Story building – Part 2

Last time I wrote a bunch of words. Mostly dialogue, little bit of description. Definitely first draft material, though.

Here’s a recap of the instigating idea, and what currently passes for the worldbuilding:

Idea

“Check this shit out, I’m going to be a fucking

eager Human Barbarian from a royal lineage who has a drinking problem”

Worldbuilding

Look at the character generated.

Does not fit flash fiction.

Why do I say that? Too big a problem for a short arc.

Just make him drunk, not drinking problem per se, but it is a problem in the particular circumstance.

VR

MC is drunk inside D&D style VR world.

AI is trying to talk him round and bring him out of the VR

Why is the AI bringing him round to get him out?

Because the guy has to get married.

He’s a warrior-Prince of the blood-royal in a high-tech society who doesn’t want to get married to the merchant-Prince he has to get married to, so he’s getting pissed in a VR. If he got pissed in “reality” it would be frowned upon by his family.

It’s a nigh-feudalistic society with something like a military caste, a merchant caste, and a philosophical caste. These castes rule the proletariat who serve as workers and low-level grunts of each caste. Every now and then a member of the proletariat (called barbarians) will be raised “up” to a caste. The castes do not breed, they have homosexual marriages between castes to maintain balance.

This time, I’m looking to do the biggest stuff that needs doing. I don’t care right now about the best grammar, the odd typo, or anything like that. In a longer piece, I’d be looking at faltering thematic arc, characters development arcs, plot holes, and all that malarkey. Most of that disappears in a flash fiction story. You’ve basically got a scene. That scene still has to have an arc, and it still needs to have some character development, but it’s going to be somewhat theme-light and there’s not a whole lotta plot to break.

So what do I need to check and fix on this pass?

Is there an arc?

Another way of asking this question for a flash fiction piece is to ask whether there is a story at all? It’s meant to be a stand-alone story — in this incarnation — so it should have a conflict, escalation and resolution. At the very least. Is it there?

We find out pretty quickly that Chiam is conflicted internally, and the intention is that there should be an external conflict as well. Reading through the first ten percent or so of the story, the external conflict in implied but it’s not very strong. There are almost always several ways to deal with problems like this at this stage. Here, I could add a bit to the beginning so that the drone character is introduced as the representative of the external conflict straight away. I could also change the admonitory third line so that it is more censorious. Or both.

I’ll try the second option first.

‘What is it you want, Chi?’

‘MORE ALE!’ He waved his tankard at a tavern wench.

‘No, Chiam!’ The wench vanished at the drone’s emphatic negation. ‘Why are you here? Between tick and tock, instead of getting ready for your wedding? You know how everyone is going to react if you stay here.’

”M not goin’ back. Don’t wanna get married.’

OK. That makes the point, and I quite like it (of course I do, I just wrote it), but it does have a slight whiff of the maid-and-butler (AKA “As You Know, Bob…”). If Chi already knows how people are going to react, why is the drone saying it? Except that people really do that. People do say “you know what so-and-so is going to think about this…”

But what about introducing the conflict the other way? Bringing it right up front.

Chi cradled the empty tankard in his hands, glaring blearily at the approaching drone.

‘If my parents sent you to get me, drone, you can just go right back!’

‘What is it you want, Chi?’ the drone said, not bothering to deny the charge.

‘MORE ALE!’ He waved his tankard at a tavern wench.

‘No, Chiam.’ The wench vanished. ‘Why are you here? Between tick and tock, instead of getting ready for your wedding?’

”M not goin’ back. Don’t wanna get married.’

That kinda works, too. It’s probably a better start than the previous opening line was, and it’s a bit more natural than the somewhat as-you-know-bob feel of the first one.

I could combine them. I really could. What would that give us?

Chi cradled the empty tankard in his hands, glaring blearily at the approaching drone.

‘If my parents sent you to get me, drone, you can just go right back!’

‘What is it you want, Chi?’ the drone said, not bothering to deny the charge.

‘MORE ALE!’ He waved his tankard at a tavern wench.

‘No, Chiam.’ The wench vanished at the drone’s emphatic negation. ‘Why are you here? Between tick and tock, instead of getting ready for your wedding? You know how everyone is going to react if you stay here.’

