Case Study: When a Concept is TOO Big

I had trouble titling this one.  You’ll see why when you read it.

To suggest that a concept is too big is to imply, perhaps, that the writer is reaching for something that feels he/she is ready to tackle, the story they were born to write.  But concepts, on any scale, are available to anyone, and when they arrive at a scale that calls for a keen mastery of story, and you’re new to this, then its more like a recipe for frustration.

And possibly, as it’s turned out for the author of this story plan, an invitation to dive deeper into the craft of storytelling.  Because this concept is unforgiving in the depth and thematic breadth of what it demands.  It looks great as a one-liner… but imagine trying to write the thing.

The Questionnaire and feedback here come in at nearly 9,000 words (one of the reasons I’m about to raise my fee… this thing took me hours to complete).  It’s an ebook, in effect, in which I find myself launching into high octane lecture mode on a whole roster of story issues.  And thus, for craft-hungry writers, this case study becomes a clinic on what the collision between High Concept and Thin Craft looks like.

The author was a little nervous about sharing this, fearing you’d all pile on.  I told him you probably would, but as empathetic teammates and creative contributors, which you’ve shown yourselves to be.  You’ll find a LOT to work with on this one.

You’ll also notice, upon reading the synopsis and sample that follow the Questionnaire portion, that this writer can really deliver the lyrics, you’ll find a rich narrative voice there.  Which serves to cement the realization that how well you write your sentences is only one of the six core competencies you need to bring to a story before it’ll work.

Not every concept can be pulled off as a story, even when it sounds fascinating.  This just might be one of them.  You be the judge.

You can get it here: When Your Concept is TOO Big.

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I’ll also be teaching several sessions at the West Coast Writers Digest West Coast Conference, in mid-August.  Watch for registration info in the magazine, on their website, and (via links) here on Storyfix.

37 Comments

Filed under Case studies

37 Responses to Case Study: When a Concept is TOO Big

  1. This is actually a good story, and here’s why. How many times have God and Satan went through with less explanation for why they do things to prove people’s love?

    If you want to solve this problem about it being too wide, then focus on the story you already mentioned. “Easy loses Boyfriend.” It’s that simple. No need to go through the biblical scope, that can be explored later once things are settled.

    Let’s be solution oriented here and find a way to salvage what can be a really good character driven story.

  2. Trudy

    Hmmm. I can see where the concept might be too big. The writer could eliminate God and Devil as active characters and have the man following him actually serve both their goals and not just the devil. That is probably the crux of every person’s burden on earth as they exercise free will. Easy resembles Forest Gump to me. A character I loved. I appreciate the southern tone of the book. Idea does have its brilliance. This concept might need more brainstorming. Maybe pick four specific biblical events your character must face.

  3. @Trudy — I agree, there is much within the story that could become the core dramatic thread, but so far seemingly too disconnected to a conceptual thread (see Matthew’s comment above, and my response below). But that’s the problem, there needs to be a visible compelling thread, coming from a conceptual basis, rather than a “tour” of a bunch of random ideas and scenes. That connection is often the concept itself, and it’s what’s thin in this version.

    @Matthew — I like your idea about the story focusing on the boyfriend loss, that’s emotionally resonant. But it doesn’t really connect to the concept he’s pitched, and thus, choices and priorities need to be addressed. There are several options for this story, but I can’t connect many of them to the pitched concept itself, and that’s the problem as written, and the opportunity presented here, to him and to all of us who care to chip in our thoughts. Thanks for yours, by the way, happy to have you here. Being solutions-oriented is why I run these case studies — the feedback has its place as a learning exercise, but the application of principles to newly-hatched ideas is where the fun and upside await. All of our stories ideas are beholden to dramatic theory and principles, that’s what makes stories work. The boyfriend angle taps in to them in a big way, so I like this as a starting point to build upon. L.

  4. Thank you to the author who has allowed us to see his critique. This is a tough one.

    I like to be positive and encourage writers because I know we all need more of that treatment. But, as Larry points out, Easy doesn’t seem to have a goal that carries any stakes for him, let alone for the world, so why would I care what he does? I feel somewhat clueless.

    But in the interests of being some help to the author, I’ll make a stab at telling some of the parts that don’t work for me and making a suggestion or two.
    1. Right off the bat, I don’t believe the God-Satan meeting and agreement. Maybe it could be an angel and a lesser devil, both of whom are a bit too egotistical about their own powers, who get involved in a “contest” and get their butts kicked at the end by God or Satan, respectively, for stepping beyond their bounds.

    Maybe Slim could be taken over by the lesser devil, and Easy could find a sidekick who was the angel. These two could fire up a subplot.

    2. I also can’t grasp Easy being the most naïve person in the world. I’d rather he would be a guileless guy at the beginning who learns and matures as the story goes on. That way he seems more like us, we can identify with him, and his actions become more believable.

    3. I can’t see some goofball “saving the world.” From what? Some disease? Atomic warfare? Annihilation from aliens? Hollywood has beat those to death. I think Easy’s goal should be smaller and thus more believable – maybe save a town. Or a family. Or a group (some LGBTQ group?).

    Hope this helps!

  5. First, thanks to the author for having the courage to let Larry post this (and thanks to Larry for doing so).

    There were a number of things that I like about this, but I couldn’t get a handle on *the* story based on what was written. If I use Trudy’s example of Forrest Gump as scaffolding, it becomes a little easier. When I look at Easy as the clueless hero who doesn’t recognize the danger/obstacles and yet manages to succeed, it makes more sense. My concern would be that there needs to be an overall purpose (something important to Easy) to Easy’s journey and that it needs to be clear to the reader that there is a journey (as opposed to a series of misadventures). Also, I would want there to be something inside of Easy that contributes to his overcoming these obstacles (as opposed to just dumb luck).

    As for the God/Devil wager, I might be inclined to make this a periodic bet between them. If it is part of a system where they wager for control every thousand years, and God has always won (hence the reason why the Devil gets to be the one who picks … and he picks the clueless guy who is positioned to be opposed by the “homophobe for hire”), it may be easier for the reader to digest.

    My last thought (for now) concerns who is aware of Easy’s journey. I want the scope of the journey to be clear to the reader, but not to the people living in Easy’s world (excluding God, the Devil and Slim, who are aware). I would want to see him have a big effect on people within each “misadventure”, but for those people to be ignorant of his prior misadventures. The thought of the world following (and Pope tweeting about) his progress doesn’t sit right for me.

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the voice in the first chapter. I saw and heard the scene play out in my head and belly-laughed.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. J.R. Ward’s ‘Fallen Angels’ series uses the concept that God and the Devil are wagering a winner-takes-all game. It works. Probably because the premise keeps a tight focus on the protagonist: an angel who stands at the halfway point between good and evil, who must win a mortal to the side of good. The stakes are high for that (formerly human) angel — he doesn’t want to see the people he’s loved writhe in eternal torment. He’d been there, done that, and didn’t like it one bit. IMHO, this God gambles with the Devil concept can work (especially tongue in cheek), but the writer’s got to give Easy some stakes, and get clear about Easy’s conflicts. Where is his pain?

