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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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writer angst
children of dune - leto 1
seperis


So work on the amusingly named Jihad, or The One Where John Accidentally Becomes a God and Wow, That Was Weird, stalled hard and fast at seventeen thousand words, no matter how I stare at it. What's actually pissing me off about this one is that it's *planned*--I mean, I know where I'm going, I know where it will end--mostly--I even know the escalation points. They're all there! In my head! It's *done* there, and has little mental post-it notes of "check this with x" and "ask svmadelyn about y" and "huh, maybe I need a chemistry major to stare at this for a sec".

Okay, to explain--escalation points are my mental shift-changes--when the characters do something that sets a plot point in motion. Those are usually the hardest point for me to get to if I'm trying to work on several different points at once--one, make sure that they don't screw up another one, and two, so I can see the cause and effect. If Rodney finds the ZPM *now*, then there's no reason he says he has to stay for two more days, therefore either move that or explain how the city is influenceing him not to notice he's been lying to Elizabeth for three days, but somehow do that without saying, the city is *driving everyone crazy*. So to speak.

Actually, there we have it. Rodney as the unreliable narrator.

I knew that my pov character would be a problem, especially since the line between when he's reliable and when his narrative starts being choppy looks terribly OOC. It's one thing to change how a character sees the world and have them at least relatively aware of it. It's another when I'm trying to change how he sees the world, have him actively *lying*, and him being unaware why he's lying, and not *caring* that he's lying, and still making him Rodney. He seeing terribly strange things his friends are doing--not dramatically strange, but enough to send them home to Carson--and he forgets like, five seconds later. And no matter how I write it, it does not make sense. And short of changing the entire structure and pov line--and honestly, I can't do it any better with John, mostly because he's not *doing* all that much other than low-key freaking out when people kneel around him. I mean--in this case? John's narration would be a lot of hiding from blonde bath slaves, wondering how anyone can accidentally be deified, and getting annoyed with the kneeling people who keep coming to stare at him in awe. Not productive.

What keeps me from scrapping it and starting over is basically six scenes. Six almost unrelated scenes, actually, that without connection don't go together at all, that don't even make any sense out of context. But God, those six are my escalation points--where I move the plot forward and they're *good* and they make me smile and they make me want to *keep going*. The problem might be in the pacing, actually--I started doubting myself and slowed it down a lot. Either pacing is instinctive to me or it just does not *happen*--and I may have screwed myself over by doubting the speed early on and slowing it down to the point that I have no idea if I'm just getting too much pointless detail that I should sacrifice to keep the story moving.

The other, freakishly annoying part that didn't occur to me until I was too far in--Rodney's focus is on teh technology all around them. Which means he spends way too much time exploring and diagnosticing and trying to figure out how this works. And I am appallingly not good at this part. Short spurts, sure, but it's getting boring to watch Rodney on a tech orgasm for a fictional three days.

*Sighs* I may jsut put it up, wait for WIP amnesty day, and let it die. It just *hurts*. Gah.

This is my third favorite. It has all my favorite things--team, another pov, some mild exposition, and plot movement forward to get to the next point.

*****

"My lord, honored guests," he says, bowing deeply, and Rodney glimpses an incandescently excited Dr. Lewis just behind him. "I have a--matter--I wish to discuss, with your permission?"

"Sure," Sheppard says, getting up from the table, and Rodney follows before he's trapped by helpful blue priests eager to clean up after them. There's a comfortable set of cushions and couches on the far end of the room that Rodney had stumbled over the night before in search of a bathroom, where Sheppard drops into the overstuffed couch, Ronon standing behind it with his usual look of blank disinterest. Teyla, after a brief hesitation, takes a chair, leaving Rodney to take up the rest of the couch, laptop on his knees. There's no way he's sitting on the floor again if he can help it.

The priest and Lewis take the opposite couch, settling quickly. "We welcome the presence of your people, my lord," the high priest says, looking suitably overjoyed with their existence. "And we would welcome any and all to come here at your pleasure."

