From beyond the grave...RAH still teaches!
A couple of years ago, my buddy Nate started writing a zombie novel. I read the first couple of chapters. They were pretty cool, but, then, Nate's a decent writer and let's face it, zombie stories practically write themselves. They seem to combine two very seductive archetypes -- The End Of The World As We Know It, and monsters which look vaguely human, that can turn you (or people you know) into monsters, too.
So you got your apocalypse and you got your walking dead and it's like, whoa, dude, you got your peanut butter on my chocolate! And it tastes GREAT!!!
So, anyway, last week there was no one else in the house so I sat down and started idly typing on a zombie story of my own. Unlike most zombie stories, though, mine was not set in the present day, but in a hopefully reasonably plausible near future, and it did not concern normal everyday people, but, rather, a couple of deadly as hell secret agent types who were accompanying some supergenius government scientist to a covert symposium when, literally, all hell broke loose.
Not your typical zombie apocalypse tale, certainly. But I've been having fun spewing it onto my screen.
Then, a few days ago, I started rereading Robert A. Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS... not the 'new', uncut edition that was put out a few years after RAH's death, but the original Signet paperback version that is (in my opinion) vastly superior to it, due to the original publisher insisting that Heinlein cut 25,000 words from his sprawling 100,000 word long original. (I've read some stuff that indicates that Heinlein resented the necessity of doing this -- something about him grousing that "they want the Heinlein name but don't want to bother with a Heinlein story"... but in GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE, Heinlein himself seems to make clear that whenever he finished a first draft, he always went in and cut it back down to a more manageable size as part of his creative process. But maybe it pissed him off to do it, I don't know. All I do know is, the 75,000 word version of PUPPET MASTERS is a leaner, meaner version that moves at hyperspeed and never wastes a word, while the longer version wanders at times, greatly diluting the emotional impact of the book.)
And I realized that, without even meaning to, I had essentially set up my zombie story to closely parallel THE PUPPET MASTERS.
So, what the hell. I've decided to roll with it. I'm going to call the damn thing THE FEAR MASTERS. I got about 4,000 words into it, and while I was enjoying the typing immensely, it occurred to me around that point that it seemed much shallower of affect than PUPPET MASTERS is.
Now that could be because, obviously, I ain't no Heinlein, but when I started rereading PUPPET MASTERS closely, trying to figure out what was up, I realized that Heinlein is at pains to actually set his narrative in a complex world populated with dozens, if not hundreds, of minor bit parts doing credible, mundane bits of business. I'm not talking about Sam, Mary, and the Old Man, now, or even bit parts that get actual dialogue like Sam's nurse and occasional supporting secret agents like Davidson and Jarvis.
No, I mean people like the guy in the fruit-and-bookstand that Sam tips his hat to as he's going to work, or a random cabbie, or an old maid secretary. Somehow, with a few colorful, evocative phrases, Heinlein makes these characters vivid and three dimensional, instead of just bits of background scenery, and by populating his backdrop with these very quick but vividly evoked character sketches, he injects an enormous amount of plausibility into his fictional worlds.
Having realized that, I also realized that maybe one reason my own narrative seemed so flat was that it concerned itself with only three characters, who started out in one isolated setting and who were, over the course of the plot, pretty much going to move from one exotic 'set' to another, without ever demonstrating any kind of interaction with any sort of complex, mundane society around them.
So I went back and added a few hundred more words of this and that, and I think the thing is working much better now.
Although maybe I've just added fluff that a good editor would cut, I don't know.
I'm at around 12,000 words now, and have a good if still unfocused idea where the book is going... but I always do at this point in any story, and they rarely end up where I think they're going to.
Still, I generally enjoy getting there.
If I ever finish this thing, I'll post it somewhere and let people know.