The problem started when I gave my lead villain royal credentials – it seemed like a good idea at the time – the Chiddran had been introduced, bringing in their own Empire and their own colonizing expansion into space, and they were/are currently engaged in war with the aggressive Khekarians, who have possession of most of the galaxy and want the rest of it.
Great, I thought. A bit of depth, a sense of history, basically background stuff. Then I wanted to use it. I wanted to plug my story more deeply into that, somehow. As the governing hierarchy for the Khekarian Empire is a vast system of royals, from major to minor, I figured making my lead villain an exiled royal would give him a suitable cause and reason to do dastardly things.
To push him right to the edge of acceptance, if not outside of it, I made him a bastard as well. Yes, in both senses of the word.
And now I’m going to bring sex into the equation.
The change was good and elevated the lead villain’s standing, but one little thing just did not sit right. My story is about Aleisha, seventeen years old (no, it is not a young adults’ book) a girl trying to escape an unwholesome situation.
What did Sturn see in her? Why would he want to take her with him when he left the Terran Sector?
Generally, when someone wants someone else, it’s love or lust or greed. As he planned to take her with him against her will, lust or greed it had to be.
Only… hold on a sec. He’s a Prince? Even in exile, he’s got more wealth and power than she ever has – that got rid of greed. And lust? Are you kidding me? This guy can bed nobility. Sure, he can sleep with the peasants, too (and does), but why ever would he want to keep one?
That presented a problem. Seventeen year-olds don’t have a lot of talent to offer. They don’t have experience-backed skills, they don’t even have street-smarts unless they’ve been out on them since infancy. Other than a sparkling personality and a great body, there’s not a lot Aleisha can offer Sturn. Anyway, she didn’t/doesn’t like him, so that’s out.
So, what does he want and why is she running? The solidity of the story depended on finding feasible answers. “He’s in love with her lusty spirit.” No. Sorry. Doesn’t cut it. This is not a freakin’ love story.
At this point, the story went into the bin for a second time.
[An aside, just to fill in the gaps: The first time I threw it out happened when I grew a brain and came to the conclusion I couldn’t write for toffee. I was in my late teens and frankly, the story was embarrassing. A few months after binning it, a background character came to life again, whispering, “What about my story?” and Aleisha became the main character.]
This time around, the story stayed dead and gone for a full year, simply because I could not find those answers. The villain had no reason to want Aleisha in his universe. Period. Having given Sturn strength and a reason for being, I didn’t want to go back to the story I had before. That story was a non-story. Yet I had to radically change something and possibly toss out Aleisha entirely. That was depressing. If the story wasn’t about Aleisha trying to escape, then what was it about? If I ditched her, I’d have to start from scratch. I didn’t want to start from scratch. I wanted to keep her.
Unfortunately, while there might have been many ways she could be unhappy – miserable job, low pay, people she doesn’t get on with – the Good Guys aren’t going to enter into a team war over a pay dispute or because someone is unhappy at work. It had to have more guts!
Then something I had toyed with long before came to the surface. Morragt – that minor character shopkeeper who gave me the Khekarian/Chiddran war in the first place and kicked this book into a series – had also seen something in Aleisha. What if she was a psychic? Untrained, inexperienced, certainly, but seeing just enough to have Sturn believe she could help him work his way back into power. He’d want to keep her then, for sure. That’s what I needed. That had potential.
Great! A solution! And then – BAM – I bumped into the obvious weakness of that. I now had a psychic in deep trouble. Why didn’t she see it coming?
Oh, bugger! It was about then, I wanted to lay my head down on my desk and weep.
Okay. There are a lot of reasons why she didn’t see it coming, but that doesn’t stop that question jumping up. She’s young, yes. She’s inexperienced, check. She’s not omniscient, okay, that works. Psychics aren’t generally open all the time. But how was I to stop that infernal question popping up in every reader’s mind?
Easy. I took that weakness and made it into a strength by having other characters ask that very question. Instead of hoping readers would understand or overlook that possibility (that she would see trouble ahead of her), I made the whole thing an issue. Most of those around her are dismissive of her ability, nearly everyone she meets questions it. On top of that, her talent isn’t precognition at all, it’s clairsentience (touch) and trauma – experiencing the death trauma of others.
Such psychics do exist, they just don’t often make it into books and movies. Anyhow, it makes a nice change from clairvoyance (sight) and the old “mysterious powers come to the rescue”. They don’t.
This is an example of how “something better” brings in complexity and “solutions” bring their own problems. And some folk think writers sit down at their desks and have an easy time of it.
Have a great day, folks.