Today I tried to break apart a story I’ve been struggling with for about the last six months. It’s been through a few drafts, has been effectively finished for some time now, and has twice as many words that I’ve deleted than I’ve kept. But it’s just not quite right.
Briefly, it’s a sci-fi story about an engineer on a cargo ship who finds … something. And it changes her. The rest of the [very small] crew debate whether she’s been infected with something or not. It plays happily with some Alien type tropes, but waits until the end to tell us what’s really going on.
At first I thought one of the problems might be the shifting point of view. The first few scenes are told from the Engineer’s POV; then the rest of the story is presented from the other crew members’ POVs. This is more or less necessary to maintain the sense of mystery (I tried a few early drafts that continued from the Engineer’s POV, but it muddied the story since we don’t yet know what’s happening to her). This shifting POV bugged me a little, however, since the story kicks off with a great lead character, and then we shunt her into the background for the rest of narrative. I eventually decided that this was probably ok, so long as there’s a big focus on how my lead character has affected those other characters.
Which brings me to how, exactly, does she affect those characters? There’s a major theme in the story of loss; so I needed a way for my supporting characters to echo that, while ensuring that their relationship with the lead character provides a degree of either catalysis or catharsis. I remembered that one of the characters reflects on his mother at one point, so the obvious thing there was to extend this into that character grieving over his mother. My other POV character is older–the captain of the ship, in fact–so flipping the same idea around and having him mourning a lost daughter provide a nice parallel, while adding a dimension to his relationship with the younger, female Engineer.
So far, so good. A few little things to add here and there.
Conversely, the final change is to trim the end of the story a bit. The current version has a couple of scenes that wrap up some loose ends, but what really needs to happen is for us to return to our lead character. I reckon most readers will thank me for trimming away some exposition in favour if bringing us back to the lead character and the overall point of the story. A nip and a tuck here and the plot structure should be as tight as the characterisation.
And, hopefully you’ll all get the chance to judge whether I made the right call sooner or later 😉