What Must a Good Science Fiction Story Have?

 

I’ve returned to the land of the living.  My eyes track.  I can walk through a doorway without colliding with a doorjamb.  I can even keep up a conversation without sliding sideways off my chair onto the floor.  Next week I climb the Matterhorn.  Bravissimo!

I looked through the news feeds.  And, so help me, I even considered watching the Georgia run-off.  But there just wasn’t anything the least bit interesting.  I even considered pulling a Jussie Smollett.  I was going to claim that a Canon camera enthusiast sent me a derogatory e-mail making fun of my many bison photos of the day.  But my hard-bitten honesty just wouldn’t let me do it.  I love those bison!

I thought, “I’ll just write about something I like.”  After all that post about nuclear war had some great comments and that stuff really interests me.  Why not do something like that?  So that’s why this is coming out of left field.  I just didn’t feel like beating a political drum that’s already been beaten to a bloody pulp.

So, for a theme I’ll select the question, “What’s the most important component of a good science fiction story?”

Is it the tech?  Is it a good plot?  Is it well written characters?  Or does it absolutely require some balance between the three?

Let’s explore this a little bit.  Start with tech.  I suppose that space opera has lost a lot of support among the modern readers of science fiction.  Stuff like the Skylark of Space, The Legion of Space or the Lensman books are probably disqualified as too naïve and hopelessly early 20th century for anyone under sixty to consider reading.  But is the inexplicable faster than light (ftl) drives of these stories any less plausible than whatever also implausible ftl drives are currently being used by modern science fiction writers?  I’ve got to say I don’t think they’re disqualifications.  I’d say the rule is it just has to be self-consistent with whatever “rules” you’ve made up for the tech.  So, it doesn’t have to be somehow scientifically accurate.  It just can’t be bone-headedly stupid.  What it does have to be is convenient.  The technology has to allow the plot to evolve the way you want.  If space travel takes centuries, then don’t kill off too many good characters by leaving them back on Earth.  Or if time travel can only go backwards then don’t leave your spare batteries for your ray gun in your other pair of pants when you head back to the neolithic.

And the tech should be a fun toy for the reader if you can manage it.  I always loved how Heinlein lovingly designed his “torchships” and made the passenger and service areas of his ships seem well thought out.  But I also know of authors whose tech is basically a black box and for all we hear we could be sitting inside the fuselage of a jet plane.

While tech is necessary (after all it is sf) it’s not the deciding factor whether a story works.

Well, how about characters?  Yes, they are important, in the sense that they must at least exist.  But I’ve read some supposedly classic science fiction where the characters are as flat as pancakes (Asimov and Clarke come to mind).  Now this may no longer be the case.  I’m not sure.  I enjoy a good amount of character development in my fiction and I’ve been able to find it.  But I could easily believe there could be a very good story where character was in short supply.

What about plot?  Well, I could imagine a story that had a strong tech component and interesting characters but the plot was almost minimal.  Maybe like some of Bradbury’s short stories like the one where the Ladies’ Sewing Circle is trying to ignore the impending nuclear holocaust by concentrating on their work.  It’s all character.  But I guess you still have to say there’s a plot or more like a scenario.

I feel like, for the most part, and except for very odd stories, the sine qua non of a good science fiction story is a good plot.  If your tech is passable and your characters are at least bearable but you have a plot that rolls along and interesting stuff happening then you have a chance.  But you can have great tech and witty, erudite, droll fellows populating your world and if not much of anything is happening except talk, then your readers will throw the book against the wall (or the digital equivalent) and go look for something better.  And that’s that!

Now I know there are many sf fans in the audience.  I’d love to hear your comments, especially if you disagree.  I’m always interested in the opinions of sf readers.  The floor is now yours.

Nuclear Armageddon as a Plot Device

Recently Joe Biden made the news when he reversed a campaign vow and stated that under his administration the United States would maintain the right to nuclear first strike as a military option.  Now the idea of Dementia Joe mistaking the nuclear football for his tv remote and ordering up an all-out nuclear blitz on Russia and China while trying to access some kind of hair fetish programming is obviously concerning.

