To explain how I go about solving plot problems it will be better to use a real-life example. This will result in a small spoiler for the novelette I am currently writing The Rebel Queen. I will be vague at points to minimise spoilage.
(Given how long this post has grown, I will make it a two-post subject. In this first post I will explain the background of the plot problem and in the second post, how I go about solving it).
The Rebel Queen came into being when I excised the plot line from my first novel Vengeance Will Come. I loved the plot line but it simply added too many characters too late in the novel. Even though it shared some common characters it was a separate story, and so it was best that I treat it as one. My intention is that it would not be the second story in the series, but bonus-content.
So after completing Vengeance Will Come I started working on shaping The Rebel Queen into a fully-fledged mini-story of its own. Foolishly I thought that as I already had 10,000 words written I could knock off the project in a month. (For more such foolish thoughts, please go to http://BenEzar..). My point is I wasn’t starting with the blank canvas, but from existing content and a requirement that certain elements remained true to the ‘canon’ I had laid out in Vengeance Will Come.
Background of the Problem
The Rebel Queen is a story about a semi-communist, matriarchal colony of aliens called Deckarians. Think of the species as a futuristic space-fearing version of pirates; friends of few, and pestilence of many.
Deckarian society is composed of 3 classes of individuals based on rigid occupation selection:
Pilots – spaceship captains who fly trading or raiding vessels. Retired pilots transition to become wealthy merchants. This is the most prestigious class.
Soldiers – provide internal security and defence of the colony from outsiders, as well as providing military might to the raiding vessels. Soldiers lack the wealth of the pilots, but have more prestige than the workers.
Workers – every other task. Necessarily this therefore contains administration, education or medical work but the class is considered to be blue-collar workers – too weak or cowardly to be soldiers, and not smart enough to be pilots. Though the vast majority of the colony are workers, it is the most scorned role.
When The Rebel Queen had to be elevated from plot line to story I felt it was necessary to do some world building of the species. From that work I discovered that the social structure with its bias against academics (workers), and the fact they live underground would result in a primitive technological level. The technological advancements that they have achieved or stolen are very focused (space travel) and do not extend into other fields of endeavor. Consequently the wealth of the colony is invested mostly in ships (to bring in more wealth), to the detriment of the rest of society.
This spawned a series of minor problems, and the one major problem.
Minor Problem 1: Technology. In Vengeance Will Come the Deckarians are said to have highly advanced cloaking technology on their ships, which help them evade detection. This is in contrast to the low-level of Deckarian technology, and so needs to be plausibly explained.
I resolved this problem with the introduction of another alien race, the Talmeni. The Talmeni are very advanced technologically in most fields of science. They supply the cloaking technology to the Deckarians.
Minor Problem 2: Commerce? But why don’t other species who lack the cloaking technology just buy or trade it with the Talmeni? (Thus nullifying the Deckarian advantage).
The Talmeni are exceedingly private to the obsessive extreme. They are isolationists who prefer to hide in the shadows. They are anti-expansionist and so still reside on their own single homeworld, seldom leaving it. They only deal with Deckarian colonies, at their complete discretion.
If any species can hide from the universe, it would be a species with advanced cloaking technology 🙂 For privacy (and other plot reasons which will stay under the veil of secrecy) only the Queen of the colony is aware of of the Talmeni’s involvement.
Major Problem 3: Upkeep with Privacy. But if the Talmeni provide the technology, who maintains it?
While The Rebel Queen involves a single colony of Deckarians, there are numerous colonies all who deal with the Talmeni. A steady stream of Deckarian ships, some with faulty cloaking devices, even in the incredible vastness of space would surely not go entirely unnoticed. (Let’s say that, anyway). Further, if most Deckarians don’t know of the Talmeni’s existence…they can hardly be visiting their homeworld often.
To try and solve this problem I thought that a group of Talmeni-trained Deckarians (“the touched”) could be returned to the colony. This has a number of flow-on problems which I didn’t identify until later:
- The need for the secret shroud of the Talmeni would mean these touched would have to remain isolated in the colony, essentially a fourth group in society.
- The touched having experienced Talmeni technology would hate being on a primitive, technologically-backward planet where they are kept isolated. Control and separation of this group would be impossible, and the secret would leak…
- The solution felt ‘bolted on’ as though it didn’t fit with the rest of the world-building (mainly because it was added last from necessity, not from design).
- If the touched taught other Deckarians the secrets of Talmeni technology, the Talmeni lose their bargaining chip.
- The main problem with this is though it creates a power imbalance. These touched are smarter than the rest of the colony and they know a secret with which they could blackmail the Queen. They would effectively be in control.
Tune in for an upcoming post on how I went about solving this problem.