Oversimplifying

On FaceBook the other day, there appeared an ad which a younger, less-mature me would’ve gotten really pissed-off about. It was for a weekend writing retreat (hundreds of starry-eyed writers crammed into a conference room) where someone could ostensibly learn to write a novel in 40 hours. Four-zero hours.

When I thought about it (and this feels like a gimmick sale) this would only make sense if someone gets the bones and structure and a few character details in place. Then, their story is done. (Well, not really.)

To get the bones and structure worked out is to simplify the overall narrative and arc into elemental terms. “Man falls in love with woman” becomes “boy meets girl” and so on. Naturally, life is that simple, isn’t it?

For fun, I decided I’d try it with “Endgame,” a war/sci-fi novel told from the perspective of my heroine, sniper Captain June Vereeth. (Probably 2,000 hours of work, all told.)

(The story starts in the middle of a battle, when Vereeth and company are defending a fuel dump on a Hoth-like world.)

snowy mountain peak with treetops in foreground

Girl (Captain June Vereeth, in the midst of battle) shoots bag-guy enemy commander.

Girl meet boy (Dhani, equipment tech) in cave during battle.

Girl re-joins best friend (Prubius) and boss (Joffe) in battle.

Girl is nearly killed by falling, exploding enemy craft.

Girl and best friend are nearly killed by cave-in. Boss dies (crushed).

Girl, best friend, boy and two others are trapped, cut off from battle. Boy’s arm is pinned.

Girl, as ranking officer, orders removal of boy’s trapped arm (lest boy dies).

Girl tries not to panic, orders party to find a different route back to Base (main route is compromised).

Girl and party are saved from cataclysmic blast (fuel cache detonation) when bad guys penetrate the Base.

Girl wonders what to do (party is without maps or radio and is stranded 70 million miles from friendly territory).

Girl orders party to push on, mulling options and the war itself and the opposing side.

Girl and party emerge from cave tunnels, look back to see volcanic-blast aftermath of Base explosion behind them.

Girl and party are surprised to see planetary defense rockets (which were delayed by cyber attack) suddenly launch skyward, aimed at bad-guy cruisers in orbit.

Girl and party are nearly crushed by many tons of falling debris (those bad-guy cruisers).

Girl and party move on, knowing bad guys will be back (and will be as surly as ever)…

 

Okay, so this story doesn’t break down into really simple statements, after all. But it sure was fun to write!

Endgame cover by Greg Simanson Designs. Cover shows characters, rockets and a woman's eye against a green-ice background and twin suns, orange lettering. "The war begins" is added at the top.

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Endgame Agent Chat

“Endgame” is now available. The snipers, the quest to be human, the fun animals, the stuff exploding–all of it.

My guesstimate is that the book has taken 1,500 hours so far (including the note-taking and writing fits over the first two years). Because this wannabe bestseller is entirely a product of my imagination, my imagination has often wandered off to the willow trees and thrown some colorful stuff over his shoulder. The following chunk is how I imagine my 15-minute sit-down in a literary agent’s office would go (provided they actually read the whole novel).

~~~

Agent: “You fool, you can’t write a story with a cataclysmic battle at the beginning. It has to build to the big battle. Hollywood won’t like it. And if Hollywood doesn’t like it, people won’t buy it. You’re wasting your time.”

Agent: “You fool, you can’t write as an intelligent, level-headed woman. You’re not one! That’s a stupid idea. You’re wasting your time.”

(Creative license?)

Agent: “You fool, you can’t craft a story where the heroine’s mentor dies in the beginning. It has to be schmaltzy, and he has to say something really sage before he’s cut down by a blade in self-sacrifice (he can’t be crushed by falling rock, for God’s sake). Who taught you? You’re wasting your time.”

Agent: “You fool, nobody wants any more of this world-building stuff. We’ve got all the planets and parallel universes and fantasy realms we can handle. This one doesn’t even involve earth people. You’re an idiot. You’re wasting your time.”

(We can’t be everywhere.)

Agent: “You fool, you put the story on an ice planet where humans–and all these other colorful folk–can’t really live. Who wants to read about that? We’ve already had our fill of Shackleton. Next. And you’re wasting your time.”

Agent: “You fool, whales that walk on land? Are you kidding me?”

Me: Well, I didn’t say they’re reffing soccer games or playing the church organ. Whales on earth used to walk on land–scientists have proven it.”

Agent: “Yeah, imagine trying to make them the star of the picture. Now these, uh, ghost bird thingies. That might be something. Re-write it to make them important. Until then, you’re wasting your time.”

Agent: “What’s with all the damned stories? The heroes find a cave, spend the night, and move on. Bam. No need to talk about war or how bad the Mitochon…Master…Micronesians are.”

Me: “Mitasterites.”

Agent: “Whatever. Bad gray guys. Although now I rather like that name. Like cancer, Mitasti…mitast…ah, however the hell you say it. I bet you didn’t know that.”

(Nope. No idea.)

Agent: “You were foolish to write it in first-person, you know. Then you can’t see it when the big gas station blows up. And then those big cruisers in orbit–now that would be something! Instead you’ve got Jennifer imagining it, and then the crap comes down from orbit. Cha-ching.”

(Her name’s June. She’s my hero.)

Agent: “The shark dream, that’s interesting. Re-write it so she, your hero, get’s swallowed and then has to blast her way out. Costner did it in that flick.”

(Oh God, now you’re bringing up “Waterworld.” Sound of toilet flushing.)

Agent: “Now all this other junk–the guy losing his arm, the hermit, the dumb stories about Jennifer’s past, jury-rigging a ship to fly, the flaming debris–”

Me: “You liked the debris a minute ago.”

Agent: “I did? Whatever. Just get rid of it. Good guys, bad guys. Lots of lasers and crap blowing up. Bad guys come to club the baby seals for fur, Jennifer screams ‘No’, big firefight, take off in the bad guy ship. That’s how you write a story, Jason. Bam. The end.”

Me: “Thank you for taking time out of your schedule, sir.” (Sarcasm–a universal language, for some.)

 

Endgame novel cover mock-up

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