Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Critiquing My Draft

After sleeping on this, several things have become painfully obvious.

Now I knew that the story was just a draft when the final installment came out. And I knew that at a minimum I’d have to read it start to finish ten times making corrections and improvements as I went to get it into something like publishable shape. But I also knew that the darn thing wasn’t ready for that kind of polishing. I don’t start that until a piece is more or less “locked down”… and the story just wasn’t there even if I couldn’t tell you why.

Now… I’ve given out some harsh negative reviews in the past few weeks. Some of them weren’t even fair. Anyway… this post is mostly to show that I can dole it out to myself. Interesting thing about these thoughts… I don’t think I could really have them without an actual draft in front of me. There’s no way thoughts like this could have emerged in the brainstorm phase. It possibly could if I’d written a hundred stories already, but this was the first– so it just wasn’t going to happen.

  • The biggest problem is that all the characters are effectively male. The behavior of the brain in the jar does not come off as feminine enough. I could try to deny that by getting some sort of pose where I argue but that’s the point, but it just doesn’t work.
  • I want the brain to actually seduce the protagonist, but I don’t want it to cross the line into actual “brain in a jar porn.” I have no idea how to accomplish that.
  • I have observed women (not ones I was involved with) use a “if you raise your voice then you lose the argument” tactic to great effect when dealing with men. It actually comes off as a one-two punch: a provocation followed by shaming. A lot of guys seem completely unable to deal with this and if they’re sufficiently clueless, they come off like they’re constantly bewildered. I have no idea what else I could do along these lines, but those are the kinds of things I need in order to make the brain-in-the-jar come off as still being a “natural woman.” And no, I really wouldn’t have ever given this much thought had I not tried to write a story where I needed to grasp this sort of thing.
  • The other pit I was strenuously trying to avoid was the sense that this was message fiction. The moment I bring up the HR department, this sounds this whole thing sounds like a terrible shaggy dog story. There might be other places where it crosses that line, but in retrospect… that’s a real fail there in my opinion.
  • So there is a boss character that could emerge if I conflate a couple of scenes into one character. And I don’t address the actual science that they’re doing at all. It was a placeholder to get the story off the ground. These are all problems that relate and maybe need something that can address them all at once. And no… I have no idea how that might be resolved.
  • But none of the above matters until I decide whether or not the story truly goes off the rails. That whole thing with Rachel is just kind of stupid. And Mervin is just too much. The motorcycle is either the thing that holds the story together OR it’s the thing that makes it completely idiotic. So I have to decide… am I going to commit to this insanity on the grounds that it puts action into a story that would otherwise be nothing but dialog? Or do I investigate where the story could develop to without all this over the top silliness?

My gut feeling is that Rachel and Mervin are essential to the story and that everything to do with motorcycles has to go. But Edward is of course a hopeless romantic… and I think the motorcycle thing can convey that without inducing as many cringes as what I otherwise might do. And that’s weird because that stupid motorcycle was nowhere in my initial outline of how this story should go.

So, no… I never imagined that the story could end up here:

So much depends
Upon the red motorcycle
Glazed with cringe
Beside the unplayed Euro games

Ugh. Painful. Just painful.

Update:

After taking a walk, several things are clearer to me:

  • Edward and Rachel have to have some kind of a fling (probably), but it would not play out like I described.
  • Edward could see a biker and a biker babe and envy whatever it was that he thought they had… but he could never pick up Rachel for a date like I have him doing. That’s not him in a million years.
  • He still could buy a motorcycle and ride it around, though.
  • If Rachel was into him, it would not be because he initiated it. (Nerd on nerd seduction has it’s own rules and it’s not like what I wrote.)
  • Edward would only barely be able to recognize that Rachel was into him. She’d basically have to throw herself at him.
  • Rachel, Mervin, and Rob are all part of the game group. Their personalities need to be conveyed somehow before they have their scenes.
  • I have no idea what’s going on with Rachel. She might go after Edward just to cock block Brain. That’s sick. Why would she do that?
  • It might be better to start with the game group already including Brain rather than like I did; dunno. All these characters showed up and they present new problems.
  • I could see Edward getting into an argument with Mervin and then end up wrecking his bike. I still want somebody to punch somebody, but maybe I have to let that go.
  • I leave Edward with the game group in the draft. It’s clear he has to lose even that. His final scene is more along the lines of him signing into VASSAL.

Another update after sleeping on it again:

My brain keeps working on this in spite of my intent to simply walk away. Maybe salvaging this is less work than starting a followup story? Eh, I’m skeptical.

Anyway… here’s an outline of what my brain is giving to me now:

  • The thing with Mervin and the fling with Rachel have to go– and not just because I can’t carry them off. They just don’t give the story what they actually need.
  • Also “ultimatum boss” needs to be replaced with “concerned boss that is discreetly trying to handle a threat to his project.”
  • The motorcycle is of course a symbol… maybe an inevitable one… but a symbol for what?
  • Dude doesn’t need to buy a motorcycle in response to some kind of midlife crisis. He can just have it.
  • The correct Rachel scene is (I think) for her to come across him while he’s changing the oil on his bike or something. That can happen when he hosts game night at his house. It’s enough for people to catch that’s she’s noticed him– especially if Edward doesn’t get it.
  • The concept of love that Edward has is not that of the girl hanging on while he rides a twisty road. He can see the biker with the biker babe and it can make an impression. But he doesn’t understand it and doesn’t really know how to want it. It’s beyond the scope of his imagination.
  • No, his idea of love is actually something to do with fear. He’s afraid that the bike will wreck. There’s no girl holding on… he’s afraid of the crash if he goes too fast. He’s not afraid of commitment and he’s not afraid of the wreck– it’s that feeling of the back tire going out that terrifies him. The feeling of lost control.
  • (No, I don’t know where I’m getting this. This is just what my brain is telling me. Maybe my brain is stupid, I dunno.)
  • And that’s the climax. He rides his bike to maybe clear his head or something… and wipes out.
  • I don’t think the story needs Rachel to cock block and it doesn’t need Mervin show up to get punched in the face. That’s a distraction from the point.
  • Similarly, Edward does not need to be damaged goods for this to work. The story comes off as message fiction even if I hint at that being the case.
  • There doesn’t need to be any rivals. And everyone needs to have their likability preserved.
  • One thing’s sure. I can’t get away with characters saying stupid stuff just because another character contradicts them. I could maybe get away with that sort of literary-ish move, but only once– and then only if it doesn’t suck.

So does that avoid “message” while eliminating all the conflict…?

Do I have to write the second draft along these lines to see if it actually works or not?

Maybe the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. If so… I think it will be obvious if I read the results through a couple of times.

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