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Author Topic: Writing a Trial Most Acceptable  (Read 1879 times)


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Writing a Trial Most Acceptable
« on: 21 September 2022, 20:35:45 »
I finished up "trial" while in class, and for the class, we had to do a write-up on how we wrote the story: what were our influences, where we were at mentally, etc. Just, whatever drove you to put THOSE specific words on the paper.
So- instead of writing up a WHOLE NEW POST, I figured I'd just copy/paste those in, and then put my 2022 thoughts into the next post.
Revision Statement: A Trial Most Acceptable
   Whoo.  This so-called revision turned into a full-on rewrite.  I put a little about this on my Facebook, but this story really begins in a sandy land far away…
   I started outlining “Trial” in Iraq in 2010.  At the time, my concept was a series of smaller, shorter vignettes.  I wanted to tell the battle from multiple POVs, about a dozen or so, some of whom wouldn’t survive- my original drafts contained such sequences, up through the first packet of this semester.
   It just didn’t flow.  I wrote about seven pages total that year, and for the next seven years, I tinkered with them.  I had an outline, I had an idea… but nothing.  I managed to sneak in a reference to the idea when I wrote a few snippets in a sourcebook (sidebar- top paragraph, right column) in 2011, but that was it.  I always meant to come back to it, but never had an opportunity.
   Deciding to work on it this semester was a risk, I knew, because I had been chasing this story for 7 years.  I had to make it work, for a grade; but, usually, very little ever comes out of forcing a story.  I went for it anyways.  I started grinding away on it in late December, and, predictably, it sucked.  It just wasn’t coming together well, I didn’t like the characters, but I pushed ahead anyway.  I had to travel to Fort Bliss, TX, in El Paso the week it was due, and I spent the morning that I was to fly home, the turn-in date, trying to finish it.  I simply was pushing too hard in a direction that wasn’t working: I submitted about, oh, twelve pages out of twenty-five I had actually written: I liked the story, but it just wasn’t working.
   The moment I hit send is really the moment I began revising “Trial.”  After I uploaded it, I opened a Coke Zero, walked around the hotel room for a moment to stretch, and—seeing as I had another hour or so before I had to mosey over to the airport—I decided to relook over my notes.  And I instantly saw something that would have made the story better, and I kicked myself for not seeing it earlier.
   So, that was the moment I began revising “Trial,” and the revisions of this story generally break down into three main categories: feedback, research, and blind-dumb luck.