But really this article is more about fiction writing.  In a story that I have been working on (forever) I reached a point in the story where I considered that the best way to escape from the corner I’d painted myself into was by having thermonuclear war break out between Russia and the United States.

Admittedly, that seems like a sad statement on my writing abilities but in point of fact it provided a definitive solution to multiple plot problems I was faced with.  After all, there aren’t many scenarios that can put the US federal government on its heels.  But three 20-megaton thermonuclear ICBMs detonating over Washington is a leading contender.  So, I will confess that I considered the scenario very carefully.

One thing I noticed though is that the impact of a nuked United States is extremely disruptive to a storyline.  Even the most tyrannical US administration looks quite different after the mushroom cloud sprouts over it.  Because now all of a sudden millions of Americans are dead and the ones still living are stunned, scared and desperate for a path forward.  At that point they’d follow Satan himself if he knows where to get food and fuel.

So, everything in my story is turned upside down.  Instead of the plucky rebels fighting the evil feds in a series of hit and run attacks, suddenly they find themselves wondering how they’ll survive without the now non-existent FEMA agency to save them from starvation and hypothermia.  Now what happens to my rebellion story?  All of a sudden enemies need each other just to survive.  Freedom and independence suddenly don’t mean much when staying alive requires all hands-on deck.

So that’s the change in the atmosphere, the feel of the story.  Does it still make sense?  Can the story survive the change?  Not as originally conceived.  I was looking at a series of stories with the rebels taking on the Deep State one step at a time with the rest of the country sizing up the battle and the balance of power gradually tilting toward the rebels.  But now the battle is over but without the dramatic tension and the action.  Instead, we have a tale of catastrophe and dissolution.

And to make that story work will require a change in emphasis.  Now instead of a slowly building wave of battle we have a nuclear wipe out and a tide going out.  Instead of a war with winners and losers we have the flotsam and jetsam from a deluge struggling to survive and trying to rebuild some kind of patchwork of settlements.  That’s a totally different thing.  It becomes a bunch of smaller stories at the village level.  Instead of armies we have farmers and mechanics, men and women and their children trying to survive without supermarkets and gas stations, even without electricity.  It’s nothing like the story I was envisioning but somehow it makes sense.  Because even though we may have forgotten about the atom bomb it hasn’t gone away.  It’s still there and it has its own internal logic that makes it the executioner of last resort.  If we decide that the arc of history bends in our direction and we can do as we please no matter what, we may find that the arc is just the ballistic track of an ICBM.

So inexorably I think the story is telling me to make a turn.  Even as a fictional plot device it does make one pause.  Imagine the largest fifty American cities reduced to rubble and charred bodies.  Imagine fallout killing off a quarter of the survivors.  And food and fuel gone for the rest of the survivors.  The grimness of such a tale is hard to overstate.  How do you tell such a story so that people will want to read it?

Well, that’s a subject for another day.  But this one has helped me get my thoughts in some kind of order.  Okay, hit all those buttons!

Per Un Barbiere di Qualità!

Princess Sack-of-Potatoes’ birthday party was a great success.  My daughter’s in-laws were very congenial and we all good-naturedly performed all the kids’ party rituals.  We dutifully sang off key to ‘Happy Birthday” and applauded the blowing out of the four candles.  We watched as the cake was cut and the opening of the presents and even a spirited game of pin the tail on the donkey.  Only for some unknown reason it was tape the nose on the clown.  This particular clown looked like some kind of nightmarish psychopath which I found quite disturbing but the kids were unperturbed.

When we had all eaten enough burgers and potato salad and cake and ice cream and all the presents were opened the parents gathered up their kids and headed home.  Camera Girl agreed that the event was a great success and we began some of the clean-up.

