I’m the kind of guy who needs to write novels with an outline firmly in place. Now, it’s nothing too super-detailed. In the case of No Escape from Planet Motherfucker, it consists of four pages, and about 1,700 words, a chunk of which is character notes. I have each chapter notated with a few sentences about what I hope to do with the chapter, maybe a line of dialogue if it comes to me in the outlining process.
The point is, it still leaves a certain amount of room for surprises.
For instance, I somehow thought I might build some sort of relationship chemistry between the captain of the ship and the newly hired pilot, a re-commissioned nanny-bot called Anibell. But the problem is, the two of them get split up reasonably early in the book, and both have serious character exploration when they’re isolated. That doesn’t make for relationship material. Meanwhile, I had two support characters who were trying to figure out how to rescue their missing crew members.
But here’s the deal. If the narrative is split into three relatively equal portions, then you don’t have two protagonists and support characters. You have an ensemble cast. I just didn’t realize that when I outlined.
The distinction isn’t a minor one. I had plotted out character arcs for the captain and pilot. They were going to grow and learn and all the things you want from main characters. The other two were comic relief.
Except they weren’t. Not really. In fact, because they had so much time to interact with each other, they ended up developing in ways I hadn’t planned on. One character, a philosopher who has gone through some rough career changes, ended up channeling my father who died about seven years ago. That was weird, but it made sense. They were both philosophers, and they had some similar world views.
Then they came up with pet names for each other: little twig and big blue. Where the hell those came from, I don’t know. But their dialogue came naturally to me, and it carried those names with it.
Then the pair splits to do separate things as we near the big second turning point. He’s already been a bit introspective. She’s enthusiastic. She calls him handsome as she leaves.
And I realized that these two had the budding of a relationship that I never saw coming.
Less than a minute later, I realized that I needed to kill one of them because of it. I had to step away from the computer for bit when I realized that. But it was true. It was right. One of my heroes was going to take a dirt nap by the end of the novel.
Yes. Say it. I know you want to. I’m a fucking monster.
Why can’t I let love live?
Maybe it’s because I’m a heartless bastard who wouldn’t know a healthy relationship if it wrestled him to the ground. Maybe it’s done to respect the source material and show just how dangerous and disposable these character’s lives are. Maybe it’s a direct order from my dark master Joss Whedon. Or maybe, and hear me out on this one, maybe it’s because it makes for the stronger story.
I’ll let you decide when you read it.
And no, I won’t tell you which one I’m going to kill. One, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. And two, I haven’t written it yet and I may surprise myself along the way. Shit. Maybe I’ll kill both of them. How’s that for a giant middle finger to romance?
After all, the books isn’t called No Escape from the Planet Healthy Relationship.