  7. As always, I really enjoyed this particular story coaching sample. I think the writer has a wonderful imagination and his prose are fantastic.

    I don’t think that his idea is too ambitious and he has obviously come up with some great details for the story. I really like the Devil and God having this wager, especially as other have mentioned it’s written as a satire, and not take itself too seriously. I think this is what the author was going for. This feels a little bit like “It’s a Wonderful Life” meets “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”

    Since he’s obviously got a great knack for prose, the work will need to be done in the structure. As you mentioned, Larry, maybe the FPP could be when the Devil intends to sabotage Easy. I would open with the lightening strike as the Hook and have the whole bag of souls be in the set up. Easy will need to have a goal, something much greater than he’s proposed here. I don’t know if anyone watches Supernatural, but the character of Kevin has been chosen and has to decode a series of tablets written by the hand of God, as just an example.

    Getting followers on social media is pretty funny too, kind of like Forest Gump having “followers” during his run across America. My biggest issue is the ending and the writer will need to determine Easy’s goal before he can write the ending.

    What I always find works for me is writing a beat sheet, and Larry has an example of one on his site. It works very effectively even after pantsing a first draft. That way, the writer will see when the milestones need to be hit;
    FPP, SPP, Pinch Points and so on and then resubmitting to Larry.

    I wish the writer all of the best and if it helps, we’ve all been there. Rarely do any of us ever nail it, especially when we are starting out. Cheers, Heidi.

  8. MikeR

    Well, the best-known story in which God and the Devil made a wager with one another is the Book of Job. 🙂 “Job” happens to be a great work of literature, IMHO, but notice that the core story there involves one man, one hero (Job), and continually-elevating stakes which totally concern him even though they are being originated by deities.

    In this author’s story, there’s no plot. A clueless man is going to save the world from destruction – presumably with the world actually BEING destroyed if he should fail – all for the amusement of the deities as though the whole thing were an amusing celestial horse-race. In response, Easy goes through “a series of [therefore, episodic] adventures.” Which isn’t “a plot.”

    The only parties which have any sort of part in this game are the deities, which are entirely above and outside of the game therefore they CAN’T have a part. And, the only party which is inside the game is the clueless one who never even knows where he is going – let alone decides it – as he stumbles from one “adventure” to another.

    “Job,” on the other hand, is a fighter from beginning to end. He always tries to save the situation even as he is put through one overwhelming test after another. And, when he finally figures out what’s been happening to him, he lets God have Hell for it – leading to, in God’s subsequent response, some of the most compelling scenes I have ever read, all of which also firmly establish God (and, really, the Devil) as real characters too.

    But Job is never put on a Quixotic Quest to Save the Planet, as if he actually could. God and the Devil are playing dice with his life, but the whole story (of Job) happens in a way that imposes a genuine plot upon a genuine hero. So, if you want to write this kind of tale – and, mind you, this notion has a helluva 😉 lot of possibilities! – I’d start by deconstructing Job.

  9. Robert Jones

    Sorry I didn’t chime in on this sooner. I really couldn’t get through the narrative entirely on this one. I finally gave up trying after about 2/3-3/4 through it. I will state my experience as it came to me while reading and attempt to make some suggestions afterward.

    When I first read the concept, I liked the idea. Mainly because my grandfather (a storyteller of the old school variety) used to tell stories like this. He wasn’t from the southern part of the USA, but the label, “Good Ol’ Boy: would certainly apply. So I was expecting the sort of story that had that sort of old fashioned southern charm. God and the devil are gambling on a tarnished individual to see which way he’ll go: Heaven or Hell. Nothing new there. What’s new is that the fate of the world hangs in the balance along with him. That’s as huge as it is tricky to pull off, but I was certainly into finding out how the author planned to make this happen at that point.

    As I read on, things really flip-flopped around and no credible reasons were given.

    God looks like a fool. He’s spent all this time creating a world, creating life, making rules by which we are supposed to learn something in this life, then wages it all away on a bet. Is it because he sees something in Easy the rest of don’t see that makes him worthy? Not at all. In fact, it’s a grab bag of souls and Easy is a random bet. Maybe the “All-seeing, All wise, God has that sort of faith in the least of his creations. We don’t know. The author never says (but I have some points on this I will get back to in a bit).

    The hero has nothing going for him. He’s an idiot beyond redemption that no one will believe can save humanity. No one will be following along saying, “You can do it, Easy!” Except for that altruistic gambling fool called God–who quite possibly needs whatever passes for a 12-step program in his neck of the universe.

    The devil is also a fool for betting on Slim’s help. I’m having trouble buying into this character as well based on what we know of him. So maybe Easy does stand a chance because those who are against him are either hopeless, or crazy, or both.

    I became a bit confused on another point. I couldn’t tell if the author was gay, attempting to stick up for gay rights, or just poke fun at them. A hard sell, limits the audience, not even sure what audience this is aimed at.

    In summation: The whole thing became a huge farce with a lot of misadventures, a patchwork of bible stories with Monty Python and his Flying Circus kicking the Holy Grail out of Easy’s bumbling grasp as he runs zig-zagging all over creation.

    On the other hand, I do believe there’s no such thing as a bad idea–but some ideas require a lot of thought before they can morph into something good. Or in this case…more than series of misadventures.

    A few things to keep in mind:

    If your character is so bad off that he can’t decide what to order for dinner, he probably wouldn’t even be able to go on a series of misadventures without curling into a fetal position at the very thought of it. Therefore, there has to be some part of Easy that’s redeemable, something heroic, or he’s not a hero at all. That should be a given.

    The plot suggests a quest. That may involve different stages, or tests the character has to go through to reach the end of his gauntlet. He may get smacked down, detoured, or discouraged, but everything is all part of the same larger quest/purpose. All things within a novel serve the greater whole. If not fix it, or cut it, because anything else will drag your story down into a ditch.

    In order to fit this story on the stage the author originally suggested in their concept, big changes need to occur. The concept could be downgraded into something like “Clash of the Titans,” where the Greek Gods used the characters like playthings for their amusement. Or maybe it boils down to the end of days in some symbolic way. In biblical terminology, the devil is supposed to tempt humanity, put us all in a terrible place in need of rescue from a messiah who will come to deliver us all in the end. So the idea is not a new one. Such things fall under the banner of a contest between God and the devil as old as time…to see who gets more of humanity on their side, or maybe even who gets to decided the fate of humanity at its final hour.

    There’s a scripture that says something to the effect that when the end of days draws near, the earth will be like the days of Noah, everyone running amok. God flooded the earth and wiped most of humanity in Noah’s days to basically start over with a few good people. But God said he would never destroy humanity again in that manner. So in the end, who is to say it wouldn’t depend on one man, a man with a spotty record, that if he could be redeemed, there is hope for all. If not, humanity goes to hell, literally.

    I can see the devil believing the guy would fail. I can also see God having faith in his creation. God is omniscient, the devil is not. God knows how things will turn out, where the devil is just hoping things will go his way based on the evidence of humanity’s cruelty. It’s a sucker’s bet, and the devil would be taught a lesson in the end here as well. In a way, that might seem obvious to some folks, but if you played it right, it could be suspenseful. Make it look like things are stacking up on the devil’s side because no one wants to get involved to help Easy. But when the chips are down, and Easy learns his lessons, he’s triumphant in the end. People love it when the odds are stacked against the hero but hope and love prevail. So long as it’s a story about triumph and not sentimentality.

