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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sometimes I almost believe in muses

I'm just about done polishing "Spacelift." Not, necessarily, that it's polished, but it may be about as far as I can take it. As I was thinking about it this morning, I realized that I had no idea, now, why I had made one of the plot choices that I had made. It served the ends of the story, but I don't remember consciously thinking about it. I can analyze the effect that choice has on the narrative, but it's really as if somebody else wrote it.

Jorge's goal is to get to Magda, who is injured, before
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He gets to the ship's infirmary, only to discover that she's been moved to the airlock in preparation for transfer to another ship. He gets to the airlock, only to discover that he has no time to do anything, because the transfer is happening now. And so it goes.

But why did I decide that the ship Jorge and Magda were on did not have a fully-functioning sick bay, and that she needed to be transferred? I don't remember consciously thinking about it. I knew that he had to have obstacles, and getting to the infirmary and finding her not there would work, but why that specific scenario?

Here's what I notice as a reader: not only does it serve as an obstacle--it also helps Jorge. It keeps him in the game. After all, he's trying to get to Magda before the doctors do. If his ship had a real sick bay with real doctors, I'd have to come up with some other reasons why it wasn't Game Over for Jorge. And that's what kind of dawned on me today: I hear a lot about obstacles and conflict for the protagonists, but whatever the protagonist is striving against--be it an antagonist or just cruel fate--needs obstacles too. There's something keeping the bad guy from just walking up to the good guy and shooting him in the head. Maybe the bad guy's in hiding. Maybe his henchmen are inept. Maybe he hasn't figured out who the good guy is yet.

If the bad guy doesn't have obstacles, you end up with the silliness of many James Bond movies. You know what I'm talking about. The evil supervillain dude has Bond captured and tied up. Naturally, he immediately lodges a bullet in Bond's skull and the credits roll before a stunned audience. Wait--that's not it. No, first he brags about the details of his evil plan. Then he starts his Rube Goldberg Death Machine and leaves! He can't even be bothered to watch Bond die! He just turns the hourglass that will release the rope that's holding back the pendulum that will block the laser that will unlock the cage that will release the alligators that will step on the weight-sensitive plate that will trigger the nuclear device that will kill Bond. Because I guess he wants Bond to be dead and impressed.

You ever see a competition where one player is substantially more skilled than the other? You ever see the more skilled player play at less than his best, and let the inferior player keep it close? It's not terribly sporting, but he's doing it to keep the other guy in the game. I guess phony drama is better than no drama at all.

So thanks, Muse, for doing that automatically for me, so I didn't have to think about it!

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