Sunday, August 6, 2017

Roadie for the Elves

Enough fanfic. I'm ready to get back to a "real" novel.

I had an idea a little while back that got as far as an outline. And that's where it stumbled; the outline revealed I only had half a story. I like the setup, there's some fun ideas, but I don't know how to develop it.

(There's also a research problem. The setup is, baldly, that the Fair Folk are real, a group of refugees cane to the modern world...and they went into folk music. Which is not a new conceit (star example being Emma Bull's The War for the Oaks) but is still a silly fun idea. Trouble is, most people that would tackle this as an idea would know their folk music (particularly Celtic) and know their Irish and other folk tales. I've been exposed to the stuff but I'm only a quarter Irish by birth and a lot less by inclination. This just isn't, for me, writing from experience.)

(Of course my POV character is writing from experience. I could expound endlessly on live sound (like I do in these pages) but in a work of fiction -- urban fantasy adventure fiction with a comic twist -- a little of that goes a long way. )

As I was struggling to outline the idea, and committed a few test scenes to paper, another thing made itself clear. Or perhaps two related things. One was feminism. The inciting incident is a fairy princess in need of rescue and that is just too tired an old trope. She needs to be more interesting, and have more agency. And that all hooks into something else I wasn't sure I wanted to stay with.

There's a trope in a lot of SF -- heck, there's something similar in a lot of adventure fiction, particularly mainstream movies. A recent article on Hack of the Day referred to a similar psychological attitude as the Engineer-Savior. But, really, it's a linear development from the old White Man's Burden. The form it takes in the larger world of genre fiction is the average-guy audience-surrogate hero who seems to be the only person with ideas and drive. They find themselves in an unfamiliar situation and tell the locals what they should have been doing all along.

Somehow, the village has never thought of rising up against their oppressors, or cooperating to dig a proper well, or getting rid of a foolish old custom that causes their young people great unhappiness, until the Great White Savior comes along and with a boyish grin talks them into doing it.

The SF-nal version is specifically a scientific problem-solver, a builder and engineer, and the novel solutions they bring to problems that had been entrenched before they came along are cast as arising from the underlying science, and not tied to culturally specific ethics and morality. (Ha, ha).

And, yes, this is a fun mode. And I'd still do it; I'd have my outsider protagonist with his hard-science background walking into the increasingly desperate little enclave of refugees and sciencing out how they work, what their problems really were, and what to do about it. And theorizing endlessly, with the help of various friends; deducing out entire behavioral patterns and social structures from the thinnest of assumptions about how the nature of the land they came from.

And then pull a Ringworld. Larry Niven's Ringworld series is famous for ending each book with the protagonists having discovered some of the Big Secrets of the Ringworld. And starting each new book with showing that they'd gotten it all wrong.

So start with a well-intentioned everyman hero white-knighting his way into a rescue and inserting himself into Seelie Court politics...and then getting called out on it. And learn it was a lot more complicated than he thought. And get blind-sided by things he hadn't even thought of.

So, yeah, that's fun. But there's still the thing that killed the outline. It makes complete sense for him to discover the Elves, learning about them while he and Miranda are hiding from both the original refugees and a new group who appear to be declaring war on them. And then he is injured, she is forced to return home and they have to pick sides -- and learn things are rather different than they thought. There's our big act ending.

And then what? I'm half-way through the page count. It doesn't feel right to escalate, to move from essentially domestic level to monster attacks or armies in the field or whatever. And that includes sending the protagonist to Underhill himself, because if you've spent all this time developing the place you really should have a chance to see it.

And, yeah. That first conceit, Elves playing guitars, and a sound man finds out about them and gets involved in their affairs -- that's where it needs to stay. The climax can't be on horseback in another dimension with magic and helicopter gunships. It has to be at a concert.

Yeah, so maybe the young people on the run can expand to 2/3 of the page count. Meaning they come back, do a big double-take, then somehow sort things out in time for the last page. It seems a little thin for that, though.

Conversely, the on-their-own part and the slow figuring out part seem so much at the heart of the story I can't shove them into a narrower slice so I can spend an entire act doing something completely different (like exploring Underhill) before returning to resolve everything.

So I'm still stuck on the outlining. I think I can work around the research and have fun with both sides of the engineer-savior trope (both playing it straight and deconstructing it), but on the largest structural scale I just can't seem to solve this one.

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