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Limits are fun

May 12, 2012
Posted at 11:34 pm

After a couple days of not writing, for various reasons, the tenth chapter is starting to come together. It may be late, but then again it might not. We'll see.

I thought, though, it might be fun to talk about what makes a story interesting. Interesting for me, that is, and given I'm the writer that's all that is important. For the current story, The Bells of Tanah (available here and at ASSTR for your reading pleasure), my main motivation was to put my characters in a place with limited resources. I did not give them a whole shopping center, or a large Walmart style department store. No, they're in a supermarket... and a rather small one at that. Part of this naturally is due to my experience as a teen working at just such a place, but also because making the characters work around problems is more interesting then having them instantly solved.

To be honest, it was a reaction to two stories I've read here. One had a bunch of college kids lured to a frat party at a mall/condo development, only to end up on another planet with access to hundreds of stores to satisfy any need. The other had a guy sent by aliens to the distant past with, in theory, only a limited amount of supplies. Very quickly, though, the guy is having the aliens ship dozens of shipping containers full of stuff to prehistoric times, and the caves he lives in are magically transformed into 100 bedroom residences with private baths.

In both cases, while there were other problems that at least limited my enjoyment, a major problem was a lack of followthrough with the premiss. The second story is the worst offender, as in the first we do find that some groups never find access to the mall and thus are limited in their supplies. Why even bother setting up limitations, if you then have your character (through "smart thinking") get around all of them? Hmm, maybe we should call these "straw man plots", as they only exist for the main character to easily defeat them.

With regards to Bells of Tanah, I've already run into quite a number of plot problems that I've had lots of fun trying to overcome. I'm constantly having them start to do something, only to realize they just can't. Now, to be fair, they're currently in a different situation, but I'm trying to keep limits in place. The realization, for example, that zero g cooking would be an issue didn't raise its head until I'd already put them in space and gone through how the hell you'd make the store work in that environment. The next chapter sets the rules on how the ship travels between suns, more limits I'm sure I'll be banging my head against soon.