    Another point–this concerning the story of Job. I don’t want to make this into a big religious post, however, look at Job carefully. He was a worrier from the opening paragraphs. He was out there sacrificing animals “just in case” his family sinned and he wasn’t aware of it. In the end, everything he worried about happened. Job lost everything. Then in the end, when he realizes he invited this on himself, he feels like a fool, begs God’s forgiveness, and he’s restored.

    Basically, there was a request by the devil that he “sift Job like salt.” God had faith that Job would turn out alright in the end. But could the devil have just invited himself into Jobs life and destroyed everything he held dear if Job was worried about losing it all in the first place? There was a chink in Job’s armor.

    This is the fundamental moral behind all these God/Devil deals to pull someone’s life apart. It’s all derived from Job. And it’s all derived from the notion that humanity has freedom of choice. We can choose to love, or choose to fear. Most of us have some combination of the two and when trouble comes knocking, there’s usually a battle between love and fear to see if we survive, or lose something we hold dear that has been threatened.

    There’s always stakes involved, both in life and in fiction.

    I think this story could be a new twist on an ancient theme where humanity’s fate rests on that eternal struggle. It’s always been THE struggle, so why not have it boil down to something that simple at the end of days? It’s a spin on the age old question: Is there one good man among them? Only here it’s: Is there really a spark of good in the most hopeless among men?

    This then becomes a modern classic using biblical archetypes in a modern setting, and a very modern telling. The basic building blocks are there for something good. But the author has a lot of work ahead figuring out story structure, craft, plot, and characters before this large stage he has build can be populated by ideas we will all buy into…and enjoy.

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Keep learning and moving forward. Your own quest may inspire Easy!

  10. MikeR

    I’d say just one thing more: “I =like= Easy.” I like the idea of him. I think the story has possibilities even if the only way to get to them turns out to be to rip a whole bunch of things out and try something else in their place. (Won’t be the first time …) Keep working it.

  11. Robert Jones

    @MikeR–I like the idea of Easy, the notion that the fate of humanity might rest on a guy who has become totally useless…even to himself. Don’t get me wrong. There’s both potential and intrigue wrapped up in this idea. He’s a bit like a modern version of Ebenezer Scrooge in that he has a lot to learn and is facing a great quest where EVERYTHING hangs on the outcome.

    In Scrooge’s case, as we begin to see him as a child, abandoned and alone at school, living with an uncle who is cold and seems to care little for him–we begin to empathize. And when we see him as a young man taking part in Fezziwig’s holiday ball, and falling in love, we root for him to succeed. He’s coming into his own at last and is no longer alone. Then something happens. He starts making money and he’s holding onto it too tightly because he never wants to be alone and destitute again. The reaction is that we still kind of root for him and feel sorry for him because his past is biting him in the butt and he can’t get out of his own way…even though he’s headed for a great abyss, becoming the very thing he fears. He ends up alone and miserable by his own deeds.

    I want to see that sort of potential in Easy. I want him to be more than just hopeless, or humorous. Maybe he had a dream he once desired very badly. Maybe his family squelched it because they thought it was foolish, or would embarrass their good name. They gave him all the money he needed, pampered him, and he grew soft and useless because deep down inside him something died. And maybe by giving up what he LOVED, he too became the thing that he most FEARED.

    His quest has to be more than just a series of misadventures. It has to be designed so easy realizes what he has become and why, to find that spark again for life. His past dream should probably have some connection with making a difference, or helping people, something he gets to realize in this quest that brings out the best in him in a huge way, allow him to finally live the dream on a level he never imagined. Something that shines a light into the hearts of readers who maybe need a jolt, a wake up call, encouragement to follow their own dreams…to NOT be coerced by fear. Then Easy truly become a hero for today because everyone feels the effects of the fear factor that’s constantly being preached by the media.

  12. MikeR

    Yes, @Robert, and I also want to see God and the Devil become real characters in the story, too. Ordinarily, these cats are in the business of “force majeure,” presumably doing whatever-they-please whenever-they-please to do so, which makes them very boring 😉 at least as far as a dramatic story is concerned. So, what if the author finds a way to put them (or at least, their proxy) =into= the story. Something like that.

    Everybody, in a dramatic story, has got to have skin in the game; they must have stakes; they must be able to lose but driven to win, whatever exactly those two outcomes may be in terms of the story at hand.

  13. Robert Jones

    @Mike–Now you’re getting into the really tricky part of this entire business–how do you portray what’s going on between the big G and D?

    We might argue that “omniscience” and “all-seeing” are two different things. That God, being omniscient, can see everything going on everywhere…which may seem like an “all-knowing” ability from a human perspective, but what if it has its limitations? What if that freedom of choice he instilled within humans gives the matter a margin of unpredictability? God would still have the ability to see pretty darn far, but his insight wouldn’t then be 100% as to certain outcomes. In other words, we humans got a few things wrong in our translations and God still might sweat a bit if we were in a pinch.

    But then we come to the grab bag bet…and if God can’t see the outcome 100%, we’re right back to making him look like a fool who is gambling with humanity. That’s not a loving God, much less a very wise one. So we’re back to everything being a farce…unless we can change up that bet, give it reason and still leave the stakes in place.

    Okay…since we’re playing around with the notion of God and our perceptions of him, why not go a little further? What if these “bets” between G and D we humans have heard about in folk tales has it all wrong as well? What if humanity is periodically tested? God, naturally has faith we will succeed, or evolve into something more than we currently are. The devil believes our base nature for conquest and greed will be our downfall. Hence, the basis for all the end times, apocalyptic rumors about when humanity reaches its final hour.

    To decide whether or not we’ve reached that point where the apocalyptic games begin, the worst of humanity is tossed into this “grab bag” and a name selected. That person is sent on a quest that will prove (or disprove) if the seed of good still thrives in the worst of us, if there is hope enough to allow humanity to continue to evolve–or sound the trumpet for the end of days to commence.

    This still gives Easy big stakes. Plus it gives reason to what G and D have been doing all along. Their council and opposition over humanity exists in much the same way bureaucracies decide to continue to fund projects, or to shut us down. To G, we are sentient beings who deserve every chance. To D, we’re insects that are a waste of time and need to be exterminated. Lucky for us that God is the big boss who is in charge of things, but even big bosses may have rules and regulations that need to be followed. So the periodic tests were devised as a way of measuring whether we still have hope (get more time), or have fallen too far (get shut down).

  14. Robert Jones

    I just had some thoughts concerning Slim. Since all of existence has certain laws it must obey, and both life and fiction has it’s “Law of Opposites,” then it would make sense that once Easy is picked from the bag of souls, he must have someone who is his exact opposite who will lend doubt, try to trip him up, put Easy to the test on everything he believes in.

    Slim already has been shown to be the opposite in that he is homophobic and he is also more ambitious than Easy in his attempts to bring about his beliefs. Build on this to really counter Easy, make Slim into his evil twin in the race, make it a contest that is interesting to watch.