But I was in the mood for something interesting.  Lately I have been watching YouTube videos of the operatic aria “Largo al factotum” from the Barber of Seville.  It’s the song that everyone remembers from various classic cartoons of the 1940s that has the famous stanza, “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ipb9xbXSAY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJIpVj_YkNo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKDXr_fimQ8

I watched about a dozen different versions, some going back to the 1920s.  And it occurred to me, “What an interesting character Figaro is!”  Here is the swaggering braggart.  He is a big fish in a little pond.  In his own mind he is a hero, a Hercules of a thousand great labors.  He is always in demand and always acclaimed by the crowd.

And of course, he is merely a legend in his own mind.  His actual trades are barber, dentist, wig maker and a sort of go-between for couples in love.  He passes love notes and such things.  So, he really is a nothing.

But he has a quick wit, the gift of gab, a way with women and enormous self-confidence.  And putting those things together creates a formidable character.  Some people may recognize someone like this.  I knew someone of exactly the type.  They always have a treasure trove of amazing personal stories.  And their personal lives tend to be an awful mess.  They combine recklessness, selfishness and even a bit of cruelty along with their natural abilities as a clown, a skirt chaser and a leader of the riff-raff.  In many ways they are fascinating personalities but they leave a trail of angry women in their wake and never seem to grow up.

And it occurred to me that is why I enjoy the aria.  I recognize the type that Figaro is the symbol of.  And the scene captures that reality splendidly.  And the music is wonderful.

And what a great character he would be to put in a story!  Somehow, I’ve got to have a swaggering braggart in one of my stories.  It would just be too great a thing to ignore.  And in fact, I need him to be a recurring character in a “world” that I make.  It will be a sort of an homage to an old friend that I knew long, long ago in a place far, far away.

Ah, bravo Figaro! Bravo, bravissimo!  Fortunatissimo per verità!

What Does Science Fiction Want for Our World Today?

Back when my father was a kid science fiction was all about rockets to Mars, flying cars and atomic power.  The world would march forward in the same way that it had after science advanced in the generations before.  It would engineer applications for atomic power in the same way that earlier generations applied knowledge of chemistry and physics to create the internal combustion engine and airplanes.

When I was a kid science fiction had progressed to where relativity and quantum physics were assumed to be susceptible to human genius and no barriers were too tall to prevent humans from colonizing the stars, travelling through time and even traipsing into other dimensions.  Now this made for a lot of interesting stories about universes where humans could meet up with all kinds of amazing creatures and events.  But at some point, you have to wonder if the word “science” in the name science fiction should be changed to fantasy.  And that’s fine.  Having faster than light (FTL) travel opens up so many story lines for an author that it’s hard to resist.  Otherwise, we’re stuck with multi-generational ships depending on relativistic time dilation to reach the nearest stars in one or two hundred years.  Which, by the way, makes for a lot of very interesting sociological phenomena on the ship.  But anyway, you can see how FTL travel would be a very desirable pseudoscientific device.

But here we are something like a hundred years on in the “modern” science fiction timeline and we’re still engulfed in the FTL travel trope.  And we’re still nowhere near any kind of science that would lead us to believe that FTL travel is even remotely possible.  So, in my mind maybe science fiction needs to start looking at science again for inspiration for new themes.

Thinking about this, it’s not like there aren’t all sorts of scientific discoveries and avenues for new technologies that are not only possible but also exciting building blocks for science fiction stories.  In biology we have gene therapy and longevity research.  In computer science there is artificial intelligence and cybernetics.  The reality of atomic power as a replacement for fossil fuels is not really science fiction as much as fact but there are enough questions about how it will change the present world that it could provide plenty of fodder for stories.  And human exploration of the solar system is now much better understood than it was even back during the Apollo program.  Reimagining the directions that something like landing on Mars will take has already been a successful idea for one author who even saw it turned into a successful movie.

