Now, before I actually ask the question I want to ask, I need to give you a bit of background. Iíve mentioned one of my new novels, Daisyworld, in this arena before, submitting a first 13 for the opening chapter. Right at this point in time I am preparing to disassemble my Draft Zero and begin the tedious process of structuring the narrative. It really wonít be that hard; itís basically linear for the most part.
The MacGuffin in this story is a subterranean, gaseous agent that attacks the genetic structure of any life form it comes into contact with and rebuilds its DNA/RNA sequences--rapidly. Itís like watching evolution unfolding at ultra high speed. What the reader wonít know until the last few scenes is that this substance is not a natural product of the environment, it has been intelligently designed by--well, that would be giving the game away, wouldnít it?
Just prior to the opening of the story, there is a mining accident that releases this substance into the atmosphere killing all but fifty-six of the mining crew. These survivors begin to show the signs of exposure and, over the course of a couple of weeks mutate into a new bipedal, humanoid life form.
My question is this: Should I write the 5,000-7,000 word story of this event and the subsequent mutation or should I do what I originally thought to do; have a few, ďAs you know, Bob, . . .Ē moments to explain the effects.
My immediate response to this dilemma is not to include the incident as a separate event recounted in the narrative. My reason is simple: The event, and the threat of more eruptions, while pivotal to what comes after, is an event outside the arc of the story. It interferes with the unity of it, offending both Aristotle and Freytag.
If more information is required to give an opinion, Iíll do what I can.
If this is something that is known, then give the effect a complicating factor that the characters can discuss without it being awkward. For example, if the gas doesn't affect survivors in a uniform way, you can have one or two of the characters share a horror story of some bizarre mutation. The reader therefore learns what they need from details incidental to what the characters have reason to talk about.
Otherwise, although not ideal, a narrated info dump is still preferable to "As you know, Bob."
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JSchuler, I was actually planning to be a little more artful than the, "As you know, Bob." faux info dump method; my tongue-in-cheek getting in the way of clarity. Sorry.
The gaseous eruption comes as a complete surprise, as do the side-effects. They were searching for what they hoped was an untapped resource in a resource starved world; then all Hell broke loose. Btw, the entire planet is a wasteland, a la Judge Dredd's Cursed Earth scenario, didn't I mention that? Silly moi. To be exact, the only things outside the force-dome protected cities that is alive are microbes, bacteria, fungi and algae in what's left of the soil and water. The land is effectively dead, and so are the seas.
While this initial eruption is small, killing only a few thousand at the drill site, soon after this, within the next month or two depending on my narrative timelines, the entire Amazon Basin will be covered in this stuff where, reacting with what life remains in the poisoned soil and water, it creates a complete and self-sustaining ecosystem within a year. An ecosystem that resembles a rainforest--just not one we are ever likely to see. It's inimical to human technology and anything made with that technology. You'd think it was made that way on purpose, just to get us.
However, the question still remains: Do I include the initial eruption and the mutation of the human survivors within the body of the narrative or not?
[ February 24, 2015, 07:07 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
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An aesthetic hunch question is and that's vibrant!
Let's see: an event sequence involves an agency of a single being who creates an emanation which kills most exposed beings and mutates some others and causes habitat alterations. If this event sequence as of the moment is not pivotal to the main action, excise.
Or outcomes of the event sequence are pivotal to the main action; however, their influence is an ancillary matter to the action at hand and of the moment, maybe significantly matters later.
The motif of the event sequence can, therefore, be a summary and explanation expression of the causal backstory. Told, in other words, though, ideally, in scene mode, not lecture mode.
I am an ancillary motif. What's my agency, my influence, my motivation? Why and how texture. What is given, and who, when, and where. Outstanding.
Furthermore, how, what's the narrative point of view? Who's the narrator? A covert, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent narrator persona who tells the action in summary and explanation lecture mode? Or is the narrative point of view from the received reflections of a singular viewpoint agonist's perceptions who receives stimuli?
I generally favor the latter, a viewpoint agonist's intimate, personal, received perception reflections.
How then to artfully express the ancillary pivotal event sequence motif and its backstory?