Sheppard shifts uncomfortably, and Rodney quickly kicks his leg before he can stay something incredibly stupid. Luckily, the priest doesn't wait for an answer.

"However, as I have explained to your Dr. Lewis," a bow of the head in her direction, "we would like you to share the ah-arah." Looking at their blank faces, he raises his hand. "For us, this is a sign of--friendship. As I have explained, it is not permanent, but marks you as honored guests among us." His gesture pointedly leaves Sheppard out of the concept of guest. "And as part of my lord's people, you would be easily identified to others, so they would know that you are to be given all courtesy and aide."

Sheppard's gaze darts between Lewis and the priest. "Seth, can I have a minute with Dr. Lewis?"

The priest, unsurprised, rises to his feet with a deep bow. "Of course. Take as much time as you need." Bowing again, he moves to the door. Sheppard's eyes stay on him until it closes behind him, then darts to Lewis. "You're kidding."

Dr. Lewis raises one hand, and Rodney can see the complex markings on her palm, similar to Ronon. "The Dastorians take the markings very seriously," she says, taking her laptop from its bag with a flourish and booting up. "Teyla, your people have traded with them before. You remember it being done?"

"Not as elaborate as this," she says slowly, "but yes. To mark us as--friends and peaceful traders to the other cities."

"Yes. I sent a sample back to Atlantis for analysis," and her eyes dart to Rodney, like this is something he should have thought of, and he *would have*, except for the entire ZPM thing, "and it's fairly harmless, though it does have some--" She stops, frowning slightly as she types, then nods at the screen, "mild psychotropic properties, along with a higher metal content than might be expected. The effect is negligible with the amount required for simple trade partner markings. I talked to the chemists--it seems to make the skin slightly more sensitive," and her thumb rubs across the side of her finger as if to illustrate, but other than that, they were unable to detect any side effects."

Sheppard leans forward. Rodney finds himself staring at Sheppard's right hand, the complex curls, the almost structure of each thin line of ink drifting down the back of his hand, lazily circling his wrist, swirling over every finger. "Right. But let's take a second and go back to the reason you're here--namely, hey, they're still calling me a god?"

Lewis rolls her eyes. "Savior. Salvation-bringer of the Light, to be precise." Another rush of typing, before she frowns, settling back against the cushions. "It's--complex."

"The part where we explain I'm *not*? Because I'm sorry, but I'm not seeing the complexity of it."

Lewis mouth curls up in an unhappy frown, painted hand pushing back a strand of blonde hair that somehow came loose from her ponytail. "I understand your discomfort, Colonel--"

"They keep offering me things!" Sheppard flushes, and Rodney tries not to smirk, because Sheppard's an accomplished tease, but women throwing themselves at him continues to bring out the worst of adolescent awkwardness in him, and at his age, he really should have gotten over that. "Dr. Lewis, it can't be that hard--"

"Their entire *society* is structured on the premise of the coming of a savior," she says sharply. "Not just their religion. There's no secular divide among the Dastorians. *Everything* filters through the priesthood, is decided by religious law. They're convinced that the tests they performed during the welcoming mark you as their chosen one."

"And if I say I'm not?" Sheppard says, deceptively light.

Lewis' mouth flattens. "Two times in their history, the Dastorians were--tricked. I can't unearth all the circumstances, but I can find the results. They declared holy war--jihad--on the people of the ones they believed tricked them."

Sheppard releases a sharp breath. "That doesn't sound good."

"It's not." Closing the laptop, Lewis leans both elbows on the surface. "When I say that their entire society is structured on this, I'm not kidding. If they believe that you've deliberately tricked them, they'll stop at nothing to eradicate you and everyone with you--and that would include Atlantis." Leaning back, Lewis frowns. "Provided we could even get everyone out. I don't know if you've noticed, but the priests are everywhere. They're not just here for worship, Colonel, or protection."

