I explain the process I used in my story’s evolution, a good thing to read if you are writing a story – to see you aren’t alone in your schizophrenic ideas.
Part 1 was yesterday.
I had heard about unreliable narrators and I thought it would be awesome to have a meek mild person be the bad guy. About halfway through, I decided to make Peeky be the bad guy. That would be a nice surprise but also it would take YOU the reader (“I”) and suddenly you went from a good guy to a bad guy. I figured readers reading “I” wouldn’t like to now be the bad guy. But they kinda would. And they’d be like Aha! And now they can’t trust ANYONE in this story.
That’s awful. Awful good.
There is a lot of sympathy from the students until the lawyer discloses that Peeky has been lying about a lot of things. He is not married, has no wife and child back in India. He made it all up, among other things. Peeky admits he knew about the existence of the time machine all along and simply wanted to manipulate the others into helping him find it, so he could use it for personal gain. He has always been a poor boy in a poor country, and this was his ticket out. He received a letter from his great grandfather – the French one – about a time machine they discovered during a scientific expedition to Florida. Unable to control its powers, they tried and tried unsuccessfully, doing great harm and killing members of his scientific team, disgracing his great grandfather and ruining the family name. He hid the machine in a cave in the Florida wilderness. Disgraced, he was driven into exile; so he moved to a place where he would be unknown: India. He eventually married, raised a family, and forgot about the machine, but not before writing a letter to a future heir who might one day retrieve it and achieve greatness and immense wealth. The letter would be passed down through the generations until someone could harness its immense power, and Peeky, as a young boy received the secret letter from his great grandfather, making a promise to one day find the hidden machine.
(Some of that got changed as the story got written. We find out about Peeky in a different – and much better – scene.)
Hearing that, Peeky’s friend are appalled. Why did he lie? They would have helped him; he was their friend. He lied because he didn’t trust them, then when they became such close friends, he was ashamed to admit his lie. They are now hurt and want nothing to do with him. Deportation will be immediate after Peeky “surrenders” himself in the morning.
However, based on what Melissa’s dad has seen, he later decides to pull in a few favors. Peeky avoids arrest but he must still leave the country – but it will be mostly for show. He can apply to return in 6 months with a special waiver from a powerful ally, the new mayor of Tampa, who desperately needs him for a new research department for the firm, to look into possession rights to Florida artifacts. He offers Barry a job as head of research, so he can avoid jail and still see Melissa. After all, her dad reasons, me and my frat brothers were drunk and naked in front of a sorority or two in my day. How do you think I met Melissa’s mother? Mistakes happen; second chances are warranted. Barry initially declines, but Melissa lets him know it might be a good idea. Let’s see where things go, she says, in this new “department.”
(I love a happy ending for my main characters.)
Peeky awaits deportation the next morning.
(I also like a sad ending, too.)
Melissa concludes the time machine is still too dangerous to be played with, so they secretly take it back to the mine site and rebury it. The end.
Then I needed the actual rides in the machine. Because dinosaurs! Or at least wool mammoths. So I went back and added these notes.
The three tests of the machine will each tell what happened during the individual test as a chapter unto itself. They all almost get concussions from the first test, and the student who goes back to see Julius Caesar, thinking the time machine is actually a viewer, and won’t actually transport his physical presence to ancient Rome, is transported back, and is beaten to a pulp by the Roman guard because he is not wearing the clothes of the time, or speak the language, etc.
As they attempt to correct for each wrong assumption, the ensuing test produces an even worse result.
In the next test, the navigator travels to see the moment when God said, “Let there be light” and returns a bloody mass, having appeared into a space vacuum. Wasn’t SURE ABOUT THIS ONE the Big Bang would explode him
The final test may not occur at all; haven’t decided. She talks him out of it based on their prior failures, or they run out of time. That changed, too.
The students call themselves navigators because they don’t control what will happen when they test the machine, but it also reflects on how they are more or less floating along in their lives, too, not taking charge but floating along to a destination that they or somebody else has set. There’s your multilayered messaging.
It is worth noting that they have to come out of an egg in order to grow up and take charge of their lives. More multilayered messaging.
Then, some odd notes. Melisa is my daughter, now six, written for when she’s 22 or so. This is a way to instruct her to choose her own path in life. Also, that her dad would always swoop in and save her if he can. I’m Mr. Mills.
I’m also some other characters. Barry is like me when I was a nice guy in college; Roger is like me when I wasn’t a nice guy in college. The stuff they do, like climbing on top of the Sun Dome, I did with some friends in college. Also that drunken nude sorority serenade…
That’s pretty much how it happened. I posted chapters each week to my critique partners, and based on their feedback I amped things up and moved things along (especially the kissing scene, which opened the door to writing romance as you’ll see in Poggibonsi and The Water Castle; who knew!). I wrote it guided by their input and enthusiasm, wrote it to them and for them, primarily one of them.
Another point, and a much more somber one, is this. We almost lost a friend to alcohol recently, and battle of addiction is now more prominent in our lives. That friend is a smart mother of two beautiful daughters, and it would be tragic for them to lose her. That’s part of the message in the mother scene. The mom is already dead at the start of the story and the daughter couldn’t save her. That’s not the whole story but that’s enough info on that. I cry every time I read that scene.
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.
I just envision my daughter and wife in that scene and I can’t not cry. I think it works for that reason, and in the right mood it’ll make a reader cry. Others will read right through it and not feel much if anything. That’s okay. But the lesson is, don’t be afraid to go there with your emotions and your writings. It’ll read as real to most people. It will touch them.
Also, when Peeky says he wishes his daughter and met her grandmother, as in, Peeky’s mom, and letting the person who had so much influence on his own life play a role in his daughter’s, to go back to when his mom was young and strong and beautiful… That’s 100% true. My daughter never met my mom, and that’s a wistful feeling I tend to carry around at times. What he said in that scene was what I’ve felt for a long time, and if I had a time machine that’s what I’d go do.
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.