Perhaps some of this sounds a little tame for science fiction readers.  On the contrary, sticking to the reality of what it would take to put a small colony on Mars should allow a good author to engineer in plenty of human interest and adventure.  I could see how a story based on capturing and harvesting an asteroid filled with gold and platinum would make a very exciting tale.  A good author would include the part of the story that involves very rich and powerful individuals scheming to hold onto the profits from a mission that might include the most powerful nations on Earth claiming the assets as the “legacy of all mankind.”

So, this is something I’ve been thinking about lately.  Now I like space opera as much as the next guy.  I’m very comfortable with galactic empires and multiverse.  They’re great fun.  But I also think it’s time for some of the most creative writers to start adding some real science back into science fiction.

Pleasant Fiction and Painful Reality

Today was a fiction writing day.  I made some good progress on the plot.  But I was stymied on an aspect of the story that only recently occurred to me.  What I realized is that one of my main characters doesn’t have enough back story.  He has a reasonably well-defined personality but he’s floating alone in his little bubble of the story.  I need to tell the readers why he is the way he is.  So, I started making up this past in my head but then I realized I need a way to have him tell this info to the readers.  That’s an awful lot of exposition.  So, what I’ll do is come up with a situation where the protagonist and this character are involved in some scene where they’re trapped together and forced to wait for some crisis to pass and that’s when I’ll have them swap histories.  To make it more natural I’ll have them both talking about their pasts.  In the context of both of them not knowing if they’re about to be killed it makes it a little more likely, emotionally, for them to be talking about their lives.

And one other problem remains.  Where does the story end?  This will be a series of books and I want to end the first book with a bang but I have to make sure that the empire will be able to strike back.  So, I have to leave enough villains to allow them to regroup.  Maybe there’s more to this writing thing than I thought.

I saw a news article that said that the FBI took Trump’s passports.  Isn’t that just too cute of them?  Apparently, they’re pulling out all the stops.  I think that’s good.  November should be the perfect storm.  We should know for sure whether there’s any hope of fixing the system.  And if the Deep State commits themselves to every banana republic tactic and holds nothing back then we’ll have no doubt about whether this is our best-case scenario.  If the mid-terms aren’t a referendum on Biden’s incompetence and the Deep State’s unconstitutional behavior then there is no conceivable way, we’ll ever push them out of power.  And it doesn’t matter whether it’s an honest election or not.  A loss for us either way says to me that it’s all over.

And I don’t say that in a melodramatic way.  On Wednesday November 9th if the Democrats still hold the House and Senate, I won’t be donning sackcloth and sifting ashes into my hair.  I won’t even put a for sale sign up in front of the Compound.  But I will be weighing my options and making some changes.  After all, living in a country that is run by an oligarchy that is proven to have an unshakeable lock on the levers of power and is also clearly working to disenfranchise your family isn’t necessarily the best option, even if it is the richest and most powerful country on the planet and has always been your home.

So, I’ll think long and hard about what’s best for me and mine.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty of company in that contemplation.  The 2020 election fraud was a shock.  But with the COVID lockdown being used to allow all kinds of irregularities it left a question as to whether the fraud could be reined in afterward.  If it’s repeated this year then it can be repeated indefinitely.  If the Justice Department can run two kinds of “justice” then we’ve already ceased to be a legitimate state.  So, many people will be reflecting on these facts.

But, enough of that gloomy talk.  Tomorrow is Liz Cheney’s Primary Day.  I intend to enjoy that event to its fullest.  Maybe she’ll give a tearful concession speech or a defiant vow to be back on top someday soon.  But either way I will savor the moment.  Quoting Khan Noonien Singh (or actually Herman Melville) “to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee,” I revel in the spite inherent in punishing the RINOs.  It’s the only thing that we can do to redress the injuries these people inflict on us every day.  The least we can do is celebrate their defeat.

Here’s a Sample From My Unfinished Sci-Fi Book

Here’s a sample of a book I’m currently about a quarter of the way through.  If you look at the Header of the website there’s a new link to “Stuff to Buy.”  That where I’ll embed links to books and photogrpaphy I’ll have to sell soon.