    Of course, Slim has to gain something besides just proving his point. If he ends life on earth as we know it, Slim has to come out as a survivor, earn his place among the chosen few who get to go on to the next level–whatever that consists of. Freedom from the constraints of humanity? A position in D’s service? The promise of rewards or power beyond his imaginings? Slim would probably see the futility of life, believe that it’s doomed anyway. The point he sets out to prove would be very much in line with D’s views–thus Slim would fight very hard to abolish life as we know it. He would see himself as the hero who is trying to end our pointless suffering so those found worthy (like himself) can move on to better things.

  15. MikeR

    Ahh, @Robert, it may well be that you’re just “thinkin’ this-here thang” just a little bit too deeply in this case. 😉 We don’t need to delve into deep-thoughts (or religious mine-fields) in order to cast God and/or the Devil as characters in a story in which they play a part. As “mere mortals,” we of course really have no idea about such things anyway. Therefore, as “writers of fiction,” we merely craft these Characters (I felt the obligation to Capitalize It for some reason …) in the same way we do everyone else.

    Our story has three main characters – God, the Devil, and Easy. The reader’s understanding and acceptance of the story is going to revolve around these three characters and the success of the storytelling is going to pivot around all three of these roles, with special emphasis on Easy because he’s the only Mortal in the picture. Your particular interpretation (“God’s the big-boss windshield, the Devil is the bug”) is only one of many creative possibilities for The Author’s Choice. (“Hey, in -MY- story, =I= am God …”) As long as it works for the purposes of the story, both God and the Devil are pretty-much up to you … as they were, e.g., for the author(s) of Job.

    The story will revolve around three characters, and the Mortal must finally be the hero. In order for the Mortal to be the hero, the other two must also be Real Characters in spite of their (respectively …) omnipotent and not-so omnipotent powers. And, well, at the end of the day, “it’s really just a Story.” A Fantasy story. Give both of the deity-characters a personality and a believable interpretation of their respective roles, and see to it that both of those interpretations advance the objectives of Your Story. (Piers Anthony did a marvelous job of this in his “Incarnations of Immortality” series, which I somehow manage to re-read every year.) Neither character particularly needs “rules” any more than Chuck Norris™ 😉 does. {Enjoy: http://www.jokesandriddles.net/chuck-norris-rules/ } As long as all three characters are “real characters,” and as long as Easy is thrust into a dramatic situation from which he truly emerges as the hero or anti-hero, the story will work.


    And, on an entirely unrelated thought (since I’m typing now, anyway): “Give VERY SERIOUS [second-] thought to ‘this whole gay thing.'” If it really works for your story’s overall total plot, then by all means “go for it.” But if it doesn’t – if it is, say, merely “a statement that you-as the-author” want to weave into it – I’d say, “dump it.” I personally do not want to see it showing-up in a story that I’ve paid-for unless it has a d-a-m-m(!) good reason to be there, even though my wife and I are close friends with a gay couple who’ve been together for as many decades(!) as we have. While I am understanding of “freedom of speech and all-of-that,” I am also Mindful of Marketing.

    Think about it from that point-of-view: “God? Got that. Devil? Sure. Easy? I’m with it. Homosexuality?! ‘WTF?'” Suddenly I am feeling – well – “used.” Taken advantage of as a book-buyer in service of your bully-pulpit?!?! Best advice, probably, is “don’t go there.” If it does not REALLY, TRULY BELONG in YOUR STORY … don’t sabotage your story.

  16. Robert Jones

    @Mike–What you’re saying about playing up the gay factor is very true. It has been played poorly in many cases and is still a huge topic of debate and even emotional turmoil for some folks. As I previously stated, at times I couldn’t tell whether the author was making Easy gay because he wanted to make a point, or simply to have that become part of the farce. Then later on, it seemed like he was playing it seriously again to make a statement of some kind. If it’s an important statement, or something the author feels strongly about, I wouldn’t necessarily discourage it. But any subject portrayed in a way that looks like the author wants to get something off their chest is doomed to failure. The story and characters have to stand on their own merits. They can’t become an obvious soap-box for the author to preach from.

    On the other hand, even if the author portrays his subject matter well, you are correct in saying that he will be limiting his audience. And if it gets a label of “Gay/Lesbian, the author is pretty much preaching to the choir. However, if that’s the audience it’s intended for, then that’s the author’s call…provided they understand the market and/or any potential limitations. I’m not sure if it’s a growing market, or a niche market on that score (it may be both), but it is a viable market. I can’t claim to know the author’s intent here. In reading through the questionnaire, it seemed like there was probably more of the story in the author’s head than made it into the answers–which left us guessing about a lot of things, including intent and audience.

    It’s a common mistake. Early on we all see more on the page than is actually there. It’s only through practice and getting distance from the page the we eventually learn to be more specific and to the point.

    As to G and D, yes, I’m trying hard to place examples of logic and reason before the author. There are hundreds of ways these characters might be portrayed, as you have stated, and quite correctly. But the author needs to understand that within the context of a novel, everything has to be calculated for effect, become part of the larger whole. Whatever is left without reason become a big hole in the plot. And within a story of this nature, you’re going to come up with a lot of different views as to how G and D works. That’s fine. It’s all pretty subjective. As long as the author’s interpretations hold within the context of their story, doesn’t leave holes, or create inconsistencies. It has to seem logical enough that readers will go along for the ride; create curiosity so they will keep reading and get to the moral of the story.

    That’s all part of the vicarious express we all climb aboard in any fictional endeavor. Playing with religious icons is tricky because you know people are going to be shaking their heads and saying, “That’s not the way it goes!” So much here is dependent on the reader caring (and rooting) for the hero. Easy, as is, is a tough sell. He needs work. So you have a dodgy main character, religion mixed with homosexuality–incongruities abound.

    If the author wants to write a farce, great, he’ll either insult everyone or have them rolling on the floor. But it sounds more like British humor on that score than a southern fried wager between God and the devil. Again, incongruous. Again, which audience is the author hoping to attract?

    We learn by example. All we can really do here is attempt to give some examples and show some of the potential ways we might apply reason in an attempt to make the story hold together in its various facets.

    What I disagree on is that the characters of God, the devil, and Easy are enough. That is slightly out of balance…and I’ll endeavor to explain why. I think the devil needs a human representative, a core, earthly antagonist for easy to face off against. There needs to be a Slim. Otherwise the devil is just throwing scoundrel after scoundrel into Easy’s path. Easy needs someone who is his opposite, the yang to his yin. Ethereal villains are tougher to do. Plus we have God, and his role is what? A secondary hero? An innocent bystander while the devil goes up against Easy? And if the devil goes up against Easy as the core antagonist, Easy is hopelessly outmatched. If the devil takes on both Easy and God, then the devil is outmatched.

    This threesome also kind of muddles the entire idea that the hero and villain were hatched from the same egg–or could “almost be one another,” as Joe previously stated it. Because the devil and Easy could not be one another under different (or any) circumstances. So the story physics breaks down on that score. And all those various scoundrels just create another way in which the story becomes a series of adventures instead of one cohesive tale. Unless this became a series–in which case there would still need to be one chief scoundrel per book, not to mention a larger ongoing quest for Easy. UGH! Let’s not even go there.

