I often get asked where my ideas come from and whether I outline, what my process is…
Here’s how The navigators evolved, how I changed it from its original idea to its “fat outline” to the final book that will be released in a few weeks.
THERE ARE A LOT OF SPOILERS HERE so stop now if that sort of thing bothers you, but if you are curious about how my creative process works, here it is laid bare.
The original idea: a friend asked on their Facebook page, as a conversational question, What would you do if you discovered a time machine and you could go forward or backward to any place; any era. Where would you go? Who would you see?”
As I pondered my answer, I did a little looking and saw time travel stories are a pretty popular genre, and I was looking to start writing commercially appealing novels, so the idea probably hung with me more than it would have otherwise. If I wrote a story based on time travel, it would be definitely my version, my ideas, my unique storytelling, and my characters… I saw potential.
In a matter of a minute, I had my answer to his question and a few minutes later I had the points I’d turn into a story.
Living in Florida, I knew we had all sorts of fossils people don’t associate with Florida: wooly mammoths and saber tooth tigers, giant whales, camels… When you go to the beach you can find shark’s teeth (if they’re black, they’ve become fossilized) and everyone wants to find the biggest shark’s tooth they can find. A megalodon – a prehistoric shark 40 feet long – has giant teeth you can find, almost as big as the palm of your hand.
Well… who doesn’t want one of those? But as you might expect, they’re rare.
Looking a little further, it seems people find mammoth teeth and jaws in our rivers because the rivers flow out from our mines in central Florida, and the cross-state waterway the Army corp of engineers cut way back when, as well as occasionally when they dig a foundation of a skyscraper. (One swamp being excavated for a subdivision contained remains of ancient Celtic people!)
All that, I knew. So when I thought about a time machine story, I figured people would want to go see dinosaurs! But Jurassic park had been done, and a megalodon story would basically be Jaws…
What if I kept the story in Florida? I like doing that. Who would discover stuff like that in Florida??
That’s it. Now I had a basic story: archaeology students looking for wooly mammoths and stuff FIND A TIME MACHINE. Now, instead of looking at fossils, they can go study the animals in person. That will be fun. I can see some scary adventures from that.
Why scary? Because tension. This was to be my first attempt at making a page turner.
I created some characters and did what the adage says: put them up a tree and throw rocks at them.
That’s how it started.
These students will find the machine and all sorts of stuff will go wrong. That’s the story.
I also believe each story needs subplots, so I figured we’d add a girl for one of the guys to fall in love with. (But she wasn’t going to be a token; she might turn out to be the hero.) We also needed a few extra people on the team so I could kill them off. I expanded the original team from three to five.
I was writing in first person, so “I” was telling this story, and you as a reader would be reading “I” a lot. You the reader kind of are “I.” That became important, as you’ll see in a moment.
A few days later, I had the initial chapter written and was trying to explain the rest of the story ideas to Allison, and wrote out a fat outline of about 1500 words. I made about half of it up as I was writing it to her:
A group of archaeology graduate students accidentally discover a strange machine. They take it home instead of turning it in to the school as required, so they can figure out what it is – convinced that fame and fortune lies around the corner for finding this amazing discovery.
Barry brings in computer whiz Findlay to examine the machine after the other group members go home. They conclude it is a time machine.
The students keep the machine a secret so they can examine it first. They discuss answering “big questions” like who really killed Julius Caesar and whether the holocaust could be stopped. Some said they’d like to go see historical figures, or Jesus. Maybe try to kill Hitler and stop the holocaust. Find out who really killed Julius Caesar, that sort of thing. (Seeing if Jesus really existed and did miracles was my original to my friend’s question, but I changed it to not give away my story idea. Yes, I’m that petty.)
One said he’d like his 4 year old daughter to be able to see her grandmother back when she was still alive and healthy; that the woman who played such a big role in his life, that it’s a shame they’d never know each other. (That’s the answer I ended up submitting to my friend. Big tearjerker; nobody tries to top that.)
Their experiments yield disastrous results; each test hurts the traveler (called a Navigator because they set the coordinates for the trip) worse than the prior test. One goes in the hospital, one nearly goes to the morgue.
Meanwhile, the computer guy Findlay, brought in to help, gets shortchanged so he holds a big press conference and rats them out. The students have to hide the machine, but Findlay literally burns down the place to smoke them out. He bugged their computers and phones so he knows what they’re up to, and the corrupt school officials (who sanctioned burning down the apartment) end up with the machine. The plan is to sell it to a power company that wants to keep its revolutionary fuel system off the market.
From here, I was essentially talk-to-texting my ideas like I was telling a bedtime story to my young daughter, just letting the ideas roll. You’ll see it’s kind of disjointed but that’s the process.
The remaining students – Barry, Melissa, Peeky – concoct a plan to steal it back. During the break in, Barry gets injured (broken leg) and Melissa has to step up. The two of them begin to bond, stealing back the machine (this involves picking locks and climbing), have another test – and have another failure.
Finally, they are caught. Jail time looms, expulsion, and lo and behold, Melissa’s lawyer/future mayor parent steps in to broker a deal to keep them out of jail (a few weeks before the election) by showing how the deans at the school were complicit in arson among other things. The power company assisted in numerous felonies. A big meeting is held. All the kids are to be expelled but no jail, the school will lease the machine to the power company for a big fee, which the law firm will administer for a big fee, and the students can all apply to other state schools but can’t attend with each other – so the love interest developing between Barry and Melissa is about to be thwarted.
Instead, Barry steps up. Seeing all his friends’ lives about to be ruined, he takes the blame for everything, saying he manipulated everybody else, and he refuses any other deal, threatening to go public. The politician, power company execs, and the school deans know a good deal when they see one, so they agree, but Melissa’s dad asks for one thing. Barry says he did it all; the break in, among other things, including picking some very sophisticated locks. So Barry should be able to pick a simple lock on the office door. Melissa’s dad, a lawyer who has represented his share of burglars, places a few tools on top of his desk and asks Barry to use them to open a locked office door. (Melissa’s dad knows she can pick a lock because he taught her how). After a moment, it’s obvious Barry can’t do it (he doesn’t even pick up the right tool), so her dad knows Barry’s lying to protect Melissa. Can’t have the politician’s kid getting arrested a few weeks before the election…
Still needing their pound of flesh, the school insists on a scapegoat, and Peeky – being on a student visa and being involved in several felonies, is it. Findlay set the wheels in motion earlier by calling the Feds when he got the rest of the authorities involved, so nobody can stop it. As long as Peeky has to go down anyway, why not pin everything on him? The theft, the break ins, the arson. It’s distasteful, but the powers that be can get behind it.
Our poor, sweet narrator gets the shaft! Nooo!
Check out Part 2 tomorrow!
Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great upcoming sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to read a sample chapter and click HERE to check out his other works.