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Thursday, April 04, 2013


This is Steven Petrick posting.

To some extent I make my living by writing. I am not an imaginative writer in that I do not generally write fiction. I am more of a mechanical writer in that I try to explain how things work, whether in an example article or a scenario background explaining the historical context in which the action occurred. A lot of my imaginary writing is tied up in the monster articles where I try to find something different to say about each monster, such as why they are not hunted to extinction or detected before they attack.

Because I do a lot of writing, I tend to notice errors in other people's writing. It is bad enough that errors get out in my own writing (I cringe when something I have written is published and a casual read finds missing clauses and other problems that I did not notice at the time I was writing it and attempting to proof it).

Recently, however, I am noticing more and more errors in published books. I cannot tell you how jarring it is to be reading a series and suddenly stumble across, in the middle of a meeting of characters, not only the presence of a known "enemy" character participating in the meeting, but a "dead" enemy character (he died thousands of miles from the meeting in a previous chapter and his appearance is not as a ghost, but the author clearly misusing the name). Or reading a book and noticing that the author apparently has only a passing acquaintance with possessive apostrophes (among many other problems). Jarring scene breaks that make no sense. I find this more and more in books I read. Older books do not seem to have as many errors.

I have to admit that there are times something triggers a desire to write my own fiction, but the black gulf is that I would need a collaborator. I find it nearly impossible to imagine how someone would think and act in manners different from myself. I do not do people well. So many of my own reactions are so hard wired. Put me on the Titanic, and the story ends with my "going down with the ship" because even knowing the ship is going to sink, I would do all I could to assist the crew in putting women and children in the lifeboats. I cannot imagine trying to force my way onto one of the boats, even knowing the cold death awaiting me. So I find it impossible to write the scene of the cowardly cad who tries, and perhaps succeeds, in doing so. Oh, I have no problem imagining such a person,  history is full of them, but I cannot fathom such an individual; I would need someone else to write his character.

There is also a problem that, perhaps due to some failing of my own character, many plots I do imagine end tragically. The heroes may succeed, but the success costs him, her, or them their lives. Worse, they may not even know they succeeded, but they died "trying."

Real life adventures have shown me the "accidental hero." The Intelligence officer who convinces the Operations officer to send a group of troops from the Headquarters to reinforce a critical position, the reinforcement group is repelled by the enemy, and the Intelligence officer is killed. A sad story, except that the Intelligence officer's body convinces the enemy that a larger body of troops is nearby and halts their advance for a few critical hours, turning a defeat into a victory. In convincing the Operations officer to send forward the detachment, and losing his life in the process, the Intelligence officer was the hero, but never knew, and in the normal course of events, no one would ever have known. He "died" trying to save the day, but it was his "death" that ultimately did save the day.

How do I write those scenes and breathe life into the characters, make their motivations plain and believable? That is beyond me.

One of the stories I would write if I could started on the board. It started with a battle group article: a challenge from a player that the situation was impossible. When I demonstrated that the task could be accomplished, I went on to draft an outline of a story. Characters, outside goals (a coup on a Lyran planet and the hunt for the Far Stars Duke by his illegitimate son who was the governor of the planet but would never be Duke trying to reconcile that matter). Treachery, good fortune/chance, courage, loyalty, all these playing their roles. Combat not just in space, but desperate fighting opening on the grounds of the Duke's estate, where Ranel servants take up arms to protect the Duke because they believe he is better for their home planet than the Duke's illegitimate son would be, and spreading over the planet. A heroic stand by a Lyran prime team (who on this critical night had just happened to be invited to spend the night by the Duke in recognition of some other service they had performed) giving the Duke and his family time to flee. I think it would have been a good story, if only I had the skill to craft it, but I also think that it had grown so much that it would never have fit in a Captain's Log as there are far too many characters. Characters who are "broken," not the best people in the situation, but some grabbing for their chance at glory. Others in the face of disaster simply doing their jobs, simply because it is their job. One, committing treason, and constantly asking himself "why" am I doing this, finally choosing to act to save his men in what is seen as an act of betrayal by some, an act of loyalty by others.

I know "plot comes from character." By the only character I have to work from is my own.