 

 

The American Archipelago

Book 1 – The Sniper

Chapter 1 – An Object Lesson

Joseph Boghadair was set up at a loophole in a small prefabricated metal building at the top of a mountain that contained the Icarus Mine.  His .50 caliber sniper rifle was trained on the narrow road that led up to the mine.  He could see a line of black SUVs about a mile and a half down the road and he was getting ready to start firing on the convoy.  His first shots took out the engine of the lead vehicle thereby halting the convoy.  His second volley took out the engine of the last car in line thus trapping the rest of the vehicles between.  Then at a more leisurely pace he took care of the other eight vehicles.  By this point the passengers were crouching behind their disabled cars and randomly firing handguns and assault weapons in Joseph’s general direction with almost no discernible results.

After about half an hour a few of the men in black body armor attempted to reach a stand of trees about 300 yards away to their left.  Joseph put a few well aimed rounds in front of their path and they quickly retreated back to the supposed safety of their not so mobile autos.  Joseph snorted wryly at their shyness.

An hour after that a helicopter approached the mountain from the opposite direction to Joseph’s loophole.  Walking over to a window on the other wall he could see a distant Blackhawk approaching at relatively high altitude.  Joseph then began his preparations for their reception.

Between crew and troops, the Blackhawk had a dozen men on board.  And more importantly it had a couple of hellfire missiles.  From a very safe distance away it targeted Joseph’s position and fired.  The missile struck precisely on target and obliterated the steel structure almost completely.  All that remained was the foundation of the structure around the mine shaft, now clogged with debris.

The Blackhawk landed about three quarters of a mile from the mine entrance.  At this point the agents hunkered down behind their vehicles began to stream toward the helicopter.  By the time they reached the aircraft the troops had exited and were waiting for their rescued brethren to arrive.

FBI Special Agent in Charge, George Chastain assembled both teams and briefed them on the updated mission plan.  “We will proceed to the mine head and look for any human remains.  We will collect whatever we can retrieve for lab analysis and attempt to seal the mine head until qualified personnel can be assembled for recovery operations.  It is presumed that the target, Joseph Boghadair was killed by the missile strike but we will take no chances.  He was an extremely dangerous individual and should not be approached by anyone without backup and prior approval from leadership.  In addition to his war record it is believed that Boghadair is responsible for the shooting deaths of forty-six people in the last six months with thirteen of those people being FBI personnel.  No one enters the mine until remote sensing equipment is brought in.  Alright, proceed.”

The agents formed two groups.  Apparently, SUV agents and helicopter agents must not bond very well.  But before they were more than a hundred feet from the helicopter a series of incredibly powerful explosions shook the ground and knocked them off their feet.  And while they were holding onto the ground for dear life, they could see that the high ground where the mine head was located collapsed into the earth.  The roar of that collapse was more frightening than the initial earthquake and some of the agents hid their heads under their arms in abject terror.  When the mountain stopped shaking the men started to collect themselves and stand up.  When they looked around them, they were astonished.  A circular pit had opened up centered on the mine head.  It was a thousand yards in diameter and so deep that only blackness could be seen at its center.  Several cracks had formed outside the circular pit.  One of these had nearly swallowed the Blackhawk.  It was on its side and half buried in the crevice.  Its rotors were fractured and it wouldn’t be flying away from this landing.

Chastain went over to the edge of the crater and just stared down into the blackness below.  Then he went back to his team and started giving orders to begin a retreat from the stricken mountain.  He was trying to think of what he was going to tell his boss.  Nothing reasonable came to mind.

25MAR2022 – OCF Update

Today was a fiction writing day, or rather reading day.  I’ve reached the 25% mark on the book and so I reread the thing to see if it was any good.  Surprisingly, I thought it was very good.  I would read it!  Of course 25% is just a beginning so there’s plenty of stuff to figure out and more characters to introduce but the story is defined and the feel of the book has been established.  And the ending is coming into sharper focus.  I think I’ve decided to end this first book with a definitive bang.  It means I will have upped the ante in a really big way but I think it’s the way to go.

