Posts Tagged ‘paradox’

Though I’ve been working hard on writing the sequel to Johnny Came Home and on making a few revisions to the first novel [which will include an excerpt from John Lazarus: Mann from Midwich], I managed to carve out some time last night to work on the book cover for the newest John Lazarus Adventure. We’re still beta testing the cover titles, but the artwork is pretty much identical to what the final cover will look like.

And just for kicks, here’s the teaser from the back cover:

“One year after John Lazarus returns to Midwich, questions still linger. Is he human? Something more? The events of last year taught him that someone is trying to start a war between super-powered humans and the rest of humanity, but he has no idea how vast the conspiracy stretches. Or who he can trust.

As the world discovers the presence of super-powered humans, battle lines are drawn and sides are chosen. Johnny will need the help of a team of heroes to avert the coming world war. But will it be enough?

Find out more in John Lazarus: Mann from Midwich, the thrilling sequel to Johnny Came Home.

Legends arise. Dark forces gather. Heroes unite.”

Ugh.

My amazing wife just finished Johnny Came Home and I had to edit the book yet again.

Since the things I missed were fairly easy to fix, but oh-so-crucial to making the book the best it could be, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on repeated words, unnecesarry sentences, character development, flow, paradoxes, danglers and descriptive word choice.

The first thing you should look for is repeated words. My personal sins are too many to list in this category, although my over-use of the word “dude” comes to mind, dude. Here’s an example:

Johnny sighed, took note of the fact that his passenger was still asleep, and decided not to wake him just yet. Weasel would have a thousand questions that he wasn’t prepared to answer just yet. He headed toward town.

The simplest solution was to delete the repeated phrase. In other case, where a word is repeated more than once, you have to get a little more creative.

I also used the word “merc” and “mercenary” quite a bit in the last draft to decribe a type of zombie soldier utilized by Titan’s corporate rival. You won’t see either variant anywhere in the most recent draft, because the word simply didn’t fit. Mercenaries are guns-for-hire. Zombie soldiers  don’t really have a choice in the matter [and I’m pretty sure they don’t get pay and benefits!] Point is: don’t just go to Thesaurus.com and pick a synonym for the word “soldier,” for example. Make sure the word actually describes your character so readers don’t get the wrong impression. In my case, it would have been easy to assume that Titan’s rival was using both zombie troops and hired guns, when in fact they only brought along the former.

Next, let’s talk about flow. Flow is that magical [and oftimes elusive] element that keeps your readers turning the pages at the right pace. Those last four words are really important. If you’re building up an action scene, you do not want your readers bogged down in a patch of dialogue. We talked about that in my last post on self-editing. Though less obvious, action scenes can also interupt the flow. In my case, I had two epic super-powered fight scenes that did not advance the plot in any way. They were just there because I got these cool images in my head and they leaked out onto my storyline.

Let’s face it: I write the movie I see in my head. Sometimes I also write the video game tie-in. The problem with the video game tie-in [and the key difference between a video game and a movie, in my opinion] is that the game has mini-bosses, something neither movies nor novels have [generally speaking]. Mini-bosses were conceived of to give gamers more bang for their buck. They are not necessary to the game’s story arc. They’re extra. Superfluous [like that last word and this parenthetical remark]. As a novelist, you want your readers to keep turning pages at the right pace, so you don’t want to muddle the pace or cut off the flow completely. Action or dialogue that doesn’t advance the plot is like a big parenthetical in your book. Or as we say in my neck ofthe woods, a rabbit trail. Get rid of them. I ended up cutting out two chapters worth of material.

That’s not to say that your book should be a Spartan page-turner. One of the things I had to do was to go back and put two scenes back in. You see, character development is important. I mean, why should we care about a character? Why should we invest our time in them? What makes a particular character, major or minor, someone who isn’t interchangeable with any other character? For example, I had cut out a scene where a character remembers her life before the fire that took Johnny’s parents. In retrospect, this scene was important because it not only introduced and fleshed out a character important to my protagonist, it showed us the impact Johnny’s disappearance had on those he knew and gave us a better picture of Johnny’s father, someone who continues to influence him. I cut that scene to bring down my word count. It was the wrong scene to cut! Use discernment when editing your novel. Ask God for wisdom; He promises to give it to you in spades!

I also had at least two major paradoxes in the book’s setting and in a plot point, respectively. When I set up my book, I initially decided that Midwich isn’t really known to anyone outside and isn’t on any maps or internet databases. Johnny takes an unmarked interstate exit, drives down twisting country roads and drives through a mountain tunnel before he finally sees his hometown. He only knows how to get there from memory. Cool concept, but completely unrealistic. I mean, people have been living there for a while and presumably have family elsewhere and go on vacations. People have bound to have noticed that it wasn’t listed on Google maps or whatever. At some point in writing Johnny, I must have subconsciously recognized how ludicrous this was because I wrote in a tourist attraction. A tourist attraction in a place no one knows about. Let that sink in. I solved my paradox by re-writing the opening chapter, having the town known, but geographically isolated, and having Titan hiding in plain sight as a benefactor and provider of jobs [so why would anyone suspect them of anything nefarious, right?]