     The thing I had discovered in my notes was an idea to make the Clan Hell’s Horses cluster angry.  Just outraged.  This takes a little explaining: in the BattleTech universe, the Star League fell in about 2788 after a civil war, and 90% of the remaining army left known space to develop into what are known as “The Clans.”  The antagonists of this story are a unit that remained behind, one of the 10%.  In my original draft, they treat each other professionally, like knights of the battlefield: two brother units, separated after a thousand years that find themselves on opposite sides of a war.  What if, instead, they hated each other?  Hated the idea of what the other had become?  That was my note (paraphrased) and it was perfect.
   There’s no drama in knights of the battlefield.  There’s no drama in chivalry, there’s no drama in polite conversation after a vicious battle- well, sure, there can be, there’s a dichotomy there worth exploring, and some BattleTech authors have very successfully written those stories: but it wasn’t my goal.  It was boring and dull and who cares about these guys?
   But anger? Disgust?  Now, these are emotions that can infuse a story with drama.  My final sequence was for Battle Armored troops (two-meter tall people wearing three-meter tall armor) pulling an enemy MechWarrior from her cockpit as the cease fire is called, and they give her medical treatment.
   What if, I asked myself, they want to kill her anyways?  What if the liaison has to beg for the enemy’s life, convince the Clan that killing helpless troops isn’t the path of honor?  Suddenly, a lifeless scene became the climax of the book.  This is major revision point one: Kendra, the liaison, begging for the Star Colonel to spare the life of a defenseless foe.
   Major revision point 2 is Kendra herself.  As I mentioned, the original story was going to be a series of POVs, one of which was an Inner Sphere liaison attached to the Cluster: for the record – in my earliest outlines – it was a captured medical officer, but that never came together and was quickly scrapped.  In my packet 1 submission, she was in the background, a feisty, cocksure captain that provided a sounding board to the Colonel to explain things to the reader, essentially acting as Robin from the early days of Batman comics.  “well, Robin ole’ chum, we have to head to the bank because that was the next clue.”
   It worked, despite my clumsiness of it.  The Star Colonel was the protagonist, and I was deliberately trying to write about the Colonel because I’ve written a lot of BattleTech fiction from a woman’s POV.  I was forcing myself to write from a clumsy POV because of some misguided sense of balance, I guess, and because I didn’t really have a feel for Kendra yet.
   Neither my teacher nor my workshop partner liked my protagonist, they both liked Kendra more.  I did, too, as I said, so it wasn’t hard at all for them to convince me that I needed a full on POV shift.  This blended perfectly with my epiphany from above: why tell the story from the Star Colonel’s POV when I could tell it from the liaison, who actually is the one begging for mercy?  An already improved climatic scene would be even more dramatic.
   I would like to point out, again, I had already written twenty-five pages or so.  If I had realized how drastic a change this would entail, I might have said “screw it, I’ll write a new story.”  Moving on…
   The final note about feedback was that both readers liked Hocut, the Protomech commander behind enemy lines.  They wanted to see more of him—which was not a problem, because I knew how many more scenes he had—but there was a suggestion to show more of the “god complex.”  This suggestion, revision point 3, I realized would also add drama to a scene the readers hadn’t seen yet.  When Hocut conducts his attacks, I had written a scene of him stopping a young warrior from massacring a woman providing first aid to another fallen enemy.  By the “rules” of the fight, medics are off-limits.  The young warrior protests “she’s not a medic,” but Hocut says, “she is providing treatment, and that is close enough for troops of honor."  I had it as a teachable moment, where Hocut—old for a Clan soldier—is instructing younger soldiers on battlefield etiquette.
   The “god complex,” the mysterious disease that makes Clan pilots go crazy, I realized, would fit so much better in that scene after receiving the feedback.  Why make it a young soldier learning the rules of war when I could have it a crazy soldier about to commit a massacre?  It’s not fully how I ended up writing the scene, but the feedback sparked my imagination and led to it being a richer, tenser standoff.  It also led to a moment in the climax that I’ll explain in “blind dumb luck.”
   This is a quick but important part.  I had taken a month off from this story, partly in frustration because it wasn’t coming together, and party because a new script writing program had appeared on Amazon that I felt I simply had to try out.  But a lot of it was I really didn’t know where this new story was going.  I’d rewritten most of Hocut’s scenes –except the final climax, again – but I had only started tinkering with Kendra’s story.
   I reread an article I had read before , about the difficulty many authors have in establishing a female POV in sci-fi, and swore.  I had only just started rewriting the story, and was only about three or five pages into Kendra’s new story, but still: I opened my current draft of “Trial” with some dread, and reread what I had written. 
   Almost everything the article discussed, I had done.  She had no personality, except as a foil for the Star Colonel.  I hadn’t established any character, any driving motivation, nothing.  I was pretty much kicking myself at that point for being so focused on finishing the story I had overlooked everything the feedback had said.  “Show us more of Kendra,” and all I had done was show more of the Star Colonel, but from her POV.
   I sat, drank a little, and thought it out.  What drives Kendra?  What drives a captain that was given a BattleMech by her aunt?  What drives her to succeed?  Why did she leave her Podunk world with her Jackal to fight light years away?
   My mind stumbled, and I reran my thoughts.  Why would a captain, with a Jackal given to her by her aunt… -record scratch-
   Given. To. Her. Sometimes, you just get lucky.

