Love Interest in Non-Romance Novels

Whether or not to include a love interest for the protagonist in a non-romance novel is a matter of choice for the author. Most people have at least one love interest in their lives, so my choice usually is to include some sort of love interest even if it’s just an intimate friendship.

The advantage of having a love interest is that it shows a different aspect of the protagonist’s character. One doesn’t have to dwell on personal habits and everyday hygiene, but how your protagonist treats her lover tells much about  her attitude toward others. The challenge is in meshing the romantic scenes in your novel with the overall plot and protagonist’s arc. How often have we skipped through pages with the obligatory sex scene that makes no sense in the story at all.

Of course, the love interest is a major character and has to show up at least ten percent of the time. This isn’t always convenient for the protagonist, but isn’t that the way it is in real life? We’re cruising through the day and our honey calls up and asks if we’d like to go to dinner or a movie. We’re not likely to say no. Six hours later, whatever we were doing has slipped our minds.

The trick is to make the love interest an integral part of the plot, perhaps as a collaborator, or maybe as a victim. Then, when they show up, the reader knows that something is going to happen. It’s a way to insert a plot twist that doesn’t appear artificial or contrived.

In Angel of Mortality, at the third pinch point, when Raisa is faced with the new challenge of creating an antidote to the nanobot plague, she asks Damir to come visit–partly to share her misery, but also to bolster her confidence. Damir, whose goal is to marry Raisa, is disappointed that she has no interest in that, but still supports her emotionally.

Writing Habits and Personal Preferences

I believe most writers, most human beings, are creatures of habit. I need seclusion with no distractions to write. I get into each scene mentally and emotionally so any disturbance that breaks me out of that ruins the spell. My friend Kee Briggs wrote anywhere, using a pencil and paper. I admired that, but in many cases, his protagonist was a paper projection of himself.

With Phu going into the hospital this week, I realize that when he comes home, I will have to change my writing habits. It’s doubtful he will be able to take care of himself for a while, so I will have to adjust. I started writing again when my wife was fighting breast cancer, so I understand what has to be done.

To organize my activities, I separate tasks according to the time I will give them. Even with careful planning, any individual task can vary considerably. Some things, such as personal hygiene, meal preparation, and household chores are controllable, if not predictable. Many other items are not because they depend on others, or are complex. Doctor’s appointments, for example, are wholly up to the physician and may not happen in a timely fashion.

My daily goal is 1,200 words, which takes six hours on average. I like to write when I am fresh, which means I often take a nap before starting a section. It is not unusual to vary that, although I seldom write for more than ten hours straight. With Phu out of commission, I will have to rearrange my schedule to meet his needs and take on the chores he normally did before. I may have to settle for four hours and 800 words.

The Calm before the Storm

Chapter 39, the chapter before the next pinch point, is where both Raisa and Ai-mei prepare for battle. Ai-mei knows it won’t be the knockout blow that she desires, but the sooner she strikes, the more damage she can do. Raisa is aware she doesn’t have her ultimate defense deployed, but hopes to survive the weaker attack in shape to prepare her ultimate defense and allow the ICC to stop the Ruby Spider using conventional weapons.

The whole world is alert, preparing for curfews and watching for the first signs of a nanobot attack while the intelligence community seeks to pinpoint Ai-mei’s base of operations and attack points. Neither the ICC or the Ruby Spider bureaucracies will react as swiftly as Raisa and Ai-mei on their fields of maneuvering, so the coming combat will catch the national leaders unprepared.

Section length and chapter organization

When I lay out my outline, I do it by sections, assuming each section will be about 1,200 words and aiming for the word length I believe fits my subject. For the Ruby Spider Conspiracy, I chose 75,000 words, which I chose to break into 64 sections. Initially, this is arbitrary, based on a best guess at how the story will flow. I don’t worry about chapter layout at first because that will become more evident as the story unfolds.

Ultimately, I would like for each chapter to be about what someone would read if they took the book back to the bathroom. It’s easier to leave a book and come back to it if you can do it at the end of a chapter.

I like for each section to stay with one Point of View character in one location at one point in time. Like most rules, that isn’t hard and fast, but it’s easier for the reader if it works that way. Like most rules of thumb, I’m not against breaking them when necessary.

As I’m writing Section 38, coming toward another pinch point, there is action in four venues. Raisa is developing the intelligent nanobot entity EVE in Bishkek; Kassar is dealing with the Ruby Spider cabal from his home in Mongolia;  . Nicoleta Văduva is deploying the original nanobot defense system from Manas; and, Ai-mei is creating an improved version of the plague at her laboratory in North Korea.

At this point,  I have decided to do two things that are less uniform. First, I will break some sections into sub-sections of 500 words or less; and, second, I will allow one of the non-main characters (Ai-mei) to take a POV role temporarily. One of my intentions in doing this is to bring the Ruby Spider out of the shadows and have their representative, Johnathan Pembroke start to play a larger part as their scheme moves toward completion.

It’s still a first draft, so I may juggle all these parts differently in the next draft, but for now, I want to get all of the story down on paper in some form.