  17. MikeR

    Yes, this story-concept is “big probably too-big.” The operative question will be whether it can actually be tied into one cohesive, self-consistent story that stands on its own merits and follows its own path whether-or-not two of the characters in it are deities and whether-or-not anyone is gay. When I am reading a story, I’m not in English Lit class (anymore). Carve off any premise that you please, just be sure that you can then sell it to me on purely its own merits based on whatever it is that I paid for it. If a professor someday has to explain it to me, it’s not a good book. 🙂

  18. @Robert and @Mike

    I enjoy your contributions to the conversation, but with all due respect, I think that your questioning of the use of QUILTBAG characters by the author is really dated and some of your statements are veering away from the professional. The author’s sexual orientation is really none of your beeswax unless he wants to come on here and openly discuss it with you.

  19. MikeR

    @Heidi –

    Okay, that’s a perfectly reasonable observation. I do think that what has been said by all is “professional.” Let me explain.

    I would care, first of all, absolutely nothing for “the author’s” <> because, of course, I am merely the reader of the author’s story. I would only be interested in whatever is within the story.

    My caution, then, is simply … “DOES IT, in fact, belong there?” That’s the author’s choice in the author’s story. It can indeed be a fundamental part of a great story; it can also be a subtle part of a great story. But there are a few serious story-telling risks.

    The first risk, of course, is when it is NOT really a part of the story at all: the author has stopped being a storyteller and has become a preacher or a talking-head. The author’s pushing buttons from his bully pulpit instead of being a storyteller. “Unwanted and unprofessional.” Kiss of death.

    The second risk is that, when it is part of a story, “a story containing such a part” will alienate a certain percentage of the book’s potential audience – with varying degrees of predictable reaction that will range from simply putting it down, to returning it to the store for a refund, to burning it. The second risk is purely a marketing risk. I’m not saying that it’s not the right thing to do to take risks, but only that you should consider what risks you are taking (as is the case with every commercial product).

    I can easily see how a gay sexual-orientation could work very well for a character like Easy, and I personally as a reader =I= would take it in stride. I’m not sure that I read a strong justification for it, though, in the response that was submitted to @Larry, which lead me to ponder the two risks outlined above.

    Again, thank you for your observation and I hope that this has adequately clarified my own position.

  20. Robert Jones

    @Heidi–If that’s the way my part of the discussion came across, I must apologize. That was never my intent. Please allow me to clarify.

    I couldn’t tell in places within the authors current narrative if he understood the markets. I’m thinking that if he didn’t study a lot of craft, he probably didn’t study the markets very thoroughly either. I could be wrong on that, but it’s an impression I picked up throughout. My point on the religious and gay factors is that these things sometimes came across as empirical statements as to why Easy was being persecuted. At times the plot seemed a total farce, other times like possibly the author was trying too hard in terms of making a personal statement.

    I can’t speak for Mike, but I took it as he was picking up on the idea of the author making too personal a statement as well. Thus, I agreed with that part of his statement.

    And I’ll stand behind that part of it because whether we are talking writing, or most any other form of arts and/or entertainment, if you get too personal with your statements, you risk losing your audience. In fact, you risk ever having an audience because you probably won’t sell your work. I’ve had artwork where the design had religious overtones and editors thought it was too personal. They figured it would be offensive, or only reach a small percentage of the market. Editors and publishers usually aren’t interested on tossing things at small percentages.

    Here, we have a story with potentially strong religious overtones…let’s not even mention the homosexuality intermingled with it…that makes it a tough sell if the author doesn’t step back and use these thing intermingled with a keen sense of craft. And a caution not to step on that soap box and get too personal. We can’t even make Santa Claus say, “Ho ho ho,” without crossing the line these days.

    I will not say this story can’t be done. When I hear such statements, I will do my utmost to work all the harder to find a way to make it work. Re-read my attempts above to give the author advice on playing the religious figures and making his characters strong and rootable. But even then it came across to Mike that I was trying too hard. I probably was because I want to be able to give the author something that sparks a way to make this work. I wouldn’t waste my time if I thought it was impossible to do. However, in the current state, the story doesn’t fly.

    Any statements, or lessons a writer wishes to impart, needs to be worked into the plot through the main character, his quest, backstory…and we need reasons to empathize more with Easy. Otherwise, all the gears and levers stand out too much, aren’t even doing their job. They’re just displayed as if put on exhibit. In other words, it could very well come across looking like a personal statement rather than a tightly crafted mechanism that’s doing what it’s designed to do. All those personal things can be woven into the machine as part of the design…if cleverly crafted. But not until the design is understood…and is up and running.

    Then those things that appear to hold the story at risk currently, might be made to seem worth taking a risk on because Easy symbolizes the secret fears and feelings of not being accepted in everyone. We should all be able to relate to this guy. If the author understands that the things Easy is feeling about life, religion, his sexual orientation, also apply to everyone else who stepped out of the norm, did what was not expected of them, attempted to follow their dreams, or had religion thrown at them as some form of punishment–then yeah, we’re all right there with Easy because his quest is a universal one. But in order to do that, we have to be able to empathize with Easy, see his situation and be able to say, “Man, I know how he feels. I feel like I can hardly choose what I’m going to have for dinner some times because there’s too many choices, or everything I eat and do is going to kill me…so why bother? Why not just give up?”

    Then we’ll keep reading and hoping he succeeds.

  21. Hey Mike,

    I appreciate your clarification, but I don’t agree with you. I wouldn’t tell a writer to not have a gay protagonist any more than I would tell the author to have a female protagonist or a person of colour. Slim’s character might be distasteful in your mind, be he is really just the human foil to Easy.

    I do think there is an audience for this beyond the LGTBQ community and I don’t think you should make generalizations about what you think might be more marketable or what might be too distasteful to an audience.

  22. MikeR

    @Heidi – kindly notice that I =didn’t= say “don’t have a gay protagonist.” Whatever works for your story is really fair-game. Every author decides what attributes to give any of his/her fictional characters, and the story is in-part shaped by that.

    And, “if these be ‘generalizations,'” then they are no more and no less than what the Gentle Reader =will= decide when picking-up the book and deciding what they think about it, before or after having purchased the thing. Everyone makes buying decisions (and product evaluations) more-or-less “based on generalizations,” prejudices, preferences, phase of the moon, shoe-size, whatever. Many people take most things in stride; a tiny few burn crosses. I am certainly in the former group.

    You could tell me that Easy was gay. You could tell me that he has two left feet. You could tell me that either God or the Devil or both has given him the ability to see through walls. You can do =anything= you want with your fictional characters as long as you can somehow use them to tell me a great story. Therefore, having given him two left feet or X-ray vision, or for that matter, being gay – it’s a lot like “that gun on the mantelpiece in Act One.” It will need to figure in the story that you tell; if not, “kill your darlings.” If you choose to put a “hot-button” attribute into your character’s mix, knowing and accepting that “it is what it is,” then no one – least of all, me – should tell you “no.” I didn’t, and I won’t.