Sheppard frowns. "If I could get everyone back to Atlantis--"

"They wiped out two civilizations," Lewis says flatly. "They don't let things like distance and death rates slow them down. These are people who will willingly throw themselves in front of our guns to get to us. I don't know how they'd do it, but--" She waves her hand at the city. "Ask yourself, does this thing fly? And if they were pissed enough, would they come after Atlantis? The answer to the second question is yes. They take their mythology that seriously. They're not the Genii, Colonel. As long as they can wipe us out, it won't matter to them what they have to sacrifice."

Sheppard's on his feet, so suddenly that Rodney has to steady his laptop. "I won't pretend I'm their god or whatever indefinitely."

"I have an entire team back on Atlantis trying to find a loophole," she says. "A datastream with everything I have will be sent to Earth for Dr. Jackson to offer his opinion on. We're looking. Until then--" She shrugs. "Their technology is the most advanced we've seen, and they're friendly. Just--" She shrugs.

"Elizabeth know about this?"

Dr. Lewis nods grimly. "And she shares your reservations, but she understands the necessities involved." She would, Rodney thinks. She's a diplomat.

Sheppard's eyes flicker between the Lewis and the wall for a few brief moments, and Rodney can almost see him trying to think of a way out. Finally, he sighs, shaking his head. "All right. Keep me informed."

Lewis nods, uncoiling herself from the couch, tucking her laptop back in her bag. "The High Priest wants to do the markings immediately on your team, as well as the ones that have been brought over. I've explained that we are not in the habit--"

"If it's not dangerous, and they agree, fine," Sheppard says shortly, and Lewis, smarter than the average social scientist, nods. "I expect a report every night, Dr. Lewis."

Her mouth quirks. "So does Dr. Weir," she says. "As soon as we know, you'll know." With an inclination of the head, she motions toward the door. "Can I tell him they can proceed?"

Sheppard glances down at him, then at Teyla. Rodney sighs. "It's fine, Colonel. A little ink and a mild high in the name of not dying a brutal death."

"I do not mind," Teyla offers, unconsciously flattening her hand on her knee. Rodney finds himself doing the same thing.

"Right." Sheppard sighs. "All right, tell them to come in and get it over with."

Dr. Lewis grins. "Yes, my lord," she says, and Rodney can't help snickering at the look on Sheppard's face. Quickly, she schools her face to seriousness. "Colonel." Turning to the door, she touches the pad and outside, Rodney can see the High Priest, looking as excited as a kid at Christmas, priest minions swarming behind. "You can proceed," she says, and Rodney closes his laptop with a sigh, rubbing sweating palms dry on his knee.

When the first priest kneels before him, reaching for his hand, he hands it over, closing his eyes at the first brush, cool against his skin, and shivers.

*****

That night, Rodney dreams of flying cities in red-streaked skies, planets burning beneath them while people flee like ants, crushed before they can reach what dubious safety they can find. The gate glows the blue of an engaged wormhole, locking the runners from any hope of escape.

When he wakes up, fingers burning, he thinks that he probably shouldn't listen to Dr. Lewis' idea of bedtime stories anymore.

*****

Today is my day off and I'm *angsting* over *fiction*. Also, my tooth hurts and I can't see a dentist until Tuesday. My life? Sucks sometimes.


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I'm actually not following the problem you're having with Rodney. Maybe you're not explaining it well. If you want to try tonight, I'm willing.

If I haven't killed my cat and curled up in contented sleep first.

As someone who recently spent time writing about the breakdown and devolution of someone's thought processes and morals... Can you break Rodney's fall into small chunks, turn his slide into unreliability into a staircase instead of a sheer cliff? A little thing he does and then catches himself, then does again shortly after and *doesn't* catch himself? Or that he notices someone else doing and wonders about it, then sees something similar and accepts?

You have my full sympathies -- the slogging between plot points is usually how I gain ten thousand words and a few gray hairs.

