Archive for March 22nd, 2004

3/21/04: Rethinking Jason

Word count: 63736 | Since last entry: 351 | This month: 9254 After two days of no writing, spent the entire afternoon writing about 2600 words of notes to myself about Jason’s motivations. The reason I did this is that on Thursday I came to the point in Chapter A where Jason explains to Sienna — and the reader — why he’s so dedicated to kicking the aliens off the planet. Jason’s lack of motivation and personal stake in this area are the novel’s single biggest problem, but if I can nail it here I can make it work in the whole rest of the book. So in this rewrite Sienna won’t accept a facile “the aliens killed my parents, boo hoo” — he needs to explain his deep motivations. The new Chapter Zero makes it quite clear (I hope) that Jason is pissed at the aliens for what they’ve done to his world — their superior attitude (personified by Honesty, who is now a right bastard who always thought Jason wasn’t good enough for Clarity), their cultural imperialism, and the impact they’ve had on humanity — and the Cedar Point disaster was just the last straw. But now that I come to put that into words, I’m faced with the fact that Jason’s motivations don’t make any sense. See, Jason has to have been comfortable with the aliens or he would never have taken up with Clarity in the first place. So if you look at his behavior and attitudes over the course of the years 2050-2051, he has to go from 1) falling in love with an alien to 2) willing to risk his life to kick the aliens off his planet, to 3) willing to risk his life to save the aliens from the plague he started, if only because that’s the only way to keep the world from being blown up by the alien bad guy. That’s not a character arc the reader is likely to accept, no matter how well written. One 180-degree reversal would be hard enough to swallow, but two is impossible. (This might even be three reversals, if he started off with a negative attitude toward the aliens before he took up with Clarity.) So I needed to come up with a powerful motivation that would support this behavior. Yes, this is changing the character to match the plot, which is a big problem of mine, but I’ve got too much time invested in this plot to want to do it over. Pout. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and consideration of many alternate Jasons (such as the “I hate the aliens, I hate myself for loving this alien, I think I’ll lash out at the aliens because I can’t accept my own feelings” Jason — who reminds me too much of Roy Cohn for me to want him spending the next six months or so in my head), I wound up with pretty much the same Jason I started with, except that he starts out more self-centered (thinking of Clarity only as a sex-buddy) and goes through a character arc where he moves from shallowness and resentment to understanding the interwoven destiny of humans and Taurans — perhaps in the end he does come to love Clarity, especially when he realizes that Cedar Point was not the aliens’ fault. Perhaps this love is what motivates him to make the ultimate sacrifice at the climax (though I don’t yet know what it is), saving both species. But what is it that he wants more than anything else? I decided that Jason, at heart, is a puzzle-solver. His strength and his weakness is that he’s very, very good at it, and a really meaty puzzle can grab him by the nose and lead him into some very stupid places in search of a solution. At the beginning of the novel he sets himself the puzzle of breaking the aliens’ hold on his planet, and by solving that puzzle he builds himself and his planet an even harder one. Is “solve any puzzle” really a novel-protagonist-level motivation? Maybe, if the personal stakes are high enough. So I need to find a way to put Jason into a position where he must take action — where he can reasonably forsee serious, personal consequences if he does not act or if he attempts and fails. Cedar Point is just the tipping-point… it has to be the thing that convinces him that the aliens (who have been on the planet his whole life) are going to destroy humanity-as-he-knows-it if he doesn’t take action. I think I may be able to do that, by making him even more (justifiably!) angry at the aliens and the effect they have had on Earth, and on him personally. This runs the risk of making the aliens less sympathetic, but I do have Clarity’s PoV to show their side of the story, and in the end most of what Jason is angry about is not their fault anyway. This involved a few changes in Chapter Zero, not many, and guided me through the rewrite of the first scene in Chapter A (Jason meets Sienna). The second scene (Jason investigates the audio monitors) is exactly the same as it was. I’ll tackle the third scene (Jason and Sienna again) tomorrow. Jason hasn’t really changed that much for all this angst, but at least I’ve thought things through and firmed up his backstory.