”M not goin’ back. Don’t wanna get married.’

*Twitch* “Everyone.” Hmmm. This happens sometimes. A minor point will trip me up while I’m meant to be looking at the bigger stuff, so, I’m going to line edit for a second—

Everyone is not going to give the slightest damn if someone gets married or not. I don’t care how high profile the wedding is. That’s me being lazy, and it should be fixed. Thing is, because I’ve noticed it, I have to fix it now or it will keep making me twitch as I try to do other things with the story. So. What should it be? A list of the relevant people? “… your parents, his parents, the trade board that ratified the partnership, and your husband-to-be, of course…

Well, no. That’s daft. World-building info, yes. A bit more external conflict, yes. Necessary? No. I’ve already introduced one source of external conflict that Chi, himself, has identified as his top concern: his parents. That’s all we need. So that line becomes:

‘No, Chiam.’ The wench vanished at the drone’s emphatic negation. ‘Why are you here? Between tick and tock, instead of getting ready for your wedding? You know how your parents will to react if you stay here.’

Fine. That’ll do for now. It may change again later as I focus on other aspects of the story, but for now it fulfils its purpose.

What about the rest of it?

Chi is escalating by raising objections to the drone’s points, but can there be more? Yes, there could. If there was greater escalation, however, it would need more resolution and the story would have to be a lot longer. So, the question becomes whether there is enough escalation for the story I’m telling. I think there is. I don’t think it needs much more than it has.

Resolution starts in the last third of the story and happens quite abruptly. There is something of a disconnect between Chi’s admission that he would have “cited jeopardy” and the drone beginning resolution with “I should not tell you this…”.

It’s missing a beat. It does not flow quite right. So, what happens if I do ratchet the tension up just one more notch and give just a small pause for breath after?

‘I know. We did get on. And if I hadn’t had any empathy with him, I would have cited jeopardy, even if it meant being relegated.’

‘So, what is really the problem?’ asked the drone.

Chi slumped back in his chair. ‘I am scared, drone.’

The virtual environment seemed uncommonly quiet to Chiam as he waited for the drone’s reaction.

‘I should not tell you this…’

Chi latched on to the halting words. Drones knew everything that went on and they were not supposed to let any secrets out.

‘Your soon-to-be husband,’ the drone continued, ‘is currently being attended to by a drone of my own class, because he, too, is virtually drunk. He hasn’t chosen a fantasy tavern, though. He’s in a seedy gin-joint out of some noir fiction setting.’

OK. That’s better. Not great, but better. The beats are right-ish, I think, and the rest of the resolution flows well enough to close the arc, at least.

Internal consistency & logical progression

Normally, these would be two different passes, but as this story is so short you can do them in one.

There isn’t that much to check. Drones seem to behave the same way throughout. Nothing seems to contradict itself regarding the society. The virtual reality doesn’t behave inconsistently, as far as I can see. Cool. Nothing to change there, I think.

That means we are left with the story in this state, for now.

The story as it stands

Chi cradled the empty tankard in his hands, glaring blearily at the approaching drone.

‘If my parents sent you to get me, drone, you can just go right back!’

‘What is it you want, Chi?’ the drone said, not bothering to deny the charge.

‘MORE ALE!’ He waved his tankard at a tavern wench.

‘No, Chiam.’ The wench vanished at the drone’s emphatic negation. ‘Why are you here? Between tick and tock, instead of getting ready for your wedding? You know how your parents will to react if you stay here.’

”M not goin’ back. Don’t wanna get married.’

‘Are you sure? Would you be happier back outside the Caste?’

‘I’M NOT A PROLE BREEDER!’

‘I see some semblance of reality is seeping back in, but that’s not really an accepta-‘

‘Go ‘way. He doesn’t want to get married.’

‘Ah, now we’re getting closer to it.’

‘Wazzat?’

‘He’s a good match. You’ll be a strong partnership.’

‘Sure.’

‘Is that not a what you want?’

‘I want love. I want to love and be loved.’

‘You want to have a child? You will eventually be able to foster…’

‘No! F’r cryin’ out loud, can’t you leave that alone? Love doesn’t have to lead to having babies! Plenty o’ proles, don’t have babies after their quota, but they stay together out of love. Plenty among the Castes have love for each other, but not everyone. It’s not guaranteed.’

