#148: Characters Succeed

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #148, on the subject of Characters Succeed.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have published my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than those for the previous novel, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse)–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is now also a new section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole),
  2. #78:  Novel Fears (which continued with coverage of chapters 10 through 18),
  3. #82:  Novel Developments (which continued with coverage of chapters 19 through 27),
  4. #86:  Novel Conflicts (which continued with coverage of chapters 28 through 36),
  5. #89:  Novel Confrontations (coverage of chapters 37 through 45),
  6. #91:  Novel Mysteries (coverage of chapters 46 through 54),
  7. #94:  Novel Meetings (coverage of chapters 55 through 63),
  8. #100:  Novel Settling (coverage of chapters 64 through 72),
  9. #104:  Novel Learning (coverage of chapters 73 through 81),
  10. #110:  Character Redirects (chapters 82 through 90),
  11. #113:  Character Movements (chapters 91 through 99),
  12. #116:  Character Missions (100 through 108),
  13. #119:  Character Projects (109 through 117),
  14. #122:  Character Partings (118 through 126),
  15. #128:  Character Gatherings (127 through 135),
  16. #134:  Versers In Space (136 through 144),
  17. #142:  Characters Unite (145 through 153).

This picks up from there, and finishes the last nine chapters.


History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 154, Brown 52

Derek’s darts have the twin problems (as story issues) that they are too effective and very limited.  I needed to prevent him from using them all in the upcoming battle without making it seem as if he was being stupid about his weapon choices.  Having the pack frame get caught in the hatch (and I have had pack frames catch in car doors) created a tense scene and let me take away the darts to be returned in the future.  I had not yet worked out how they would be returned to him, but I knew by this point what was happening to him after this, and that eventually he would be able to track his lost gear by the scriff sense.

Chapter 155, Kondor 94

I realized I was going to need another fight, so I needed a reason for there to be lizards on the bridge.  At this point, it was simple to prefigure the independent ventilation system, which meant that these lizards would not yet smell the meat in the galley.

Joe is stuck with his thoughts for a few minutes while Derek attempts to unlock a door.  In those few minutes he realizes just how very much the present situation seems planned, that he and Derek and Lauren all seem to have arrived in anticipation of a need only they could meet.  He tries to find another explanation, but apart from the wildest of coincidences he can’t really find one.

Chapter 156, Hastings 94

The use of the force shield limits them in two ways.  One is that it takes Lauren out of the combat; the other is that Joe can only shoot through the hole in the shield.  It gives me a different combat situation.

It also enabled me to kill a lot of lizards without doing too much description:  Lauren is my viewpoint character here, and she has her eyes closed to concentrate on making sure the shield holds.  Thus I can say that they’re shooting, and lizards are dying, and I don’t have to be more specific than that.

I’m not entirely certain what would cause a psionic shield to collapse in play, but the rules allow them to be designed in a variety of ways, and one of them would be that an impact in excess of a certain level would collapse it and rebound to the user.

This also let me intensify the combat situation while keeping Lauren out of it another couple minutes.  I knew once she was active, she would be taking the spotlight, and I wanted it to be about more than “Lauren kills a lot of creatures with a bit of help from Joe and Derek.”

Chapter 157, Brown 53

Although this chapter is in one sense about Derek facing a monster (something like the one Bob Slade faced at the end of the first book), it is also about Derek’s feelings about Lauren.  At the beginning, we see his reaction to her fall—much as a child would run to his stricken mother, or perhaps a close friend would run to a fallen friend.  There is nothing he can do for her; he has no medical training beyond what Joe taught him (the most important thing for Joe:  how to make antibiotics in a primitive world).  He recognizes that his only choice at this point is to fight the creatures.  Then as the chapter ends and Lauren’s guns echo in the room, Derek’s confidence in her surfaces:  he doesn’t think “now we have a chance;” he thinks, “we’ll make it now.”

The shorter chapters through this section gave something of a feeling of events happening swiftly.

Chapter 158, Kondor 95

As I bring Lauren back into the fight, I present her through the eyes of her companions.  She probably has a blinding headache at this point, but they don’t see that; they see her in motion, doing what she does in a fight.

She shoots it, then she leaps toward it, shoots again into its back in the middle of her flip, slams her weight onto its back, shoots again into its back, and leaps into the air before it can react.

Joe’s confidence in Lauren is not at the same level as Derek’s—he thinks “They had a chance now.”  She’s a colleague, and actually he’s never seen her fight (although Derek has not seen much of that either, only her teaching him to fight).

The trick with designing monsters always winds up that the big ones are easier to hit, but they have to be built to take more damage.  Joe’s bullets will often tear through the small ones; on the large ones, sometimes even Lauren’s .50 caliber shots lodge in its skin or do minimal damage in its thick fat and muscle.  Thus it takes a lot to kill the big one, even though it’s a lot easier to hit it.

Counting bullets is something that has to be done in game, and also in the story.  I know how many loads fit in those revolvers, so I have to track them so she doesn’t fire the gun more times than possible.  (I might have learned that from an old Encyclopedia Brown story where in recounting what happened the sole survivor of a gunfight gave himself one too many shots, and so was arrested because instead of a hero that killed the entire gang he must have been a member of the gang.)

Joe’s understanding of creature behavior lets him react before the creature actually strikes, because he anticipates it.  Thus he already has his pistol drawn when the monster moves.

Chapter 159, Hastings 95

The question concerning whether Derek was really “older” is an intriguing one in any situation in which you have an ageless child.  How much of our maturity is strictly experience and how much is actual change in our bodies?

