Research to the Rescue!

This is going to be a bit of a longer post, since I want to write down my thoughts on some important things going forward, as well as give an update. In light of that, I'll break it down into sections, even though that seems kind of silly.

Progress Report

In my last post, I wrote about some of the problems I was having with syncing up Cassandra's POV with the rest. I suggested a certain solution in that original post, but as I experimented with it, I found a number of minor, as well as some major, problems.

First of all, the time window that I had chosen at first — twenty years — was just kind of a weird time frame to work in: first of all because (so I thought at the time), the other POVs would be out of the action for 636 years, so why give specifically twenty years to Cassandra, when most of that would be in stasis anyway, and so on. With this in mind, I switched to twelve years. This was better because that way I could fit in two years of change and real experience, and then ten years of cryosleep; also, a ten-year cryosleep made more sense than fifteen or twenty to me. It's still a stretch (how do you really ensure that a political system will be stable enough to accept you back as a leader after you've been gone for a decade?) but at least it's not more than a decade. That was stretching it too much.

Second of all, having to do sixty time-skips and sixty short experiences of real life, which I would have to do to show what was going on in her POV, seems awkward. At the same time, I didn't want to skip all of that time, because then the readers would experience a jarring character development jump, and we'd end up with a totally different, noncontinuous Cassandra-person that the readers don't identify with or recognize.

However, because I was planning to deal more heavily with the inner workings of the fusion reactor and engine in the Fatuus Malus IV for the next plot point, I decided to allocate the rest of that day (two days ago now) to researching fusion rockets instead of trying and failing to rewrite what seemed like an impossible section of my book.

This turned out to be a really good idea.

Not only did I get a reasonable explanation for why the Ceremony Universe's magnet technology is so strong (not how it works in physical terms, but why they had an incentive to refine them to such a point in the first place), I also got a lot more details on how fusion rockets work that I used to add important background details to the worldbuilding. Plus, it was just interesting. Here's a link to my wiki on the subject in case you're interested.

The real benefit to this, however, was that I realized that my calculations of how long it would take to go between planets were an entire order of magnitude off! I had done a very quick back-of-the-napkin calculation more than a year ago when I started this book, and then lost the original calculation — I only remembered the number I had gotten out of it — and then gone back and tried to reverse-engineer the calculations in order to put some kind of values up on the original Fusion Rockets wiki page. As it turns out, I misread a percentage of c, and also in the reverse-calculations, had totally failed to check the speed figure I got with real-world fusion rockets.

This means that instead of taking three thousand years to get to Abeona on a slow p-B11 colony ship, it should take around two hundred and fifty-seven years. That fixes a lot of things that were stretching believability about the Terran-Roman Culture, including how static their society was. In addition, to get from Abeona to the matriarchal world on the faster D-He3 Fatuus Malus IV, it would only take twelve years — which just happened, without any prior planning, to match up with what I'd chosen as feasible for the Cassandra POV.

So, I was able to finish that Cassandra POV very easily, and I'm more than halfway through the next chapter, and nearly finished the 22nd plot point! I covered this plot point significantly faster than I expected, in word count terms, especially when compared to how long it took me to do the last few. The next plot point will take really long, though, due to having to describe two entirely new worlds and cultures, as well as a lot of detailed political maneuvering and introducing a new romantic interest for Aedus (Dido), among other things, so my own hopes are not going up as far as the Writing Dark Matter phenomenon is concerned.

Character Writing

One of the things that I think I want to do moving forward is give more details about my book. In fact, in an upcoming post, I'm going to summarize my plot outline so that anyone who shows up to this blog actually has some idea of what they'll be looking at, what they're following.

The Problem

So the first thing I'm going to cover in more detail here is some character work on Aedus, the main character of Children of Abeona. The general pitch for him is that he starts out a reluctant leader: he's been elected singular consul of his people because, largely, his family is super influential in the colony and his grandfather was consul and now they want him to be consul too. Moreover, he's largely the only contender — it's a small community, and no one else stepped up; so he put himself up for the job just because it was what was expected of him, and because no one else was going to do it.

He spends most of his time in the first act and the beginning of the second just dealing with the normal issues of moving into office and a few political problems, as well as just basic duties. However, on the day that he was elected, he had received some news about an upcoming Big Problem that he would have to deal with within a few months. He puts off dealing with it, and is very indecisive about the whole thing, but eventually, a few weeks before the thing is actually going to happen, he comes up with a plan.

However, at the beginning of the second act, it turns out that he waited just slightly too long to enact the plan, and worse, they run into problems that could have been dealt with earlier if he hadn't been so indecisive weeks earlier. He still manages to get the plan off the ground a little bit, but ends up losing half of his people in the process. So now he has to lead the remaining half to safety.