   Blind, dumb luck:
   I had picked Kendra’s ride because it was “cool.”  I needed a light BattleMech, and I thought the Jackal-1579 variant, with its PPC capacitor, was neat. No other reason.  Now, as that Jackal is built in a totally different nation, I needed a throw-away idea on how Kendra had gotten her hands on one.  “Eh, her aunt works at VEST, and she sent it to Kendra. Done-and-done,” was my initial draft.
   Suddenly, this idea became critical.  The character I had seen and written and conceived as a cocksure, arrogant and supremely skilled warrior was boring.  But, with my eyes opened by the article, a throw away origin became the driving force behind Kendra’s character.  She doesn’t believe in herself, she was given a BattleMech and isn’t sure she’s earned it… all sorts of ideas and concepts flew through me, and I knew I had solved the POV problem.  Eventually, it jelled into “I have a secret,” and it came back to her origin: Kendra was given a BattleMech, not assigned one.  MechWarriors are assigned BattleMechs after the complete the academy- where did Kendra go?  This secret, this shame, this drive to prove herself so no one digs too deep into her record and realizes she never attended the academy: it was the hook I was looking for, the secret to Kendra’s POV, and I’d stumbled across it because “it looked cool.”
   It wasn’t the only problem with the story that “coolness” would fix.
   The story was finally coming together.  I was rewriting every page of the story- of the original twenty-five pages, I rewrote about 15, and about five of them twice.  It was developing into a nice “coming of age” story for Kendra- I had dropped her age a few years, her rank by two grades, and her cockiness by about a thousand.  But I still had one issue- over the course of the story, Kendra develops from a young lieutenant that the Star Colonel is going to fire to the voice of reason that stops him from killing the helpless.  But she didn’t have that… moment.  Oh, she was coming along fine as a liaison, as a logistician, and as a staff weenie.  But I hadn’t found that defining point where the Clan—who hold the ability to fight above all other attributes—would see her as equal.
   I’d written in a throw-away line about setting up a picket line to hold back Capellan “stealth lances,” and I was looking in the techmanuals for some infantry to refer too, and I saw a neat looking image in the Capellan section.  That’s neat.  I should totally write them in… holy crap, I should TOTALLY write them in!
   Writing in an attack by these assassins solved a number of problems: the first was, in a technical sense, I had written in several “Chekhov guns.”  One of them was mentioning the sneaky Capellan units, but another was Kendra’s fighting abilities.  I described her as an elite-level athlete with blackbelts in three martial arts and… I left it at that.  Having a fight against assassins both wrapped up those two threads, and gave her the moment I needed.  The moment where she, despite herself and her pauper origins, proves to the Clan Cluster she is a warrior to be reckoned with, and eventually, listened too.  Again: another plot problem solved by dumb luck, stumbling across something that “looks cool” and having it pay off in the end.
   The final piece of dumb luck fed back into the God Complex issue.  In my initial draft, during the Clan’s final attack, a bomb from a Delta fighter happens to hit an ammo crate, which sets off another, and finally results in a DropShip exploding.  This explosion is, really, what forces the Capellans to concede the fight and ask for a cease fire.  The scene felt okay, but I was never in love with it.
   Rewriting the story, when I got back to the climax, I knew how to fix it.  I had already been building up, through the scenes—including the almost-murder-of-the-not-medic I mentioned earlier—that Collin was suffering from the God Complex.  A point commander suffering from it would not, I realized, sit idly by and let Delta Trinary gain all the glory of destroying the Dropships.  The lucky bombing attack changed into a suicidal charge by Collin and his point- drive to madness by disease, he attacks the Overlord-class dropship and it’s Collin, attacking an ammunition hauler on the ramp, that destroys the DropShip and inadvertently becomes a posthumous hero by driving the Capellans to the table.  Again, I had been building his madness up to something, and it wasn’t until I hit the climax when I realized how perfect a resolution I had inadvertently created for myself.
   My final note is about the story ending.  As I was working on the final scene, I was keeping in mind Moody’s guidance from last semester: “look a paragraph up, you’ve probably already finished the story.”  I had planned the final scene to end a particular way, a few paragraphs after the Duchess tells Kendra and the Star Colonel “good job.”  But once I wrote that, I leaned back and thought about it.  No, I said, there it is.  That’s the line that would be a couple paragraphs up.  That’s the ending, right there.
And I’m happy with it, because it works.  It all works, and while this story is worlds apart from the series of vignettes I had originally seen it as, it feels right.  More than that, it feels cohesive, and I can only hope that a reader will feel that it was originally conceived in this fashion, instead of the series of happy accidents that actually brought it all about. 


