Nightwind Follow-Up, Chapters 14-15

Chapter 14 of Nightwind is an interesting chapter. It’s interesting in that it beautifully illustrates a whole shitload of things to not do while writing. The core incompetency here is in the old saw of “show, don’t tell.”

So I have four important captains in this world: David Anderson, Elizabeth Turner, Robert Hunt, and Horatio Semmes. Two of those captains are off doing stuff that moves the plot forward while Turner and Hunt are playing the role of Greek Chorus. So what do I have the Greek Chorus do? Why they sit around and debate the relative skill levels of the two captains who are out doing shit.

I have come to realize exactly why one of the biggest problems plaguing poorly written books is the “tell, don’t show” problem. It’s because Anderson and Semmes are just doing what the plot requires them to do. I need you, as a reader, to understand why Anderson makes the decision to not return to Earth after finding out the entire planet appears to be descending into chaos. I need you, as a reader, to believe that Semmes is actually an extremely competent commander even though he just accidentally blew up the moon. As a bonus I also need to explain to you how the current captain of the Dragon just up and decided to go all Benedict Arnold.

A proper appreciation of plot and characterization would have done work here. I could paint Anderson as an explorer who can’t contain himself. I could paint him as a tyrant who wants to blaze his own trail. I could paint him as an obsessive who just won’t let a mystery go away and is totally going to Columbo the hell out of the Joshans. Or I could have two other characters describe him as aloof. Because obviously an aloof person would see that Rome has been nuked and just keep going on to do whatever. At this point there’s absolutely no excuse for Anderson and the Nightwind to be anywhere but Earth. At the very least there’s absolutely no excuse for him to have not sent back a message reading, “Hey, the Joshans say it was some pirates, please advise.” Then when he gets no response to a direct query he’d have to decide what to do.

Semmes is a different case. He’s a deeply principled, flamboyant eccentric living in a world that has no room for eccentrics and no notion of the flamboyant. He’s also the character who ends up carrying a disproportionate amount of the plot. So imagine this in the context of, say, Star Trek the Next Generation introducing Captain Jack Harkness as a series regular in charge of a Federation starship that regularly crosses paths with the Enterprise. While the Star Trek universe is big enough and varied enough to have room for a flamboyant, extravagant character like Captain Jack we’ve seen absolutely no proof that Starfleet has room for him. He might have been okay as a contemporary of James T Kirk but by the time TNG rolls around Starfleet has pretty much replaced the brash adventurers with dour, logical professionals.

So why does Earth Command keep Horatio Semmes around? Because he’s really good at, y’know, stuff. And how do we know that? Because Turner and Hunt just told us. But didn’t he just blow up the moon? Yes. But it was totally an accident.

Also, why is it that we care about Turner and Hunt’s opinions? I’ll, um, I’ll get back to you on that one.

Chapter 15 is a different sort of piece. It’s just one of those, “Let’s have everyone talk to develop the characters,” thing. Overall it’s fine. I’m okay with the interplay between Anderson and Gregory.

There is one interesting verbal tic that I had at the time that annoys me in this chapter now. I was obsessed with avoiding repetitive writing at the time. So in one line I’d refer to Anderson as “Anderson,” in another as “David,” and in the next as, “The captain.” I’m surprised I didn’t get around to calling him, “The tall, brown-haired man in the captain’s uniform.”

There’s some attempt at worldbuilding here. I still kinda like the idea of discussing how the Joshans named their stars. It’s an interesting point of conversation about what to make of cultures that still use their old legends to name things. I didn’t realize the extent to which it could create an interesting conversation, though, and just kind of left it hanging.

One of the big problems here was that I hadn’t really bothered to figure out what the Joshans were really like. I needed a device to allow me to send Nightwind off on its pointless and improperly justified task without having to account for the fact that I had no idea where any star systems were outside of the few I’d already mentioned by name. There’s also the fact that the Conduit Drive obviously requires careful navigation. How, exactly, is Nightwind supposed to get anywhere without help? I would imagine it’s possible to figure out a lot of that sort of thing based on what we know now. But it seems like something that would take a ton of math and time.

This is an interesting dilemma, too. The Joshans have a vast library of star locations and probably know where most of the best navigation points are. This seems like a major strategic advantage. Why would they just give it away?

Overall a decent chapter with a major mechanical flaw and a serious lack of realization of scope.

Also, we’re now at a really interesting point of departure for this project. There is nothing I can think of in the original book that matches up with where the rewrite is going. The overall plot is still similar, but the lessons I’ve taken from looking at the first 15 chapters have thoroughly convinced me that I was doing a lot of things wrong. Moreover, the things I realized I was doing wrong gave me clues about what to do right. From here on out the lessons aren’t nearly as 1:1 as they’ve been. I don’t know what, if anything, that means. It’s just interesting.

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