Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Novel's Journey: Reactions and Writing Group Reactions

You're on an asteroid mining team has just been hired for a secret mission. Your supervisor will only tell you that it's the most amazing thing you'll ever do and that it'll pay a wonderfully obscene amount of money plus a percentage of what you recover.

Your team boards a ship heading to the edge of the solar system. You find it populated with a minimal crew and a bunch of scientists who lord it over you like you're some kind of ditch digger from Earth. No one will tell you anything until the mission commander (an astronomy professor who's enjoying his time as King of the Hill) decides to brief the entire team.

The time comes--and you learn you're about to excavate the first-ever discovered alien spacecraft.

How do you react?

This is the question I was struggling with for Discovery. My group of miners were on the ship Edwina Thomas heading to the Kuiper Belt for a week before the Rescue Sisters could join them, and only then would Dr. Thoren agree to brief everyone. In the first draft, he had already briefed everyone but the sisters, but I thought it'd show his controlling nature to make them all wait. Besides, it'd be fun to write the reactions.

I wanted a range of reactions, so I asked some of my favorite groups. I got surprisingly similar answers. As one friend summed it, "Fear or excitement. that's about it."

But is it? There's denial, stunned silence, awe, even greed for what they might find and sell. (In this future, which has become highly commercialized in the academic circles, that's actually the prevailing motivation: how can this turn a profit and improve my stature?) Then there're those like Sister Thomas, who simply look at it from a practical standpoint; or Sister Ann, who immediately empathizes with the aliens who have died and starts praying a rosary for them.

And of course, humor, because I don't write anything without a little bit of fun.

It's always interesting to ask questions like this and see what ideas you get, but when it comes to writing, you have to know your characters' personalities to get their reactions. No one can dictate those for you.

Fave Phrase: Here's how the scene panned out. I don't see Thorem saying "all right!" so I need some more pompous exclamation for him.

"Ladies and gentlemen--"

He put a hologram of the alien ship.

Sleek and dark against the gray of the asteroid, the ship rested. Six arms, like crescent moons arched away then back toward a roughly ball-shaped center, then ends of one settling on the join of the next, except for one that was half-buried under rubble from the crash. Even after months of studying it, Kris never tired of admiring the design, or what it meant for humankind:

"--we are not alone."

There was a moment of silence, then.

"Oh, vac! How long are you going to yank our chain?"

"He's serious, Harper," Hayden said.

"You're kidding right? Why wouldn't we have seen it by now?" Fred Harper griped.

"No one's looked!" Kris said. He almost yelled; the answer seemed so blindingly obvious. He pulled up another hologram--this one of the solar system and the route taken by the Seeker probe. While he tried to explain about the probe and how he'd happened upon this discovery, the miners started talking amongst themselves. Some were hooting with joy, others shaking their heads, but a few were snarling. Did they think he was still lying? He kept talking, but cast an uneasy glance at Dr. Thoren.

Hayden snapped, "All right, people, focus. You can gripe about the bet later."

"--on the far side of the asteroid when it crashed-- Wait a minute. You had a bet?"

"Sure. On what we were digging up."

"And I won," Dale Michaels said smugly.

"Right and I don't believe for a minute you--"

"Mr. David!" Sister Ann spoke up. "Your ship didn't crash. Did it, Tommie?"

Sr. Thomas mashed her lips together a moment, then said, "No. It's not a great landing, but it's not a crash. An uncontrolled collision and that ship would have blasted that rock apart. Instead..." She got up and walked to the display. By setting her hands on the section she wanted, she was able to rotate it toward the miners and enlarge. She pointed to one area. Kris walked around so he could see as well.

"Instead, you have this one spoke that's dug into the side of the asteroid. They had to have been going pretty slow at this point, or they'd have sheared off that part of the rock. More of an angle, and they might have caught and flipped. Of course this is all looking at it like a human pilot."

"What if it's an anchor, like the screw on a MiGR?" Sr. Rita asked.

Sr. Thomas was looking over the ship carefully, causing the miners to holler for her to move away so they could see. "I don't see much damage at all. Are we sure it's a ship and not a station?"

"Uh, we're really not sure of anything," Kris answered. From the corner of his eye, he saw Andy grinning. Did she wink at him? He looked hear way, but she'd turned to the youngest nun.

Sr. Thomas grunted. "Hope for a ship. Easier to move."

"I'm all for easy!" one of the miners called out and promptly received a number of derogatory comments from his peers. Side conversations started as the miners, now accepting that these people at least believed they'd found an alien ship and weren't pulling some kind of sick practical joke, speculated on what they'd find, how they'd extract it...

The noise rose, but Kris didn't care. Interspersed among the mundane discussions of equipment and procedures, he heard comments like "I hope it's a station; we'll see how they lived," "What do you think they looked like?" and "Can you imagine if we find..."

Some people were almost shouting in their excitement, but under it was the whisper Kris had longed to hear: kindred spirits...

George Powers, a loudmouth even in the best of circumstances, stood and hollered, "I cannot believe we are going to be the first to encounter aliens! Actual Goddamn, fuckin' aliens!"

Sr. Ann stood and turned on the miner. "Shame on you! We don't know what God's plan is for those poor souls."

"Or how they reproduce," Galen added dryly, causing the room to erupt with laughter and a speculation of a different kind.

"All right!" Thoren called out. "Let's get back on topic, shall we?"

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