I’m not certain when I decided that Derek would use the self-destruct on the ship, but I needed to think through an explanation for why it was not a problem for all the pieces of the ship to continue pretty much on course for the station without any serious fear of danger, but it would be a problem for the ship itself to do so.  The combination of smaller pieces with the shut down of the ship defenses made it make sense.

It is Joe who offers what we might call the “Christian” solution:  we are going to give our lives to save others.  It was simple for Lauren to confirm that, once she stopped to consider it.

Chapter 160, Brown 54

I needed a reason why the team couldn’t return to the habitat.  I could have said simply that the magic failed—it was supposed to be a low-magic world—but I wanted something the reader would find “logical”.  The fact that the magic required her to walk into the mist and out again gave me an opportunity:  take away her ability to walk.

It also made sense, in a way, that both Lauren and Joe would be looking up.  Although the creatures had been spread around the room, their experience had suggested that they liked to swoop down from above.  Thus the idea of one emerging from a floor vent and catching them unprepared had merit.

Again, Joe has the military reaction, quickly finding the problem and engaging the solution, while Derek is caught off guard.

Lauren is wearing her leggings, but they’re chain leggings, and the jaw will push the chain into her flesh.  So it’s not as bad as it might have been—it possibly could have severed her leg without that protection—but it’s still bad.

As I recall, I had created the comfort bubble in part with this moment in view, and I had gone back and mentioned its use several times so that the reader would remember that Lauren has this spell that creates a comfortable environment inside a dome.  I observe that for it to work, it would have to be a hollow sphere (or at least a closed hemisphere).  Thus it could work in the worst of environments, and outer space is one of those.  Of course, I knew it was going to work here; Lauren is completely surprised that it does.

Derek’s musings about considering what you want in a world are perhaps the lesson of this book.  It is easy to be unhappy with the way the world is; one need only look at the things that didn’t work the way you wanted.  People who say “count your blessings” probably mean something more like “look at the good things, the things that are the way you really wanted them.”  If you gave real thought to what you want in life, you are in a better position to assess how much of what you have is what you wanted.

Lauren’s story really spans the first three books.  It focuses on her fight against the vampires.  Even here, she is preparing for that, learning how to be part of a team and perhaps how to lead it, honing her combat skills in real battles.  She is also training Derek, as she trained Bethany, both of whom will be fighting with her in those final battles.  She in a sense recognizes it:  she left Tubrok alive and Merlin trapped.  She does not know the details of those things, but she wants them resolved.

Lauren’s smile is because Joe called the comfort bubble a “magic” bubble—she’s wearing him down.  Of course, he doesn’t really think of it as “magic”; he assumes it is a mind trick.

Chapter 161, Kondor 96

The comfort bubble is not a force wall, per se.  Derek or Joe could float out through the wall.  They are at the moment all moving the same direction at the same speed, but if they move around too much they could begin to drift apart, and it would be difficult to draw themselves back together.  So Lauren holds their sleeves.

All three characters have the problem that they have been separated from some of their equipment, possibly by distances that defy planetary dimensions.  Lauren is attempting to give her rod and Derek’s darts sufficient momentum in the right direction to close the gap so these can be found in the next world, and she’s keeping them alive as they hurtle toward the space station so that she and Joe are getting closer to the gear they left there (and where Derek left his bicycle), but all of them will have some hunting to do when they reach their next worlds.

Joe has had to consider Lauren’s suggestion that they don’t really know they will go to another universe every time; they only know that they have never met anyone who didn’t.  Despite his seeming immortality, he realizes that he very well might still be mortal, and this could be the end.

Joe in essence tricks Lauren into letting him render her unconscious, to save her the pain of death by vacuum.  It also was needed for me to push her back, credibly, to the point that she arrives in the next world unconscious and awakens.  I had let her move forward on that “step” scale, and had to ratchet her back before the fifth book, so I used this to do it.

Derek did have that conversation with Lauren once, about how dying was painful but then he was fine, and so he goes through the pain knowing that he will come out fine on the other end.  It impresses Joe, but it’s simply Derek’s experience.

Joe should have realized an inconsistency in his ideas.  If Lauren is maintaining the comfort bubble by thought, when he renders her unconscious it ought to collapse.  However, not only does he do so without hesitating, not considering the effect it would be likely to have, he also fails to recognize after the fact that the bubble continues.  But it doesn’t continue that long.

I had stretched out Lauren’s efforts to draw her rod and Derek’s darts toward them for an extended time specifically so that it would be credible for the comfort bubble to burst at this point.  It always lasts her at least an hour, and so they have been hurtling toward the station at least that long, maybe longer, and the lost objects are also moving toward them for a while before they die.

The description of death by vacuum is brief but hopefully accurate.

Chapter 162, Brown 55

As I did with Joe at the end of the first book, I here give what happens next to Derek.  I left it uncertain, though, whether he had been rescued in space and was in some kind of healing tank or whether this was some new experience in another universe.  However, I knew what had happened, where he was, what was going to happen next; I just didn’t want him (or the reader) to know.

I dropped one point that was entirely inconsistent with the healing tanks theory, and a few others that pointed away from it.  I was going to continue to play with the healing tanks theory in the next book.  That is, of course, where his actual situation is revealed—but not too quickly.

This concludes the behind the writings look at Old Verses New.  A decision about the release of the third novel, For Better or Worse, is still pending, and should be discussed in the next mark Joseph “young” web log post tomorrow.

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