I’ve been busy for the past month (give or take) on three chapters in Shifting Mars’ Sands. These chapters are tightly coupled; if you think of them as a balloon and you squeeze in one spot, a bulge will appear in another.
The issue is that I moved a major argument between two protagonists (Frank and Gretchen) to earlier in the novel. This had immediate repercussions, which I addressed. On the positive side, it allowed these two characters more time to grow close together, which was needed to make it believable.
The downside, though, is that it created a hole in these chapters. Originally, after an antagonist is captured, one protagonist (Frank) threatens him for the name of the spy. The other protagonist (Gretchen) is unsure if he’s bluffing or capable of murdering the antagonist. This matters to her because she has feelings for him, but not if he’s a murderer.
The simple solution is to avoid the capture (which is simple), but that has its own set of problems. This antagonist needs removed from the chessboard. He has no further purpose in the story. Plus, the good guys are in desperate need for a win (only a small one) in this plotline. Just hitting the delete key isn’t the answer.
By moving this argument to earlier in the novel, Gretchen’s uncertainty isn’t believable anymore–she’d call Frank out, not sit passively fretting about it. However, I needed an event to bind them closer together. This event needs to be a concern of Gretchen’s.
I tried her being troubled by her imagining Frank following through on his bluff. It worked okay (at best), but it wasn’t strong. Then, a member of my Saturday writers’ group (Loudoun County Writers’ Group) pointed out that Frank’s threats were only verbal, not physical. He considered it a problem because it made Frank seem as if he was stupid or wasn’t trying very hard.
I (as the author) know that Frank’s hands are tied. If he physically assaults the antagonist, he’d face charges. Our protagonists are on the short-end of the stick when it comes to justice and fairness. I never explicitly stated this in relation to this situation, but it’s been implied throughout the novel.
So, I decided to delve into it. Still, I didn’t have the pivot point I needed to carry the 3rd chapter and bring it out. From nowhere–and I mean from nowhere–I realize the solution is to discard Gretchen’s doubts of Frank completely; Frank said nothing would happen to the antagonist and he’s proven correct. Instead, Gretchen should realize that the antagonist outmaneuvered them. As a consequence, she feels guilty for her voiced concerns over the antagonist’s safety tying Frank’s hands in getting the spy’s name. (This is what it’s like when your muse speaks to you. 🙂 Who knew?)
Guilt. It works, and it works well. I’m able to get situational information out and have Frank and Gretchen have a real moment together. The conversation came to me faster than I could type or write.
The third chapter goes before the writer’s group in five days. I expect that a few of the members will be surprised with it because they didn’t care for how the threats occurred.
There’s a story rationale for how the threats were handled that feeds into the general situation the characters find themselves. Frank and Gretchen need a win (capturing the antagonist), but they can’t have total victory (getting the spy’s name)–not yet anyway.
Also, there’s a reader enjoyment factor involved. Getting the name of the spy via a threat weakly resolves a plotline that has been in the forefront of the novel. I want to resolve it in a much more satisfying manner with Frank and Gretchen discovering him in the act.
By chapter’s end, I have the story points where I need them. Frank and Gretchen are closer. The antagonist is off the chessboard. The spy is still hidden. The general setting is reinforced.
After a bit of hard work, all is well.
I’m interested in many things, from Mars to space travel, music to books, movies to creating my own stories. My sci-fi novel, The Music of Mars, is available now.