I figured 25% was the correct point to make sure the book wasn’t terrible.  But it also tells me I’ll have to pick up the pace.  In fact one of my friends said I need to declare a finish date and stick to that.  That seemed harsh to me which means it’s probably true.  I just checked the start date of the document and I’ve been working on this thing for six months!  So I need to pick up the pace for sure.  My goal is to finish the first draft by June 30th.  That only three months but I feel I have to push myself.  That’s about 6,000 words a week which is a good amount but not impossible.  But what it does require is at least two days a week devoted just to writing.  So discipline will need to be instilled.  Unfortunately that is my weak suit.  Well growth is painful.

Other than that today, it’s been a pretty nice day here and we went for a walk in the woods.  Camera Girl found a dead mouse near the front porch and told me how bad she felt seeing it.  I reminded her that she’s terrified of mice and that the mouse’s family is out there eating her bird seeds that fall to the ground below her feeders and living in my tool shed.  This made her shudder and she walked away greatly conflicted.  Women suffer from emotional thinking which speaks well of their sentiments but serve them poorly when it comes to taking practical steps to deal with the world.  If I didn’t put my foot down we’d have racoons, opossums, foxes and deer lvivng on the porch and the animal food bill would break me.

I haven’t seen any interesting news today.  Just the same blah, blah, blah.  I’m sure Biden will say many stupid and incoherent things in Europe this week and Putin will be blamed for almost everything since original sin reached humanity but I haven’t detected anything new going on.  When I see something good I’ll put something out.  Till then enjoy the weekend.

The History of Dunwich – Part 1 – It’s Annoying Origins

The origins of the site on which Dunwich sits are shrouded in mystery.  A mystery based on profound indifference and shoddy scholarship.  Legend claims that in the earliest epoch it was the Latrine of Yog Sothoth.  It is believed that the current stratum of bedrock is completely composed of metamorphized coprolite.  Professor Obadiah Bishop of Miskatonic University spent forty years of his academic career studying this coprolite formation and determined that it was almost entirely composed of triceratopsian dung formed from an exclusive diet of poison sumac.  This is thought to explain the funk that emanates from the ground, groundwater, crops and inhabitants of the present day site.  It is also believed to explain the almost constant, frenzied scratching that all Dunwichians indulge in.

The original human inhabitants of the area were members of the Pocnipnarrawampamuckutucs (sometimes shortened to the Muckutucs) tribe.  The Muckutucs were despised by the other tribes because they smelled awful, had thirteen fingers and two rows of teeth.

When the first European settlers arrived, they interbred with the Muckutucs and their descendants had twelve fingers.  Which was an improvement.  But no teeth.  Which was not.  Over time these anatomical oddities became the hallmark of the Dunwichian ancestry and somewhat explained their status as loathed outcasts and pariahs.  Suffice it to say that the rest of New England chose to avoid Dunwich like the plague.

But the American Revolution saw a change.  The patriotic fervor that swept through the rest of New England did not neglect Dunwich.  A company of stout Dunwichians headed up by “Captain” Nehemiah Hoadley marched east to reinforce the colonial army at Lexington.  But when the Boston regiment got a look at the Dunwich contingent approaching from the west, they abandoned their ambush of the British and blasted away at these toothless mutants, mowing them down to the last polydactylous humanoid soul.  After this Dunwich refused taxation by the US government until almost the time of the Civil War.

It was during the nineteenth century that the first truly disturbing events began to occur in and around Dunwich.  In 1824 on the site of Phineas Goodgroates’ orchard, a thousand ton, three-hundred-foot-long caste-iron cylinder fell out of the sky and flattened Phineas’s apple trees and because he was apple picking that day, flattened Phineas too.  This metallic meteor came to be known as the Codpiece of Cthulhu because of the inscription on its side identifying it as such.  The arrival of this piece of sartorial ironmongery was taken as an event of ill-omen.  Opinions varied, although with respect to Phineas all agreed it was definitely a bit of tough luck for him.