The W questions offer guidance. If an agonist receives the information details, who, and from whom, when does she receive them? Timely, judicious, and relevant when they matter to her. Where does she receive them? Likewise, timely, judicious, and relevant to when and where she receives them. What does she receive? Timely, judicious, and relevant details when and where she receives them. Why? How? Why may be because she sought them and they matter to the action at hand, likewise, timely, judicious, and relevant. How? There's the rub.
How. Maybe she receives them piecemeal, from a cohort. Maybe from research and investigation. Maybe from a news archive and viewed on a screen or from a paper source or similar "False Documents," (Wikipedia). Maybe from a communication of an investigator. Maybe she receives them firsthand, like one of the mutants attacks her or similar, like she is personally influenced. Maybe all the former, probably, or necessarily, and maybe from a surprise though non-coincidental "Deep Throat" informant source. Piecemeal, that's the operative term, and timely, judicious, and relevant to the action at hand.
Profound informative events best practice are developed though left for satisfaction until later. Major pivots. Minor pivots accumulate revelations and can be, best practice, satisfied sooner if not immediately. The revelations need not be direct, may be implied, and, nor be, per se, confirmed or confirmable. The revelations may be steps forward or steps' detours, misdirections, or steps backward, though they do need to be pivotal, timely, judicious, and relevant to the action at hand.
Further, use of foreshadowing is warranted: hints, cues, clues pre-positioned like Chekhov's Gun. If a motif matters in a later scene, it ought best be pre-positioned in an earlier scene, its mythology developed piecemeal all along so that, when it is a major pivotal influence, its is both a surprise and an expected, natural, and necessary handgun's discharge. Bang! This previous is tension development. The Bang! then is a tension relief pivot.
If the story you plan to write is about figuring out what is going on (including what has caused all the chaos), then the origin part might be part of the figuring out (and could be "told" instead of "shown").
If you're planning something more along the lines of "what do we do about this mess now?" then the chaos is already there (status quo, sort of) and it may not be necessary to provide the whole background for your characters to deal with the situation.
Did that make sense? Basically, I think it depends on what story you really want to tell, and how much of the origin is necessary to help you tell the real story.
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The more I think about this, the more certain I am that the initial eruption forms no part of the story. While it is a pivotal moment, the first causality event from which all subsequent events are born, it isnít a part of the story. The story isnít about gasses, mutants, or the greed of corporations; it is about one character trying to understand her self. Ultimately, she must come to terms with the violence inherent within her and see it for what it is, a tool. And by violence I donít mean throwing a hissy fit and crockery around the place, I mean the sort of violence that tears down empires and shakes worlds to their foundations.
Playing my own Devilís Advocate, if I include the eruption and the mutation of the survivors, what do I achieve? Nothing other than to introduce extra players and complications that will have no direct bearing on the story. Even the people who have/will mutate are irrelevant to the story, until they are what they will become. Prior to mutating, they were nothing but low-grade labour, during the mutation, for all intents and purposes, they died and were then reborn anew, and utterly different.
Yes, extrinsic, the doling out of information is going to need particular care as to its timetable, just what and how much is revealed, and where and by what agency also. A large part is by direct observation and deduction by the heroine, and part is received and interpreted during dreams and meditation; and there is always plenty of room for mistakes and re-evaluations. For the rest, various persons brief the heroine at appropriate times and for definite purposes. And, while the work will be written in the third person, the POV will predominantly be kept with the heroine, however there will be detours into the head of her nemesis, who is not necessarily her main antagonist.
Meredith and Jennica, the problem with trying it and seeing how it plays out is that its very inclusion will change the narrative structure and timing. Including the eruption will lead to one story, while not including it will lead to another; the one I want to write. But thanks for the suggestion; it forced me to consider consequences.
quote:The story isnít about gasses, mutants, or the greed of corporations; it is about one character trying to understand her self.
While that may be the human story you're trying to tell, the problem from what you've told us here is that a part of your story is about those things, otherwise there would be no spoiler in telling us about the gas's origin.
If the initial gas exposure is not a part of your story, then don't mention it. As long as the gas and the resulting mutants are at least established in the narrative, you don't really have to say much more. The speculative audience is used to not having everything explained for them. We're used to characters that take their world as given, leaving us to piece together explanations on our own. The only danger I see from the above is that the mutants and the gas might just materialize, diabolous ex machina, at the end. But assuming those things are a present complication for your main characters throughout the book, you should be fine.
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