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Re: Writing a Trial Most Acceptable
« Reply #1 on: 21 September 2022, 20:58:01 »
Now, the 2022 addendum:
As Phil mentioned in Shrapnel 10's intro, he received it in 2017, but there was simply nowhere to put it until the double-sized issue.  When he reread it, he immediately saw some flaws in how I'd written the Clans: this was YEARS ago, and I didn't know Clans as well as i do now.  Simple mistakes, but annoying ones.

MORE importantly, when I wrote the EI system, his note came back "this reads like mini-battlemechs.  Reread the section in the sourcebook and make it different."  and I only had about a week. ;-P
I pounded my head into the desk for a few days- I had the rest revised, but how to tweak the EI escaped me until I decided to go all in, and really sci-fi it up.

Battletech is ACTUALLY light on "speculative" sci-fi elements.  Seriously- I know that sounds funny in a universe full of mechs and jumpships and such, but those are just the TOOLS.  Speculative sci-fi is that WILD stuff, the stuff that looks at that "indistinguishable from magic" border between tech and understanding in its rear-view mirror, and Battletech is actually pretty light on that.
So, i went all in, figuring if I go to far, someone would real me back in.  And they didn't, so, I'm super happy that Protomech pilots are now REALLY unique, they stand apart in fiction from even other Clanners, like Elementals or MechWarriors, who might have EI.

Hmm, what else?  i tweaked a few of the names to make them Kickstarter names - I tossed back and forth on adding Wendigo because we (writers) want to give you (the fans) your money's worth: when you see YOUR KS Character come up, we hope we do you proud.  Sure, a name check gets you into the universe, but we (writers) want to do right by you.  So, killing wendigo- was I doing right by the backer?  I think so and hope so: it was the right character for this story, and, hey, not many backers will go out taking out an Overlord by themselves! :-)

let's see- Phil also asked that I flesh out the paragraph about the Jihad, since many shrapnel readers are new to the universe and might not know the lore; he asked I kinda close out Amanda's story (he ALSO dug up the term "coregn" from the old FM: CC/WC books, which is AWESOME!) and Kendra and Bethany: i did Amanda's, but NOT Kendra's love life because I left a few nuggets in here for a sequel: after tinkering with this story for over a decade, i know EXACTLY what happens to the 3rd Cole Harbour Support Battalion, and I hope to park my butt and write it "soon." ;-P

Deep cuts in here include the Bowman (which, i'm not sure has ever been name checked) and the PO:HV, which are the weird tanks that ambush Epsilon, and that Amanda is assigned.  Check Sarna or your print copy of TRO:Prototypes for that!  Also, and this is SUPER ESOTERIC, when tanks take damage, different fluids burn with different smoke: a well trained (or experienced) mechanic can see what color smoke a tank is billowing and know exactly what's wrong with it.
When Kendra comes up to the top of the hill and various things are burning different colors: yes, it's COOL, but old M1 mechanics can also tell you what's wrong with them.  ;)

Overall, I hope everyone likes the story as much as I enjoyed writing it, and, if you're a new -or thinking of becoming- writer and you take NOTHING else away from my posts, take the timeline to heart: TWELVE. YEARS.
It took twelve years and, essentially, multiple full-on revisions to get the story right and then get it into print.  but if -IIII- can, so can you.  believe in your work, put your butt in the seat, and just TYPE.

Sometimes, you'll just get lucky.  :)