  23. MikeR

    @Robert, et al – I think that the general feeling about this story is both that the story-physics really don’t seem to work, and that attributes may have been given to the characters (and to the scene-play in general) more to support “the author’s point” than to truly support “the dramatic story.” I don’t want to see the author, any more than Dorothy wanted to see the little man behind the curtain. I want to read a compelling story that works. Period.

    Even “a universal quest” is alone not enough: the story, even if it consists of a universal quest, must be a story. Every attribute of the characters, of the setting, of the passage of time – everything – must clearly support that point. And it must, insofar as possible, be the best set of choices that the author could first come-up with and then successfully execute-upon in the advancement of his or her chosen “story.” A story in which the author, as always, plays an ==anonymous== part.

    You go to the theater. You go there expecting to see a show. There never is a *podium* on that stage. The author certainly will have made many points, each more-or-less successfully, but never made a soliloquy. (This, incidentally, is why “real-product placement” in a movie is turning out to be a very bad idea. Marketers love it but fictional stories do not.) The author, set designer, and everyone-else set the entire thing up with careful intent, then executed upon their plans just as successfully, and in the end, the stage filled-up with roses.

  24. Robert Jones

    I think this discussion has been informative. If nothing else, it shows how discussions on the above topics can become misconstrued, or hit sensitive spots. Which is exactly why editors and publishers pass on so many stories about such things.

    I want to move away from that for a little. Not to push aside anyone’s points, but because I’ve just been reading the rest of the narrative. When I read comments about a first chapter, I had to go back and read whatever I missed the first time around and see if it clarified anything for me. Since we are here to try to make suggestions that might help the author, I wanted to get back to that part of the discussion.

    What I read is very funny stuff. The author has a great sense of humor. However, the chapters give me the same sense I got from the story plan…that this is a series of gag-reels, or mini episodes. The content is hilarious, but by the time I got to the second chapter, I felt I was looking for the next zinger rather than a story unfolding. And from the clues planted in the narrative, I get the impression that every chapter is planned to read in the same whimsical fashion. The best humor often requires pacing, a building up to the next punchline. Humor that continuously flies quick as bullets zinging into your brain will become exhausting over the course of a 300 page novel.

    Also most of the information was coming at me in a very “telling” way rather than “showing” me a story. And the best fiction shows a lot more than it tells. The current beginning, as funny as some of it is, needs to be mixed with some better, more writerly imagery if this is an example of how the writing continues. I need to see something more on the page than a series of one and two liners or I’m reading a script for a stand-up routine, not a novel.

    I realize this is based on two quick scenes laying out the obscure births of the hero and villain. However, the author endangers their story in another way here since they have 1-3 pages to get the engine of their story (plot) up and running…meaning some fact needs to be raised concerning the main character in some type of trouble, or about to walk into it. A hook needs to be planted and it has to concern itself with the core story in a way that incites the reader’s curiosity about the journey that is to follow.

    If chapter three doesn’t begin with an immediate hook of this nature–and the author now has about one page or less to pull this off–the story may die before it really begins.

    So what I think all of the above discussion comes down to is that we are seeing serious issues being discussed, or thrown at us from the one hand. Then the other had says not to bother taking those issues very seriously because this is meant to be a series of gag-reels. Then we come to the great unwritten ending that the author wants to be hard hitting and drop-dead hilarious all at the same time.

    It’s like the bit about Easy not being able to recall any negative events, so he has a perpetually sunny disposition. Then the next line says Easy has anxiety attacks and attempts suicide because of them because his body remembers what his mind cannot. Well, either Easy remembers–at least some of the time–or he does not. There has to be a logical bridge between the two that the reader will understand and go along with. The same thing will apply to the more serious issues the author has raised, as well as the ending. You can have a serious scene and undercut it with humor, or vice-versa…but you can’t have a character who contradicts themselves in either memory or their actions.

    Comedy is forgiving of many things. Especially screwball comedy where anything goes. But if the author intends to have a mix of comedy and serious issues/scenes, then the line has to be drawn somewhere and some reality rules/continuity will have to apply. Otherwise the reader will just keep expecting the next zinger and awaiting the next punchline while you’re trying to imply something serious. It’ll seem misplaced.

    I’m still a bit torn as to the author’s intent on certain things. So I may be off on some of this. My feeling is there is a keen wit and potential intellect behind this writing that just needs to find its focus by tuning into craft specifics. My own intention is to hopefully raise some craft points the author may not be aware of. And if so, point an arrow in a direction they may need to research more fully.

    Read Larry’s books. That’s a great place to start. You’ll learn story structure and more for novels. Read “Story” by Robert McKee. It’s a screenplay book, but novels and screenplays have a similar structure and it’s great to compare the two mediums. Then watch movies and read novels with what they teach in mind and you’ll see them unfolding in a whole new way.

  25. Scott Wilbanks

    Hi all,

    I’m the GRATEFUL sacrificial lamb for this case study. Your creative contributions completely rock, and I’m taking copious notes while also digging into STORY ENGINEERING.

    A little background information for you. I wrote my first manuscript by the seat of my pants, retrofitting ‘structure’ without even realizing I’d done so, and simply wanted to be more efficient with my sophomore effort. That being said, it was very early days for me when I turned in the questionnaire to Larry— I had the seed of an idea, that’s it—and used the questionnaire as a lesson plan. Engaging Larry’s service, and filling out the questionnaire was, literally, my first foray into the world of story engineering. Two weeks into my learning curve, it’s pretty obvious that the plotline is coming across as episodic-heavy and weak in structure. That insight alone was worth the price of admission.

    As to the God/Devil characters, I kinda want to throw out the accepted biblical paradigm, and play with the idea that there are two Supreme Beings who take turns in the ‘hot seat’ depending on the outcome of wagers made during their millennial Supreme Being Summits. In other words, the loser plays God, while the winner gets to have fun. (I know, right? Feel free to tell me I’m crazy.) The Supreme Being currently acting as God has been doing so for the last 2000 years. He believes in non-intervention, is miracle-averse, and is recognizable as the God of the New Testament. His management style is all about teamwork, esprit de corps, etc. The other Supreme Being is the one we’d recognize as the angry God of the Old Testament. He’s more of a top-down manager who is not afraid of delivering a good, old-fashioned miracle now and then to get his point across.

    And I think the whole ‘gay’ thing can be thematically effective (and commercial) if addressed with the proper irreverence. All the hypocrisy surrounding the opposition’s stance on the civil rights issue, specifically marriage equality, is a veritable gold mine. My job will be to turn it into a conversation that engages people who would normally turn away. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’m going to try.

    What do you think?

  26. Robert Jones

    Hi Scott–Glad you stepped forward and gave us some better specifics in terms of what you’re aiming for.

    In terms of getting people to think about their civil rights through a topic making headlines, I think this is actually a very smart way to approach your subject. If you can blow away the smoke screen and make people realize that same sex marriages come under the same banner of rights that say, women fought for not so long ago, or even what America fought for by breaking away from British rule…that would be a stand that whether people agree with you or not, could be a selling point for your book. Remember, a writer has to cause an emotional reaction. And this is a very emotionally charged subject. Mostly due to it being engrained within people’s religious belief system. Whether you create a positive, or negative emotion, it’s still good because you still get people talking…and hopefully buying your book.

