Backwards Compatible – Part 5: All Stop

After an incredible start, I settled into getting the characters on the move towards their goal. While there were stopovers on their journey, with a short action sequence on the planet Phoebus, I was already planning the book’s first major combat sequence.  It was going to involve both the spacer/Navy types aboard the Hornet and the Marines doing what they do best.  Everybody needed to have a moment where they did their part.

There were a few things I wanted out of this extended combat scene besides just some Michael Bay-esque ‘splosions. First, I wanted the main character, Coeur D’Esprit, to go up against someone who was as good or better than she was. In the previous books, Coeur’s plans and strategies always seemed to work exactly the way she wanted them to, and it seemed that her enemies were never truly up to the challenge. Since I was at the helm this time, I wanted her to go up against someone competent. To me, the true test of a military commander is when their best-laid plans completely unravel and they have to come up with something else on the fly.

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I love it when a plan comes together…and then goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Second, I wanted the aftermath of the battle to tear team the apart. I wanted it to be a Pyrrhic victory which left the characters with more questions than answers and more mental scars than physical ones.  There needed to be a little dissension in the ranks, some internal strife, and this sequence was going to pry those cracks in the team wide open.

The result was the assault on the Lambda-3 asteroid base. The Hornet, which is a converted trade ship, must duel it out in space with a mysterious warship while the Marines confront enemy forces inside the asteroid itself.  My chapters tend to be about 20-30 pages, on average. This sequence, found in Chapter 7, was originally 96 pages. Even when I broke it up into two chapters, those two are still the longest of the book.

I managed to hit all the points I wanted to achieve. We had the Ithklur Marines disobeying orders and abandoning comrades in the field. We had Coeur freeze up when it seemed that she had been outfoxed by her opponent. Everyone is stunned when it is revealed who the enemy actually is (if you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it for you).  This becomes a central factor in the disintegration of the most important romantic relationship in the book, Dropkick and Snapshot.

So, mission accomplished.  The characters won, but aren’t exactly happy about it. I briefly left the crew of the Hornet and picked up on another storyline for a chapter. Things had become pretty intense, so it was necessary to have a ‘cooling off’ period.

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What he said.

When I came back to the main characters, things had gone from bad to worse. Trusts have been broken. People are isolating themselves and dealing with their own mental demons.  The good doctor, Orit Takagawa (remember her from the Prologue?) is tending to a Hiver patient. The alien had been horribly treated and tortured by its captors. It likely possesses information that would be vital to the Reformation Coalition, but now it may never regain consciousness.

As she sits in bedside vigil over the Hiver, she is strongly reminded of the loss of her friend, Cicero, a loss that carries with it a crippling emotional impact. During this scene, I wrote this line:

“For several moments she grappled with untangling the knot of emotions that swirled around her head like a galaxy of pain.”

The next line after that is simply the sound effect of : “Bleep, Bleep.” Orit’s instruments are letting her know her patient is waking up.

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We even have the machine that goes ping!

There was about seven months separating those two lines. As soon as I finished the ‘galaxy of pain’ line, I was hit by perhaps the worst case of writer’s block I’ve ever had. I suddenly looked up and thought to myself, “Now what?” I tried moving forward dozens of times, but something just wasn’t right. Nothing worked to my satisfaction. I would sit there at my desk, hands on the keyboard, and it felt like I was trying to push through a brick wall.

After months of trying and failing to push the story forward, I resolved that the best thing to do was to move forward with the Hiver waking up. There had been a whole other interlude I kept trying to put in there before that happened, but apparently my muse wasn’t having any of it.

Looking back, it seems like I probably should have arrived at that solution a heck of a lot sooner. Live and learn, right? Even today, when I happen to read that scene, I always draw a line in the margins between those two lines to remind me of the vast time gap there, what caused it, and how I overcame it.

Next up, “Enter the Bad Guy.”

[Check out the Backwards Mask on Kindle.]

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