Rescue the Princess?

In 1983, having sold a couple of stories to science fiction magazines, I saw that I needed to write a novel. I had four or five file folders of notes and scraps for possible novels, ideas I had started and then abandoned before I got very far along. I looked through them, picked the one that looked most promising, and sat down and wrote it.

Miraculously, the first agent I sent it to liked it, and the first publisher he submitted it to (Del Rey) offered a contract on it. That was Walk the Moons Road. It appeared as a paperback in 1985, and has been out of print for many years.

Last year I self-published a new edition of my second novel, The Wall at the Edge of the World. It’s a much better book than Moons Road. The new edition is virtually identical to the original; I think I changed a couple of adjectives.

On re-reading Moons Road, I could see it would need an extensive rewrite if I were to republish it. The plot is heavily larded with coincidences! In the new version I’ve been working on, I’ve added a villain whose machinations cause one of the main incidents. I added an encounter in the opening chapter that gives my hero a much stronger motivation.

I’ve also done some world-building. The original version was science fiction only by courtesy; the world-building is tissue-thin. Basically it’s a rollicking adventure yarn. Nothing wrong with that, but readers today hope for more exotic splash.

And then there’s the problem of the languishing heroine.

In the original, Zhenuvnili is a passive character. She gets kidnapped and sold into slavery, and Salas Tarag rescues her. That worked well enough in 1985, but in 2021 it’s not going to fly. We need a strong female lead. She has to take meaningful actions in furtherance of her own agenda. In the slang of the writing crowd, she needs to have agency.

Unfortunately, that rather unhinges the plot. If she’s doing important things, why does Salas Tarag need to rescue her? Maybe she ought to rescue him instead!

Zhenuvnili is not actually female; she’s a polyamorous varimorph. She can reshape her body and her facial structure so as to appear either male or female as needed. She was always polyamorous, but making her a varimorph is one of several new ideas that strengthen the science fiction premise. (Salas Tarag has a new power too.)

As in the original version, her religion requires her to engage sexually with lots of people, and she loves it! But when I make her sexual activities more explicit and strengthen his motivation by making him strongly attracted to her, shaping a happy ending gets tricky. Tarag is not from her culture. He’s almost certainly a monogamous type of guy. Will he feel comfortable in a romantic relationship with a person who not only sleeps around but sometimes has, you know, male attributes? That’s kind of a hard sell. Some men would be fine with it, but I’m not. It’s not the happy ending I want to write.

If there’s a lesson in all this, it’s that the muse does not always tap you gently on the shoulder and whisper what to write. Sometimes it’s more like you’re Laocoön wrestling with the snakes.

This entry was posted in fiction, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Rescue the Princess?

  1. I always enjoy reading (your) writing advice.
    It all seems like a limiting, predictable and cookie cutter approach, but I guess it works and sells.
    And it makes books like the The Road, an even more distinctive, powerful and authentic experience. But I guess it has sold less than the latest Stephen King novel… (S. King follows the writing rules, right?)

    Since money is not your primary motivation for writing, I wonder why you not try a more auteur (personal stamp) approach, giving a bit more space to the artist within you than the editor.

    • midiguru says:

      Primarily, I’m a fiend for getting it right. I’m obsessive about plausibility, and that means understanding why the characters do things — what they’re thinking and feeling, what their resources are (or aren’t), what they know or don’t know, and so on. I’m very aware that a lot of novelists (including those who are commercially successful) don’t care much about plausibility. I’ve always suspected that professionals — people who are earning a living at it — are aware of the dreadful lapses from plausibility in their novels, but neglect to fix the problems because (a) it would take extra time and they’re trying to earn a living, (b) the whole novel might have to be scrapped, and (c) readers won’t notice anyway, so what the hell.

      • Thanks for taking the time to reply.
        I’m not referring so much to plausibility, but rather to rules/concerns about: head-hoping, passive characters, show don’t tell, happy ending, readers hopping for more exotic splash etc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s