Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Like Grains of Sand

It's said that a few grains of falling sand can set an entire dune face into motion, even create a catastrophic slide. And similarly, a relatively small change in a novel can have enormous effect as they percolate through the storyline.

As I've been rewriting The Steel Breeds True, I did a little tweaking related to the majors of several of the key characters. At the time I didn't think it would have much impact -- but as I've been working on it, I keep discovering places where I have to rethink whole scenes, including the rationale for those characters to be present at a given place.

As a result, it's turning out to be a lot harder to rewrite this thing than I'd expected. I'm starting to wonder how much longer it's going to take.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

Years ago, when I first discovered Dune, I was blown away by the intricacy of the worldbuilding and the depth of the concepts. In many ways, it completely rearranged my worldview, to the point that I began seeing my everyday life in a completely different light.

And recently I had an experience that made me recall Dune and the ideas I discovered in it. I was working on a short story for a contest, on a tight deadline, and the words didn't want to come. It was almost as if the story were fighting me. I tried the usual tricks -- writing by hand, jumping ahead to the next scene, etc. and while I'd get progress for a while, soon things would jam up again and I'd be staring at page or screen, unable to get things flowing.

Finally I was down to the last hour before the deadline, and I had a couple of scenes that I just couldn't get to write. It was like the creative part of my mind had frozen up solid.

And then I realized I was literally afraid to write them because they touched on a Sensitive Subject. Not the SJW issues that the notorious Requires Only That You Hate used to reduce writers to gibbering wrecks at the keyboard, but I was still afraid that they would bring down the terrible hammer of disapproval, the accusation that I hadn't just written badly, but also revealed myself as a Horrible Person.

The story's set in an alternate timeline in which the Apollo 1 astronauts got out in the nick of time, and although they bore the scars of their narrow escape for the rest of their lives, they got to have lives. It's now several decades later, and the Second Mars Expedition is returning to the Earth-Moon system to spend their quarantine period at the moonbase -- and the mission commander is Roger Chaffee. And deep in my gut, I was afraid that someone would see that as gratuitous, a thoughtless slap on an old wound, that by showing the world in which he survived as one with a more advanced space program, I was saying that he died for nothing, and therefore I was a horrible, thoughtless person.

And once I realized that was what I was afraid of, I faced it squarely, told myself that nobody had ever said anything of that effect about A Separate War or Holovideo. I'd even made combox posts on various blogs to the same effect without anybody bringing down the hammer of condemnation, so surely I wouldn't get attacked for a story. And then I was finally able to write those scenes and get the story in. Not my best effort, but in by the deadline.

So yes, fear is the mind-killer.