Please don't abandon this? I love the premise and the glimpses of it.

I have nothing constructive to offer, other than a sincere hope that you do not abandon this, because I really really want to read the whole thing. A lot.

Even this little bit that you just gave us makes me fic-hyper, wanting more, needing to know what happens. And it's just and excellent idea to be begin with. So yeah. And I offer my services as cheerleader if you need it :)

http://www.rsingermanson.com/html/perfect_scene.html

I forget if I've plugged this concept to you before, but it's awesome for untangling such scene level issues.

um, this sounds like it may be the heart of your dilemma:

The problem might be in the pacing, actually--I started doubting myself and slowed it down a lot. Either pacing is instinctive to me or it just does not *happen*--and I may have screwed myself over by doubting the speed early on and slowing it down to the point that I have no idea if I'm just getting too much pointless detail that I should sacrifice to keep the story moving.

and I was wondering if you couldn't resolve the pacing issue by ignoring the pacing issue... depending on how your mind works, either going overboard with detail and going back to prune later, or writing in scenes sketchily and filling in later--whichever would work to get you jumpstarted.... And I thought miss_porcupine 's answer was a fantastic idea...

hope the problems resolve themselves, it looks like it'll be an awesome, meaty (aka plot-filled) fic...

"They keep offering me things!" Sheppard flushes, and Rodney tries not to smirk, because Sheppard's an accomplished tease, but women throwing themselves at him continues to bring out the worst of adolescent awkwardness in him, and at his age, he really should have gotten over that.

*snerk* I have no writerly advice, but the image of *Rodney* internally mocking *John's* level of suave around women... makes me giggle insanely.

*gives you cookies*

There's some wonderful advice up there, and your "escalation points" is an interesting way to look at story development. Thanks for sharing this. ::fights with stubborn and geriatric writers block::

Have you considered alternating POV? Some John, some Rodney? I'm not sure this would be a good solution at all here, it sounds like the reality(?) shift you're going for wouldn't be properly conveyed by straying from one POV, but still - another thing to consider so that you don't abandon this cool idea.

On the sore tooth front, with no other info on why it's hurting, there've been a few times I've had to wait through the weekend for a dentist appointment, so let me share what my temporary solutions. Depending on what's causing your tooth pain, you might try spraying Chloraseptic in the area, or even using a "desensitizing" toothpast such as Sensodyne?

*pets* Good luck with all of this stuff & have a good weekend.

What helps a ton with sore teeth, at least until one *can* get a dentist's appointment, is clove oil. Get some and put it on a bit of cottonwool and bite on it - it's a strong natural anaesthetic =)



It's one thing to change how a character sees the world and have them at least relatively aware of it. It's another when I'm trying to change how he sees the world, have him actively *lying*, and him being unaware why he's lying, and not *caring* that he's lying, and still making him Rodney.

Yeah, that's never going to seem normal to a reader, because they know who Rodney is, and how he's supposed to be under normal circumstances, but can you make it seem convincing to Rodney, I think that's the real question. In this situation, those hinky thought processes have to feel normal to him: that's really what you have to be able to convey. What makes it harder with Rodney than it would be with just about any other character in a similar situation is that an irrational thought process is the antithesis of the way his mind normally works. I suspect that the only possible way he'd be able to keep functioning with this sort of thing going on would be for his mind to just Not Go There every time one of those irrational reactions was set off - which makes sense of the whole forgetting after about five seconds thing, at least. Devoting as little time and attention as possible to the behaviour that gives away his changed perceptions and instead focusing on the technical stuff that allows him to function more in line with his usual thought processes would make sense as a sort of subconscious coping mechanism, and would reinforce for the reader that he's still Rodney while at the same time serve to highlight the out of character elements of his behaviour...

Not sure if any of this is helpful at all: this is more just me thinking out loud! It's an interesting problem that I really hope you manage to solve, because I'd love to read all of this story.

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