There are a number of turning points in the intervening days, where he has to make really really difficult decisions, even cruel ones, just to keep everyone 'sucking down air' as it were. This starts leading him down a dark path, though: even from the beginning, he was a proud and ambitious person; he was just suppressing it because, subconsciously, he knew exactly what would happen if he acted out his ambition. Now he's forced to, and it brings up to the surface the all pride and controlling-ness and need for power that he'd been suppressing, as well as his overwhelming desire to live up to his grandfather's legacy.

The rest of the book, then, is an analysis of the practicality and morality of what he's doing and why he's doing it, tracking him as he falls farther and farther off the righteous path even as he becomes more and more sure he's doing the Right Thing. It's not supposed to be an easy thing to watch.

But here's where the problem is: I could — and have, in my manuscript, as we shall see — write pages and pages of psychoanalysis, and I have a very complex path for him to follow and I've figured out all his rationalizations for what he's doing and all his qualms, but I don't have a large enough 'social vocabulary' to satisfactorily describe this slow fall from grace in a way that I think will do it justice. I'm just not confident or comfortable enough with my own character writing abilities to just show what's happening and leave it up to the reader to figure out what's going on.

Part of this might be that I'm not confident in the intelligence of my readers, but I don't think its all or even mostly that. I just don't have a big and nuanced enough toolkit to handle the kind of character development I want to show: not some big bombastic change, at least not at first, but just a man starting to view those around him as objects, lacking agency, lacking innate human value, lacking autonomy and individuality. Going from seeing friends and neighbors to 'the people,' and seeing them as stupid.

All this has led to me ending up writing stuff like this:

It felt good to be jesting among friends, over food — even a horrible murky paste with the viscosity of mud and a taste to match — once more. It had been far too long, and far too many days through which a strict hierarchy of command had had to be maintained. Aedus would have found it difficult, even now, to ‘fraternize’ with those who he had assigned a lower status, even if no one else was watching: something had changed about social interactions for him. Having been appointed to such an essential command role, having been forced against his will — at least, in those first few peaceful days — to seize it with both hands and hold onto it for dear life — his own life, but also the lives of everyone he had ever cared about — it had changed how he looked at things.

It was like looking through a kaleidoscope: things took strange and new shapes, and those shapes, far from remaining constant, changed and shifted with their position. People were no longer friends and neighbors, or at least, not most importantly — they were soldiers or citizens, those he could use to protect ‘the people,’ and those who made up ‘the people.’ He didn’t think about individuals anymore, not because he didn’t want to, and not because he hated them, but because he didn’t have the time. At this level of command, he had to deal with most of the two hundred Abeonans who remained as a unit; it was a necessary fiction, an automatic-neuological chunking mechanism to save crucial mental space.

What I'm doing here is literally just exposition on a psychoanalysis of the character at this moment in time. It's not very helpful.

A Solution

So I went onto my writing Discord sever and asked in the #character-building channel for some advice on this.

I got a deluge of good advice:
  • Describe how he feels physically
  • He can have ticks or other semi-involuntary motions that start to kick in when he's doing something related to this: maybe ordering people around
  • Maybe his physical posture changes: it's known that coaches and generals can develop a stroke-like squint and a hunch as well, in response to the stress
  • Maybe he does something specific to 'get in character' for this: changes how he dresses, recites a mantra, meditates, prays
  • Maybe he fiddles with some kind of meaningful object or totem to calm himself down
  • Maybe represent his gradual character change physically, through some kind of sickness or otherwise
All of these are really good ideas and in the end I decided to use or adapt most of them. What I came up with was this: first, I'll just take the first point of advice on face value. Second, I'll combine the tick and the totem pieces of advice: when he's in a stressful situation, or just generally doing Antihero Things, he'll play with a small metal figurine of Mars (the god of war) nervously. Also, by the end of the book, I'll have the squint and posture change, but that will have to be an especially slow thing, so don't expect to see that show up in the bulk of the book. I also plan to have him reflexively touch his face, as if to hide his lower face, when he's around friends or family, talking to them. Also, when he's about to go into battle, I'll have him pray with the Mars figurine as a statue.

All of these things are going to be added to the second draft, however. For now, for consistency, I'll keep writing the bigass psychoanalysis sections, since that lets me get the important info I'm thinking right then down on the page, and then I can go through for the second draft and replace all that with the stuff I mentioned above.

Alright, that's it for today.

Comments

  1. Great update. Good call ensuring that it gets added to your second draft and not slowing you down on the current draft.

    What discord server do you use for writing?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the compliment, I've really been seeing the light about second drafts lately! I used to think I wouldn't have much to do on the second draft...

      I'm on the Author's Cafe Discord server. It's great.

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    2. So I have looked for that server and haven't found the link. Is it a member only server and not advertised?

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    3. I don't think there are any rules concerning who can join, so here's a link: https://discord.gg/RY3773

      Delete

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