    Therefore, the way you play how God and the devil is very important here because it’s such a large factor in the way people feel about your subject matter. As you stated, there are some pretty large differences between Old Testament God and New, or even the way other religions view God. It’s a bit of a tightrope to walk because if you play God up as too big of a joke, religious zealots will feel you’re anti-god, possibly some will even feel this is the entire “gay” view of God and religion. You could undercut your entire attempt to engage people in that conversation you’re trying to get them to have with a fresh view.

    I think you have to make a better, stronger argument for your case than God and the devil taking turns in the ruling seat. Plus in your scenario, the “loser” gets the chair, so why would the devil even engage Slim to help him if he doesn’t want to win?

    On top of that, you’re negating evil by saying there is just a lighter hand and a heavier hand in control of the universe. Where there’s no big evil, there’s no little evil, so Slim is not a real villain, just an idiot who is misguided. This won’t be a contest where the fate of humanity really hangs in the balance. There are no real stakes to buy into. Just get Easy and Slim to the nearest shrink and let God and the devil fight their own miserable battle because neither really is even responsible enough to want to win, much less give humanity a fair shake.

    You see where I’m coming from? Then you toss a serious subject like gay marriage in there and expect to open people’s minds after you’ve pulled the plug and closed the curtain on having anyone buy into your own universe.

    I’m sensing there are two different writers at work here. That either you’re writing this with a friend, or that you have two interests battling for the top spot in your story. And this is what my comments have been saying from the beginning. You have a very serious side that wants to portray serious issues. Then you have a comedic side that wants to moon everyone, maybe the entire universe, just for the sake of belly laughs.

    Both sides have some great ideas, but they aren’t cooperating. In fact, they’re trying to trump one another. So far, it looks like the comedic side might be ahead of the game because he’s sabotaged any thought of having your serious side get a single point across, much less making anyone actually think about it. There needs to be more of a balance. Or, the comedic guy needs to back off for a while and allow the serious guy to write his story and get the heartfelt emotional parts down–the things that will move readers–then have the comedic guy step in a decorate the story with his humor after the fact. So long as he doesn’t overdo it. Because if the comedy guy keeps his heavy hand in there, the serious guy doesn’t stand a chance.

    You know what’s interesting about all this? The very battle you’ve mentioned between God and the devil and who gets to rule seams to be happening between the serious and the comedy in your own writing. The scary part is that in your fictional battle no one really wants to win. Could it be that as a novice writer, the battle is really with the idea of whether or not you’re really good enough? If so, we’ve all been there. It takes time to learn craft. However, that’s the only real cure. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more equipped you are to overcome potential doubts and craft issues.

    From what I can see, you’ve got one hell of an imagination. And a better beginning than quite a few I’ve seen. My feeling is that if you want this, you are more than capable of making it happen. You just need to get out of your own way, relax, keep learning and moving forward. And be assured that you CAN do it if that’s your heart’s desire. Just don’t fall into the popular notion that everyone who has a good idea can immediately sit dow and write a best-seller. Amazon’s self-publishing of over two-million novels proved how full of it that idea really is. A piano player doesn’t sit down and play a symphony just because they have an ear for music. It takes time and patience. If you have those things–and are willing to part with them–then we can sit down and talk some more.

    Stick around on Storyfix. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  27. MikeR

    Hi, @Scott! It’s tremendously helpful when the author joins in.

    @Scott – Actually, the “idea” that God and the Devil are =roles= that are alternately played by two deities, and that they pick their roles and change them from time to time “by the roll of the dice” … is a fabulous idea. Both God and the Devil are, in a certain strange way, both-of-them abstract-enough characters that an author can successfully invent his own myth about who they are, what concerns them, how they operate and so-forth. For instance, “Incarnations of Immortality” by Piers Anthony, or another book (the title escapes me at the moment) where both God and the Devil were fighting to impose their own order upon Chaos.

    That being said, I would agree that @Robert just gave some extremely sage advice. Right now, your concept for the story is, as @Larry said, “too big.” And, as @Robert said, it is effectively several concepts fighting with one another and in so doing robbing the story of its most-essential requirement: drama.

    Be very careful to bear in mind that “pushing people’s buttons” is not and does not create drama. Supreme beings likewise really aren’t dramatic. This has got to be Easy’s story, and Easy’s story alone. But … telling a dramatic story with Easy as he is now will not be … well. 😉

  28. Hi Scott and everyone,

    I’ll chime in soon. I’m just dealing with a crack-head, racist mayor in my city right now. 🙂 Cheer, Heidi.

  29. @Robert and Mike and others — this is genius input from you guys, thanks for going deep and giving Scott the benefit of your keen instincts. I nudged him to get involved here, and now that he has this could really turn a corner for this story.

    @Scott – I’m wondering if the “taking turns” notion (between G and D) is new? It certainly wasn’t in your Questionnaire answers, and if you look at the notions of concept and premise (you don’t even have to look closely, on this issue), it absolutely SHOULD have been there, because it’s so critical to the story working. And moreover, for someone reading the document (or hearing the pitch) to more fully understand what you were going for.

    So if it isn’t new, here’s my question: WHY wasn’t wasn’t it THERE?

    I get this a lot, I give feedback along the lines that something isn’t working because something isn’t connecting or making enough sense, and then I hear back from the writer with, “oh, I guess I didn’t clarify… it’s really because of….” this or that, whatever they forgot to say.

    I wonder how far Dan Brown would have gotten had he failed to mention that his little story was built around the notion that Christ didn’t really die on that cross after all. If he pitched is a chase story between an art expert and an albino with a knife?

    How can this happen? The lesson here is that writers need to understand WHAT makes their story WORK, how their core plan delivers on the availability of story physics and the execution of the six core competences… rather than swooning over this joke or that detail or the pain of a shitty childhood from an over-wrought backstory.

    I’m guessing that over half the time, in these evaluations, the major problem resides with how the writer answered the questions, rather than the story itself. But that in itself in problematic. It’s like blowing a job interview or acting like a jackass in a courtship, or building a house out of half-wrought materials with a blueprint drawn on a cocktail napkin. After the failure, looking at the dead bodies, somebody looks back and thinks, “gee, I wonder what went wrong?”

    I had a writer, to whom I’d just sent the Questionnaire, write me this morning with “feedback.” Schooling me on how these questions were obscure, how i was about obscure things, that I should include definitions and lecture and examples along with the questions so the writer could “have a clue” what they mean (never mind I have 600 posts here, two books and a deck of ebooks that do all that, all coughing up over two million words of explanation).

    So if my tone is sometimes impatient, for which I apologize, this is why.

    A dad tells his kids not to ride the bike on the freeway, the kid does it anyway and then, after being hit by a bus, claims to not know what a “freeway” is or “well, Johnny does it all the time,” or worse, “there are no rules about bike riding,” and then, from his bed in the emergency room, cries foul, it’s all so unfair, who could possibly understand why and how this happened?

