Like most science fiction fans, I'm fascinated by exploration. Unmapped islands, hidden caves, lost continents, and of course, uncharted class M planets. I decided to write a story about a man obsessed with exploration, living in a near future where there was little available to explore.
I worked out the setting and the plot quickly. The story would take place on Miranda, a mysterious, fractured moon in the outer solar system. My narrator--the explorer--would rappel down a deep canyon, with several contrarian companions. A mystery would build about the canyon's nature, which would be solved at the bottom. I figured I was ready to write, and that the story would go smoothly.
I wasn't, and it didn't. This story was a major struggle for me. I nearly abandoned it several times, including after submission.
In the first draft, there was no Shelley. The narrator's foil was a scientist named de Marco, who argued with Lance about the purpose of exploration. The story was pedantic, and Lance's decision at the end seemed petty, rather than resonant or cathartic. I trashed it and started over.
In v2, I replaced de Marco with Shelley, the ex girlfriend, hoping to give Lance more internal conflict. The second draft was better, but I still did not have a feel for the narrator's voice, and his actions still felt forced. I sent the draft to some of my Clarion West classmates and a few others for critiques. All of them told me the story had some good elements (mainly the setting), but they weren't buying the character's decisions, and suggested various revisions. Radical revisions.
At this point, I was tired of the story and anxious to move on to something new. So I convinced myself that the good outweighed the flaws, patched it up a bit, added more symbolic imagery (always a bad sign), and sent it off.
In March, I got an email from Edmund saying that one of his assistant editors had recommended the story, and that he was interested in publishing it, but felt that the main character's motivation needed more development. (Well, if you've ever received comments from Edmund, they were a bit more colorful than that. For example, in his redline, he wrote: "Why Why Why is Lance so blessedly obsessed with being first???")
I re-read the story with fresh eyes. I not only agreed with Edmund, I was embarrassed that I'd let the story out the door. I could see clearly now that I'd committed a cardinal Scribner's sin--I'd let idea and outline dictate the action, rather than conflict and character.
Edmund waited patiently for several months while I reworked the story. I made Lance's relationship with Shelley the focus, rather than the subplot. I added all of the back-story from Mars, tightened the pacing, and gave the minor characters (Wil and Catherine) a bit more to do and say. I also completely rewrote the dialogue and the ending.
Does the story work now? I hope it does for some. As a writer, I learned a valuable lesson: don't force a story. No doubt, I'll re-learn that lesson over and over again.
--David A. Simons