But by 1830 the populace had calmed down and normalcy reasserted itself until in the fall of that year when Caleb Sillwright’s turnip patch was similarly bombarded by the aptly named Moustache Comb of Azathoth.  At this point there were calls to abandon Dunwich altogether or at least to install some kind of gargantuan clothes rack above the town in the hope that the Elder Gods would take the hint and stop dropping their effects on Dunwich.  Luckily, cooler heads prevailed.

To be continued.

28MAY2021 – OCF Update

The weather turned cold and wet just in time to make my Sunday barbecue into an indoor event.  I’m guessing the swimming pool will be empty but we’ll have fun anyway.  All the grandkids will be there and I’ll regale them with stories from my days as a doughboy in WW I.  Wait, that can’t be right.  Well, they’re kids they may believe it.

I’ve started a new story.  I’m writing an alternative present/future with a revolt against the Left.  It will have some touches of techno-thriller and some sci-fi and I’ll be in it too.  So that’s scary.

It’s got my interest.  We’ll see how this goes.  I may throw some scraps of it up on the site and ask for feedback.

Stay tuned.

On Killing Off Fictional Family

I’m working on a fantasy story.  And I’m at the point in the origin phase where the protagonist needs a crisis to propel him into a new and horrible life.  And I’m wavering between some deus ex machina scooping him out of his normal life or a horrible injustice killing off one or more of his family.

And the funny thing is I feel bad about killing off his kin.  I mean, they’re good people and they’ve never done anything to me and all things being equal I might need them later.  So, I’m vacillating and trying to thread the needle.  Can I just kill off his father?  But I kind of need him for later.  How about his mother?  The murder of his mother would be a great catalyst.  There’s guilt and rage and despair and hunger for revenge and all sorts of mixed emotions.  That could work well.  But it feels like a cheap trick.

I could kill off his newlywed sister.  It’s going to happen at the wedding reception anyway.  But that’s even more conflicted.  There’s the bride groom and the other sisters and then the parents won’t be distracted by one of them dying so the protagonist will be dealing with all kinds of messy emotional baggage.  Everyone will be whining for a hundred pages and I don’t need that.

I’m planning some kind of mob hit.  I’m undecided between a shotgun blast coming out of the reception or a bomb thrown through the window.  Either way it’s not ideal.  Very messy.  Definitely not the beautiful death.

So, as you can see there won’t be any easy way to write this.  All kinds of angst and messy follow-on consequences.  But let’s face it, murdered family has been a great plot device since Cain killed Abel.  I’m already trying to work my way through a father with conflicted feelings about the son whom he loves but who is responsible for the death of his wife.  That’s got all kinds of possibilities.  As I said I need the father around later and his grudging cooperation in some plot devices would add a nice amount of resistance to some scenes that would otherwise lose all tension.

So, she has to go.  But I am grateful for her part up to this point and I will give her a nice close-up scene before the finale.  She’ll get to talk to her son and they will share something personal before I finish her off.  Then she’ll upstage her oldest daughter’s wedding.  What mother could ask for more than that?

So, as you can see, for me the characters in my story take on a life of their own and I have to think carefully before I bring anyone in.  The butterfly effect is in full effect and especially when my character has a very long-life span, I have to be careful about cutting off all descendants of present characters because I might need their grandchildren or even great grandchildren at some point.

And finally, this action is meant to cut off his normal life and send him forward into a future where many of his actions are going to appear to him to be pretty evil.  To make that happen I’ll need something to disorient his moral compass.  The random brutal death of someone who symbolizes normalcy and happiness to him is just about right.  Add in a feeling that he is culpable in the death and I think I can work that into a tragic figure.  Will Shakespeare, hold my beer.