Building a perfect World. Part Two.

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We’re continuing our brief look at the structure of my novel, Ribbonworld.

If you missed part one, you can read it by clicking HERE (opens in new window).

Last time. I set up the plot and the location in broad terms. I had a murder and a conspiracy on a planet that was hostile to humanity. The next thing is to decide what the hero’s reaction to finding the body is.

Will it make him determined to find out who did it and why? Will he think he might be next?

Obviously, I can’t give too much away (I want you to read the book after all!) but I hope you can see what I’m setting up here. It’s always a bonus if you can incorporate a couple of ways that the plot can go, a bit of ambiguity. And the longer you can keep them running, the better.

So if our hero has a shady past, or there is more than one reason for the murder, these can be revealed as we go along. The idea of competing outcomes is a bit like the three-card trick, concealing the truth amongst the red herrings. Hiding it in plain sight; so that when we get to the end, the reader says AHHHH! and ties together all the little clues that you’ve scattered around. Hopefully, it will be a surprise and they haven’t managed to work it out for themselves. 

It’s even better if you’ve managed to lead them off in the wrong direction.

But before we delve into the action, it helps to establish the back story. In other words, the rules for living in the world I’m creating. And I must confess to being a bit of a geek when it comes to these things, I’m not happy unless I can justify it all, both scientifically and to myself. But then, a touch of realism never hurts.

As I said, we’re in a dome, on an airless planet. Any holes in that – the air leaks out and we’re in deep trouble. So how can we reduce the chances? What would the real-life pioneers do to make the dome as safe as possible?

My answer was to make the dome double-skinned, with a shock-absorbent liquid filling. As I have the power of benign creation I thought I might as well use it and make it able to freeze and plug a gap if it was exposed to a pressure drop. Chemically I suspect that might be dubious but hey, it sounded pretty cool! And, if mankind had learned how to fly to another planet, inventing something like that would be a doddle. It would probably come in quite handy on a spaceship too, unless you had some other sort of shield. This is where you can let your imagination run away.

Maybe I will, at another time.

Keeping to the subject for a while, just for insurance, I put a net on top of my dome as well, to try and catch things before they got near the dome itself.

Now that’s all fine but I’m sure you can begin to see the flaw in all this kit. It weighs a lot. I imagined people reading it and shaking their heads, “It would never stay up,” they would mutter, “what kind of rubbish is this?” And they would dismiss me as a writer who doesn’t do his homework. 

I concede that technically, it wouldn’t be possible to have pillars supporting the dome; they would need to be huge, numerous and deeply embedded in the rock. So again, I wondered what I could do to be realistic.

But then, I thought, the air in the dome, the air that everyone needs to breathe and stay alive, that will be pushing the dome out and will be helping to support its weight. Just like the water in a canal or enclosed dock stops the banks from collapsing inwards.

And in case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve just introduced an element of tension; we need a constant supply of air to ensure that the dome stays up. Not too much or the top will blow off, or too little and it will collapse. If there are any leaks in the dome, the air moving through them would cause a breeze as well, giving the place character (I was going to say atmosphere). And this means that a constant supply of new air is needed.

If we wanted, those who control the supply of air could be major players. They are the ones that you have to be nice to; they are the people who really control the place.

Now that seems like a lot of chat for one minor aspect of the setting, but I think that it’s important.

The exposition of this rationale forms a part of our hero’s journey and gives him something to talk about to another character. By giving out this information as dialogue in the story, I can reinforce my credentials as a writer of believable settings. And keep the action moving. Putting it as dialogue saves the reader from wading through pages of description as well, something that puts me off a lot of books.

The conversation also sets up the structure of the relationships in the dome, the badly maintained machinery that could give out and kill everyone or the slightly dubious people whose arguing overshadows the running of the place.

And where – I hear you ask, does the murder fit into this?

Well, the great advantage of conspiracy theory is that there’s always something to conspire against. Whether it’s the discovery of a secret or the desire to expose the truth, they are both valid. In fact, you can have both, so that the reader cannot really be sure which is the reason for the crime (and who is responsible) until later.

So our hero can go about his business, meeting and interacting, getting into scrapes and finding answers. And the bad guys can try to thwart him, with a little help from the environment.

The next thing that you can do is sow a bit of confusion about the murder. And the easiest way to do that is to make my main character interesting. I can give him a past.

The great thing about giving someone a past is that it opens up all sorts of possibilities. If you want your hero to do something later, you can give him a past where the thing is a defining moment. Or you can plant the idea that he may not be all he seems.

For example, if I wanted my man to be frightened of being in a space suit, then I could let him have a traumatic event involving one in his past. I can have him worry about it, build it up in his mind as it becomes inevitable that he will be forced into one. Then when he HAS to get into the suit, if his life depends on it, he can agonise and find himself in the act of overcoming his fears.

This resonates with most readers because they can relate to struggles or similar experiences in their own lives. And it reinforces your credibility; it means that you write realistically!

So now we’re really cooking, we have the makings of a real story. There are conflicts everywhere; in the location and in the characters. Next time, we’ll discuss the way we build the tension towards the ending.

And that’s a subject that I’ll be covering in the next post.

‘Review a hotel for me,’ she said. ‘It’ll be easy,’ she said. I haven’t even got started and there’s a body in the bathroom.

It was only supposed to be a hotel review, all Miles Goram wants to do is finish up and get off Reevis as quickly as he can. It’s an airless planet where everyone lives under a giant dome, not the sort of place he wants to be stuck on. The body in his bath has really fouled his plans up. Then he discovers the dead man’s secret.

Miles gets drawn deeper into life on Reevis, he finds corruption and mistrust everywhere. Balcom Industrial treat the place like their own kingdom and discourage any questioning incomers. As a journalist and ex-convict, Miles is top of their most unwanted list.

If the death threats and the fact that everyone trying to make him leave wasn’t enough, there’s the added distraction of a missing heiress thrown in.

Suddenly his life has got very complicated, Miles wants answers. If only he can live long enough to find them.

You can buy Ribbonworld for £1.99p (or $2.99 in the USA) via Amazon. Just use the button below.


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