him because you get him
Charlie: that’s part of it, yeah
me: but if he’s weak and doesn’t start being proactive for very long, you’re going to stop liking him
is that right?
Charlie: I am expecting him to grow, yes
me: ah, so it’s the potential for growth that hooks you
Charlie: yeah

Like any first novel, Ashes of the Starry Sea has some serious plot issues, against which I’m currently banging my head.  However, despite the voices inside and outside of my head, it’s probably got potential.  Now I just need to convince myself of that.  Hopefully, as the story progresses, the story itself will do the convincing.  And you know what?  If I shut up and listen to it, it just might do that.

The second wind of inspiration

The more I write, the more I’ve come to realize that in order to finish a novel, you have to rediscover something powerful about the story that motivates you to tell it.  The thing that motivates you to start the story is rarely the thing that drives you to finish it.

Around the second half of the novel, I usually find yourself losing steam and groping for inspiration. As I write, the story takes its own shape and morphs into something different than it was when I started. My initial motivating idea becomes obsolete, and I have to find another source of inspiration to drive me to finish.

For Genesis Earth, that thing was a scene in the fourth chapter. Late at night sometime in March 2008, I sat down in the FLSR laundry room to clunk out the 2,000 words required for my English 318 class that week. I don’t know what it was, but everything aligned just right and the words flowed out beautifully onto the page. When I was finished, I looked over what I had written and realized that it wasn’t that bad.  On the contrary, it was unusually good.

A few months later, when I was about halfway through, everything seemed to be going wrong. The characters weren’t working, the conflict was petering out, my writing sucked, and it was all terrible. I was honestly tempted to throw out the whole novel and forget about it.

But then I remembered that scene–the one that was so much better than all of the other stuff that I’d written. I realized that if I threw out the novel, that scene would die with it. I had to finish my story, if for no other reason than to give that scene a place to live. As a result, I pulled through and finished the novel–and I’m glad I did, because that work represents a major landmark in my writing life.

The scary part is that you can never really know what it is that will give you your second wind. If you’re too critical, too judgmental of your own work, or sometimes just too focused, you’ll miss it. To find it, you have to be flexible with your outline, sensitive to new thoughts, emotions, and impressions, and (perhaps most important of all), you just have to have faith in the story you’re trying to tell.

I recently found the inspiration for my second wind with Bringing Stella Home. It’s a scene that I wrote just last week, where a major character dies.  I’d planned it out as a gut-wrenchingly tragic moment, the ultimate low point in the protagonist’s quest.  When I wrote it, however, I realized that it was much more than that: it was a merciful release for the character who died, and (though he doesn’t realize it) a victory of sorts for the protagonist.

That scene affected me in ways that I was not expecting. While the prose itself needs tightening and the scene needs revision, I realized that it has some great potential.  Because of that, I now have a driving desire to see the story finished.