Originally posted this over at Reddit, but I want to capture the whole thought here. Feedback is floating in about my novel is floating in, and yes it looks like I’ll be re-drafting Mesh. Not too crazy. The consensus seems that Mesh is ‘good,’ and now I should focus on making it ‘great.’ I can live with that.
My professional author friends are (rightly) asking structural questions about Mesh: does this character *have* to be this way? Does this thing drive the story? I’m taking their feedback with care, and thinking deeply about what they mean. After all, I need to care about Mesh and its characters if I expect anyone else to.
One person challenged me to think about why Roman – my protag – is the way that he is. Is it right, is it necessary for Roman to be a disabled kid? Why is he Mexican? Am I doing this to say ‘Yay, diversity and accessibility?’ My kneejerk answer is “It’s important,” but that’s an insufficient answer. Those are fair questions to ask, and I’ve been thinking hard about the answer.
If there’s one beef I’ve had about popular science fiction over the years, it’s been that the main characters are two-dimensional, unrealistic, and insincere. Think about how wooden most scifi protags are, especially at the beginning of a movie, where Captain Perfect of the USS Flawlessness approaches Planet Hypothesis to learn a new form of human postulation. We’ve improved over time, seeing new character depth (Hello Stranger Things and Next-Gen), but we still have much progress to make.
So, here’s Roman, my protag. How will I make him an authentic, genuine person that you care about? As Pixar tells us in their ‘Storytelling Rules,’ we admire a character for trying more than we do for their success. So Roman has to be trying, but what will he be trying to do?
This is where the personal part of Mesh comes in. Roman’s journey isn’t about saving the world, it’s about not letting the world destroy him. His life is complicated and difficult, like mine and many others. His family suffered some tremendous losses (the car crash that disables Roman also kills his sister – try living with that when you’re thirteen) and he has to learn to carry on. So every day he gets up, lives his life, and does the best that he can – that’s Roman trying. He’s trying to make it work, and that’s why I admire him as a character. His journey through Mesh shows that resilience, ingenuity, and spunk are still valuable skills to have in the 21st Century.
All that being said, how close am I coming to addressing these structural story issues? Does it make sense that I’m trying to make ‘good scifi’ that helps push back against the soulless, money-driven, bottom-line-only stories that suck the life out of us?
When I asked people what they thought on Reddit, I got some different ideas. The consensus seems to be that I’m on the right track. Stories should be character driven, with a strong focus on making sure the people in the story look, feel, and act like real people. I’m still trying to figure out what that means. For now, this is as far as I’ve gotten. Now it’s time to get busy, and get writing.
In closing, here’s what William Shatner sounds like when he’s trying. One thing about trying is that when you aren’t clear about what you’re trying or why, you can come across as insincere. Fun fact: This song was written by Nick Hornby.