Space Stuff: Start Again!


Historical fiction writer Brian Thornton and I have reached what I’ve dubbed “Act II” hell on our respective projects. It’s where you reach what science fiction writer Chuck Wendig calls “the mushy middle.” Brian and I have both spent a lot of time whining back and forth about our individual woes. Mine happened when I reached a certain point where I said, “Uh oh, I need to get all my protags into one place.”

So I abruptly fast-forwarded them about a month into a refugee camp. Then things got choppy. Continuity errors multiplied. And then came the 2000-word expository speech I wrote about last week. I thought it was a necessary evil to move the plot along. What happened?

I got stuck.

As I thought about it this week, I realized I had moved not into the second act but the second novel of the series. This story had a vague, ambiguous ending planned that might work, but only if I spend 200,000 words laying the ground work. Um… That’s two novels. So now, the SF project is going to be about our protags having their whole world ripped out from under them, struggling to regroup, and striking back at these really ugly guys who came from the sky like something from War of the Worlds and shot the place up in these dune-buggy type things that look like rejects from Mad Max.

So all that work I’ve done for the past three weeks? Out the window. I am going back and tweaking some references to fix continuity errors and drop in some place names and details sooner. And I’m outlining. I should have done that before with this, but that just tells me I didn’t have a clear picture of this story when I started out. I know the story arc. I know how it ends. And I know there’s another story arc beyond it.

One question I need to answer concerns two of the characters are not only into love, but they plan to get married. That brings up a whole “Will they or won’t they?” scenario. And if they do, how do I handle this? The problem is that this is a YA project. If this was Nick Kepler or one of the cops from Holland Bay or any of the characters from Road Rules, the nasty would already have occurred. Several times. In detail. Can’t do that here. The best advice I was given was to imply it. The second best advice I was given was to focus on the female when it does happen. Then again, Twilight (of which I’m not a fan, but it will serve as an example here), is probably one of the most chaste vampire stories up until Edward and Bella get married. And Harry? We know Harry and Ginny have been together in the series’ final scene since, well, where did young James, Albus, and Lily come from? But again, Rowling, like Meyer, pretty much confines sexuality (beyond the odd kiss and Ron and Hermoine’s head start on becoming the bickering couple) to marriage. While Rick Riordan is a bit more forward on the subject in the Percy Jackson series, Suzanne Collins acknowledges sexuality in The Hunger Games without making it a plot point. Like Meyer and Rowling, the main characters seem to save it for marriage.

So that’s a toughy to handle. Because one of these characters is going to be taken away, which is going to enrage and embitter the other. (Tough for me, too, because I really like both these characters, and the adult version of the remaining one is not really someone I’d socialize with if I could avoid it.) At least I won’t be handling it like VC Andrews. Not only do I not want the controversy brought down on my head (or rather Dick’s head, since this is under another name), but the only depictions of sex – graphic or implied – that should make my skin crawl are the violent ones. And I always question those when I write them. That’s why we have beta readers.

Violence is often a question in YA fiction. I noticed John Scalzi turned the violence down a notch in Zoe’s Tale, which paralleled The Last Colony, a much more graphically violent novel. Rowling started out easy on the violence and slowly amped it up. The Deathly Hallows story can’t not be violent. A woman is eaten by a snake early in the book, lest ye think Voldemorte is simply egotistical and misguided. Nope, this bastard is so evil that even the most ardent death penalty opponent is praying for a random Stinger missile to blow his ass up. But The Hunger Games can’t avoid it at all. It’s The Running Man and Death Race 2000, which are all about the violence. At the same time, this book can’t shy away from it, either. The invaders want the land, and they want these monkeys from Earth the hell off of it. One character, only a day after his sixteenth birthday, kills nine of them (mainly lucky shots), one of them while it demonstrates the end result of its species’ digestive process. (Another character points out that the Geneva Convention bar soldiers from killing the enemy on the john, then muses that these invaders probably don’t even know what the Geneva Convention is or care.)

Also, who is the villain? I know who the invaders are, but there needs to be a Khan, a Darth Vader or, better still, an Emperor. He doesn’t need to be Hannibal Lecter, but he does need to be a bit of an asshole. Right now, it’s just a horde of armored vikings looting and pillaging. Who is the head bastard?

All this is fodder for the coming outline. I’ll be spending the week tweaking and mapping out where I want to go. Next week, back to the lame play on SF titles and talking about stuff I made up.


One thought on “Space Stuff: Start Again!

  1. You can have sexytimes in YA – and just because your book’s main characters are teens, doesn’t mean your book needs to be marketed as such. I’d say write what serves the story, and if it doesn’t work, the editor will have you modify

    And I’ve found that planning prevents sagging middle problems. If only my planning to use the treadmill would work my other middle!

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