    Two words: STORY PHYSICS. With the six realms of forces available there. While nuance and architecture and freshness are powerful, if you’re looking for simplicity there it is. Two words. L.

  30. Scott Wilbanks

    No, it wasn’t new, Larry, and I’m a wee bit frustrated with myself for not transferring the notions in my head onto the questionnaire more effectively. Mea culpa. The truth is that my head was crowded with ideas that obviously weren’t dovetailing. To make matters worse, I didn’t answer the questions in order, which, no doubt, contributed to the disconnectedness of my responses.

    That being said, your critique was still dead on. I was creating something entirely too episodic, too reliant on narrative voice.

    And you’re also right on target by pointing out that my inability to answer the questions was just as problematic as the weak structure of my story. That, by itself, was a learning experience worth the price of admission.

    This has been a humbling, but totally cool experience for me.

  31. Robert Jones

    @Scott–There are various thoughts/beliefs that good and evil are just different frequencies existing within the same harmony. As humans, we all have our good and bad characteristics. So do well-rounded fictional characters. The notion of G and D switching places, or being the yin-yang twins of creation–all of which is made in their image–is an interesting concept in its own right. Some say you can’t have good without evil, that the two are inseparable. So who is to say the great struggle between light and dark can’t be played literally?

    G and D have to embody the two extremes, however, even if they may switch roles every thousand years or so. By playing their roles as the extremes of black and white, you then portray all of those shades of gray within the human condition as the vast interpretations over the eons of history. And within each time, interpretations of good and evil adapt to fit the needs of that time. And those who live in those times, the humans who make such interpretations, have always had their own beliefs–even their own agendas.

    We still see religion making the same mistakes over and over again. We see interpretations that are bent on killing everyone who isn’t rounded up under the umbrella of this religion, or that one–which encompasses pretty much every religion at one time or another. Why do we never learn as a race from one another’s mistakes? The big question is: Is this sort of thing the act of a loving creator, or the act of men rallied under a very human cause?

    We might take that a step further and locate some religious text that takes away all rights of women except whatever is decreed by the men in their lives. In some cultures, this notion still prevails. Take it a step further toward homosexuality, and you could build a chain of logic by showing many outdated falsehoods. Cap that off with the fact that humans are still a mighty fearful species who hate change, look at anything different as bad, or wrong. And you might pose the question: Did God create a cookie cutter race? And if so, why did he make so many differences–like color, race…even different things some of us are good at, or drawn towards. Because if we are going to begin labeling everything, every choice, as the wrong one except for the right one…what is right? That we fall in line and sing hymns, rip out our eyes and cut off our hands because they might lead us astray? How do we live, learn, or grow under those conditions? Answer: We don’t. We stay in our box and remain the same, never evolving. And if all those decisions were made for us by those deemed the keepers of the law, who then watches the watchmen? Or challenges them if their interpretations are (GASP!) wrong?

    We’ve all been persecuted on some level. We creative types would be among the first to be lined up and shot if that became our universe. God knows I’ve run into more than a few who wanted to stifle my creativity growing up and would probably still try to do so if I gave them enough leeway. These same people that I grew up with who didn’t approve of me drawing and writing stories had no qualms about parking themselves in front of the TV sets and watching their favorite programs religiously–as if they appeared there by magic and no the creative efforts of dozens of writers, actors, artists.

    Yet if they stifled all creativity, found themselves sitting in a box of a room with no art, music, or TV, they would no doubt feel their rights were violated.

    Forge your chain link by link. Build a case that’s compelling and dramatic–even humorous. Then build Easy into the vessel that carries the burdens of this time and as he learns, links the facts, asks himself the questions. Then we all go along for the ride to see what answers he discovers. Remember, he’s your representative in all this. More than that, it sounds like you intend him to represent the entire gay community. So somewhere along the way, he has to overcome his own doubts and issues, stand solid before the world and deliver his closing arguments.

    I don’t think he will solve all of humanities problems. But it’s the questions and the way the facts are presented that will make your readers think. Just like any legal case, you want to make your readers look at what they’ve accepted and see it beyond a reasonable doubt. Ask themselves if some of the things handed to them is really from a loving god, or from an outmoded set of human prejudices.

    Unless I am mistaken, that’s the serious side you’re grappling with here.

  32. Robert Jones

    P.S.

    About your ending with Slim on the grassy knoll, ready to shoot Easy…I like it. But I might think twice before I resurrected Easy. As a martyr, he lives up to his name (sort of sadly poetic) and I think it’s probably the strongest emotional ending you could come up with after easy makes his final argument.

    The devil has his victory, but wait…the crowd suddenly goes all Old Testament and stones Slim, turning D’s victory into defeat!

    Then Easy’s eulogy might be a sort of epilogue for the reader. Or, better still, end the story exactly as it began, with a birth. Maybe it’s a girl this time–and her name is Reason.

  33. Scott Wilbanks

    @MikeR – I think you hit the nail on the head. I’m tossing out the old, and bringing in the new. That being said, I haven’t flushed out the Supreme Beings idea completely, but I’m of the firmly held belief that there’s a creative solution to everything. Right now, I’m fiddling with the idea that the two Supreme Beings recognize ‘evil’ as necessary to the evolution of humanity’s morality without either of them being the embodiment of it. Evil is part of their ‘management plan.’ (I’m going all corporate with these two ‘guys.’)

    @Robert Jones – I totally get your point about not letting my comedic side steamroll/overpower my message.

    @Everyone– It took me a year to dig this far into the psyche of my first manuscript. Can’t thank you enough. This input is worth its weight in gold.

  34. MikeR

    @Scott – Looking forward to seeing the finished book at the local signing. 😉 “God and the Devil” can be marvelous characters in fantasy-fiction, because you have – in essence – “G(o)od, (D)evil, and Everyman.” A very allegorical tale could be here, and still be compelling. Lots of very meaty possibilities for layers of story and meaning to be woven into what is nevertheless also a strongly structured (engineered, physics …) story. I love to read stories like this, if done well.

  35. Robert Jones

    There’s stil one huge unanswered question here. A potential thread of suspense that has not been answered: What became of Heidi after she went to visit her a crack-head, racist mayor?

    Could it be…foul play? Juicy stakes? A plot point we’ve all failed to notice?

  36. OMG, Robert. You made me laugh so hard. Let me explain. I’m a political blogger by day (sort of) and the mayor of my city of Toronto, Rob Ford, has just left office to enter a re-hab program. You might have heard of him as every late night talk show host has been making fun of him for the last few months. Anyway, that story just broke 2 days ago, and he’s still running for office!

    Anyhoo, I’m just so glad to see Scott on here and I really think he has something wonderful. The switching between God roles I think is wonderful, and tapping into the old testament and new testament is an interesting take on the whole thing. I don’t know what it is about Easy, but I keep seeing Michael Sera in that role, the the underdog Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

    I can’t wait to read your book when its done. I know you’ll go far. Cheers, Heidi.

  37. Robert Jones

    @Heidi–I was envisioning a news blurb about an author disappearing after an ugly confrontation with corrupt city officials…LOL!

    RF sounds like a piece of work. No matter where you look at politicians these days, it seems we are all living in a pulp fiction novel.