Keep on writing. David

Characters and Voice

I’m coming to a point in writing Angel of Mortality (about the sixty percent mark) where the action speeds up and the characters voice may be the only clue as to what they are feeling. As I write, I get to know the characters better. Damir, who is Raisa’s paramour and a professional arms dealer, fluent in seven languages, doesn’t express himself in the same way as Shyamal, who is an Indian biochemist. Sonya, Raisa’s companion and secretary, who has only a basic education in Kyrgyzstan, isn’t going to talk in the same way as Raisa, who has a doctorate in biochemistry and has lived in four different countries. Kassar, who is the basest sort of criminal and oversees activities throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa has his own voice.

As many of you know, the 67% point in a novel is the second pinch point, when the antagonist, Kassar delivers a body blow to the protagonist, Raisa, reminding her that this is not about winning battles to save lives, but is about winning and world domination. She must show compassion for the dying but determination to defeat Kassar. Her voice must be firm, but feminine and sympathetic. Kassar must be demanding and somewhat desperate. To make this believable, I’m going to review the novel as written up to now and make sure the characters have a consistent voice appropriate to their roles.

Description

In critiquing my WIP, Angel of Mortality, several reviewers asked me if I would include a scene showing how the plague worked.

Normally, I suppose, they would expect a scene where crowded hospitals took in moaning patients while heroic doctors worked desperately to save a coughing child. I created many such clips on my way to my current version, including a scene in Manila in my last version. In true Batman style, Kassar would be a giggling maniac watching cadaverous women beg in the streets while gagging passers-by stumbled to their cars to escape quarantine.

The opening scene in Mombasa in this version is after the plague has passed. the dead are dead and the living are no longer threatened. The cleanup after the plague is gruesome enough–the sight of the bloated baby being thrown into the incineration pit is evidence of that.

I’m putting in  a scene that will show the plague at work when Cholpon and Raisa are watching the TV reports. Other than giving the reader some insight into the potency of the nanobot plague it serves little purpose in the story, but readers deserve to know.

.This plague kills quickly and quietly. No sores, no gagging, just a swift loss of the nervous tissue that causes dementia or loss of muscular control and then a painless death. Of course, witnesses  appalled by the catastrophe, create social upheaval that is immediate, but short-lived, as they too succumb.

The real showdown is not between the two human opponents, Raisa and Kassar, or even between the two social components, the ICC, and Ruby Spider, but between the two nanobot entities, EVE and Madan, who are the robotic alter egos for Raisa and Kassar.  To make this work, I have to create a reader emotional attachment to non-human entities, which means they need personalities–similar to 3-CPO and R2D2 in Star Wars–but deeper, more human.

Eventually, I’ll have to figure out a neat way to dispose of Kassar and Ai-mei in some dramatic fashion, which may involve heroics by my gal Cholpon, but I haven’t worked that out yet

Veterans Day Speech

Last Sunday, November 11, 2018, I made a speech to the combined Unitarian Universalist Congregations  of Brevard County, Florida:

Many mistakenly assume that, because the Unitarian Universalist Assembly supports the rights of conscientious objectors, that UUs do not support the US military. I believe the Rev. William G. Sinkford, the seventh president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, said what many of us agree with when speaking at a National Prayer Breakfast. “War is not our first choice, and, in some sense, it always represents a failure.” Rev. Sinkford served in the military and his son was a Ranger at the time.

 

John F. Kennedy said, “It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.” According to an article by Nick Turse in The Nation, the US has deployed troops in 135 nations and carries on military operations in 80 of those. Many of these exercises are for training, but an equal number are secret and undoubtedly involve clandestine activities by Special Operations Forces.

There are 18.5 million veterans in the United States, those whom we honor on this day. They are not all of one race, religion, or creed, but they share one common trait, they all defended and swore to protect our constitution. Those serving today are not in some foreign land by choice. Our beliefs, our way of life, and our nation are under attack by many factions. We must, however, resist the temptation, promoted by some to make America’s wars about religion. Separation of church and state are fundamental to our American doctrine.

 

“The soldier above all others prays for peace,” said Gen. Douglas MacArthur, “for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” Our hearts and prayers go out today to the many veterans who, while they did not die in action, still suffer the wounds and trauma of the military experience. Too often, society underserves or neglects them when their duty time ends

 

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. While our roots lie in liberal Christianity, we seek inspiration and derive insight from all major world religions.

Morihei Ueshiba, a Shinto teacher said, “A warrior is always engaged in a life-and-death struggle for Peace.” We must appreciate our warriors―seekers of peace.

The Ruby Spider Conspiracy

I am currently working on a speculative fiction novel with the working title, The Ruby Spider Conspiracy. I just completed Chapters 32-35 which constitute plot point two, the center of the novel expected to be 75,000 words long.

The novel is about Raisa Ilyushkin, a biochemist from Ukraine, educated in Russia, who is commissioned by a private foundation, with permission from the World Court, to study biological weapons using nanobots. The court’s reasoning is that understanding the weapons will prevent a cold-war style competition to develop them.

One of Raisa’s associates takes the research products out of the laboratory and turns them over to a cabal, the Ruby Spider Conspiracy (RSC) that believes mass genocide is the solution to overpopulation. Raisa is working to develop a defense that will overcome the nanobot plague. At the midpoint,  humanity has suffered two attacks at a cost of one billion four hundred million lives.

The United Nations has disbanded, because some of the backers of the Ruby Spider have UN Security Council connections and the surviving nations have formed a new coalition, The International Council on Civilization (ICC). The newly formed ICC is backing Raisa’s efforts to find a defense for the nanobot plague.