…realize you have to tell the fifty pages you just wrote this week that it’s not you, it’s them and they have to go. No one wants to point fingers in a situation like this but, let’s be honest, fifty pages you were. Fifty great pages you were not. Who are we going to blame? The typist? Or the pages that failed to live up to expectations.
I was feeling pretty good. I made my commitment to produce the first novel in the series in six weeks by turning out 50+ pages a week, every week. I then switched to the second novel in the trilogy, and cranked out fifty pages this week. Then something terrible happened. One of my characters turned to my protagonist and asked, “How do you know how all this stuff works?” This “stuff” being basic training. My protatgonist is on his way to becoming an off-world colonist. All he has to do now is survive basic training.
I was flying through the material, mainly because I was basing everything on my experiences in basic training. I was a few years older than the other kids when I went in and was the benefit of a biological father who played ruthless mind games on me on the rare occasions I spent any time with me, so I sort of sailed through basic. I knew what they were doing. I didn’t take it personally. I kept my head down. But when that ancillary character asked my protagonist that question I suddenly knew that I was writing clichéd material. “It’s in every war movie,” my character replied.
Yep. From No Time for Sergeants to Full Metal Jacket, we all know the bombastic drill sergeant like an obnoxious uncle who always tells the same story. So why was I regurgitating this well chewed oatmeal yet again? I didn’t have an answer for that question so I trashed everything I had done and went for a long walk with my dog.
The essence of the story in the first novel is that the company goes to extraordinary lengths to mess with my protagonist’s head. Why? You need to make sure you’ve got someone solidly fixed in their psyche before you send them light years away where there is little law and no chance to be removed for six months at a time. So why would they put him through a basic training course complete with the clichés from all the movies they know he’s seen?
So I had to rethink. First of all, that basic training is a 19th century construct. It has no place in a world of people smart enough and connected enough to learn on their own, experiment on their own, and draw their own conclusions and configure their own teams. If you’re sending someone to a far off planet where there might be little infrastructure to support them, you don’t care if they can march in a straight line. You care if they can figure stuff out for themselves without a drill sergeant screaming instructions at them.
So now, the challenge for me is to come up with a new kind of basic training that will test and produce someone the company can feel comfortable sending across the galaxy.
Wish me luck.