‘There are no guarantees.’

‘I know that, but I don’t even know what he likes… The Dates don’t cover everything, you know.’

‘You’ve both filled out the questionnaire.’

‘Yeah, so what?’

‘So you know what he likes.’

‘No I don’t.’

An image of a scroll appeared before the old man. ‘It says he likes to do anything, on the right occasion.’

Chi groaned. ‘That’s what everyone says, drone.’

‘Maybe it’s true.’

‘It is and it ain’t. I’m not a Philosopher. It’s like when you’re with your best friend and she’s showing you her outfit choices for her Date that night. You can’t just say “Well, they’re both hideous, and frankly you could stand to lose a couple of kilos before you try to squeeze into either of them, honey!”, that just won’t do. So you pick the least objectionable piece of one outfit and dive into the wardrobe frantically trying to find things to go with it, before finally turning round like you’ve just had an amazing insight to say “You know what? It’s your first Date with the woman you’re going to marry! Let’s go and buy something new for the occasion!”.

‘You avoid the question.’

‘Yes. And that’s what his answer is. Anyone can say they enjoy anything on the right occasion, because you can easily say at a later date that the occasion never arises. Scan your databanks, drone. You’ll find a variant of that answer on most Questionnaires, I’d wager. Even mine.’

‘So, you want to be loved.’

‘Yes.’ Chi was almost sober after his little outburst.

‘You didn’t tell him that during your dates?’

‘No! Because, like you did, he would have assumed that I was talking about breeding. He knows I wasn’t chosen to be raised up to Caste until quite late on. He might think I still had tendencies.’

‘I think he might surprise you, Chiam.’

‘But he’s so cold.’

‘He’s a merchant-Prince, they tend to be analytical. They still have feelings.’

‘I know. We did get on. And if I hadn’t had any empathy with him, I would have cited jeopardy, even if it meant being relegated.’

‘So, what is really the problem?’ asked the drone.

Chi slumped back in his chair. ‘I am scared, drone.’

The virtual environment seemed uncommonly quiet to Chiam as he waited for the drone’s reaction.

‘I should not tell you this…’

Chi latched on to the halting words. Drones knew everything that went on and they were not supposed to let any secrets out.

‘Your soon-to-be husband,’ the drone continued, ‘is currently being attended to by a drone of my own class, because he, too, is virtually drunk. He hasn’t chosen a fantasy tavern, though. He’s in a seedy gin-joint out of some noir fiction setting.’

‘Really?’

‘In truth.’

‘You really shouldn’t have told me.’

‘Also true, but we held a drone conference on a subchannel and it was decided that we could impart this information under one especial condition.’

‘Which was?’

‘That you both found out the information at the same time.’

‘You mean, he knows?!’

‘The pair of you have amusingly similar reactions to that revelation.’

‘Yes, you both know. Now, I suggest that we divert tradition in one more way. We can arrange a brief meeting for both of you inside the VR, so that you can actually tell each other how you feel, before we get to the wedding. I think a neutral setting? Say, a sunny beach?’

‘Yes. Let’s go.’

Chi stood and the setting changed around him, fading from rustic tavern to the golden warmth of a late afternoon on a sunny beach. Uan Ndiaye stood nearby, smiling a little sheepishly. Chi imagined that his own expression was somewhat similar, but did not bother to school it.

‘I had somehow imagined late morning or noon,’ said Chi.

‘I asked for later in the day, but still warm. The drone…’ Uan looked around, briefly startled by something, and Chi only then realised, himself, that the drones were missing.

Chi decided that Uan looked a little lost, even nervous. He wants to be loved, too. That’s… Adorable.

Wrap up

You may have noticed that I did not cover anything that I said I would at the end of the last post. I realised that I was jumping ahead of myself, there. Those aspects of character development and line editing will come nearer the end of the process.

Next post, I’ll go through the questions:

  • Is there sufficient detail to paint the picture of the environment?
  • Is there too much detail anywhere?
  • Can a reader tell what’s happening?
  • How is the pacing?

For now, TTFN.

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