The last problem I had was the dreaded dangler. The dangler occurs when you remove a character and like Jason Vorhees or Freddy Kreuger, they just keep popping up no matter how many times you kill them off. In my last post on self-editing, I meantion that Dr. Phineas was removed from the book. Well, most of her. Not only did she show up by name at least five more times, she showed up by vague reference twice and by pronoun confusion once more! The pronoun confusion was the result of switching some of the plot elements and dialogue that I needed from Phineas to another character. That character was male… a male who thought to herself. The references were simply oversights, but I’m still not sure how I left her in by name five stinking times. After all, I hit CTRL + F and ferreted her out of the novel. Not sure how I missed it, but she’s gone now for sure. [Cue chilling music]

Anyway, even with putting scenes back in for clarity and character development’s sake, I’m down to 70 chapters, 355 pages and 98,502 words. That means I lost 2 chapters, 4 pages and about 1500 words over the Browne & King edits.

And now, pending comments from a few early reviews I have out there, I’m [finally] ready to submit Johnny Came Home to a publisher.

God bless you, and keep writing,

-Tony Breeden

For reasons unfathomable [OK, I was reading one of Tim Chaffey’s Truth Chronicles novels], I found myself thinking about time travel the other day. Whether it has occurred to you or not, time travel is a bit tricky to deal with in a Christian novel. Why? Because whether we’re dealing with the past or future, we [as writers] must take into account God’s sovereignty.

When dealing with the future, we must make sure we are taking into account as-yet-unfulfilled Bible prophecy even if our story does not deal with those events. For example, you cannot write  a novel in which the future Earth is destroyed and mankind moves to the stars because Bible prophecy tells us that Israel and the Middle East play important roles in the End of Days. To give another example, if you travel to a future where mankind has colonized other planets, you might want to ask yourself what Christ’s Return would look like across space and time! I mean, what does Jesus splitting the Easter sky look like on another planet, on the Moon or even on an orbital space station?

We can also ask ourselves how far God would allow us to travel into the future. It stands to reason that the period in which there is no more sorrow, nor tears, nor dying would be off-limits to sinful humanity simply because the time traveller’s intrusion would change that state of affairs instantly!

Of course, we have much more leeway with future time travel than we do forays into the past; that is, we can account for future prophecy events in our storytelling with a bit of creativity because these events have not actually happened yet, whereas history is set in stone.

As a creationist, it occurs to me that certain types of time travel into the past are pretty much off-limits where the Christian novelist is concerned. For starters, one could never go back millions of years because time itself only began about 6,000 years ago [give or take a century or two]. One cannot time travel beyond time. Time is the highway a time traveller journeys upon. He is bound by its limitations. So the furthest we could conceivably go back would be the beginning of time itself.

I’ve wondered if we could go back and see the days of Creation. This seems like a tantalizing possibility at first, but then we realize that God declares each day “good” at its terminus and “very good” at the end of the seventh day. The presence of sinful time travellers [even if they were noncorporeal and could not interact with the environment physically] would forbid such a declaration. We also have to note that sinful man is prevented from entering Eden by seraphim. It would not be unwarranted to suggest that this also prevents time travellers from entering Eden. Man fall then would act as a space-time barrier for the time traveller. If you wanted to use time travel to see the days of creation, you would be limited to some sort of technology that allows you to see into the past without being there.

What about the post-Edenic pre-Flood world? Nothing revealed in Scripture really prevents a person from going back to that time, so now we move on to whether we can affect the course of history. Three related issues  naturally concern us: the butterfly effect, paradox and alternate histories. The butterfly effect is the idea that the wind off a butterfly’s wing in New York can lead to a tsunami in Tokyo. When applied to time, it is often connected to evolutionary ideas. For example, Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called “A Sound of Thunder” in which a time-travelling big game hunter named Eckels steps on a butterfly in an evolutionist’s fictional “age of the dinosaurs,” resulting in changes in an election, everyday behavior and even the way words are spelled. Even when unconnected to evolutionary ideas, the butterfly effect suggests that minor actions in the past can have significant effects on the future. For example, imagine our time machine lands on some poor soul in the tradition of Frank Baum’s Dorothy Gale and this leads to Hitler’s Germany winning WWII instead of the Allies. We have just created an alternate history, a mainstay of sci-fi popularized in the TV series, Sliders. Unfortunately, this sort of butterfly effect infringes upon God’s sovereignty. The Bible paints a picture of God orchestrating the major events of history for His purposes. If major world events change as a result of a time traveller’s interaction with the past, as entertaining or instructive as such a story may be, we nonetheless have left a Biblical basis for our writing. The concept of alternate histories or multiverses is an evolutionary concept that suggests that our timeline is but one of an infinite number of timelines of an infinite number of universes. Stephen Hawking has presented the multiverse hypothesis as a way of having our fine-tuned universe without having to bow the knee and admit to a Creator as a necessary Being. It’s his way of having a beginning to the universe without having to admit to a supernatural uncaused First Cause.

As I said, multiverses and alternate histories infringe upon God’s sovereignty for it suggests that things did not have to pan out according to God’s will. In fact, it should be noted that the time traveller will find himself prevented from changing the immutable past. At the worst extreme, he may find his dog or donkey warning him that the path he’s chosen ends with an angel killing him before he reaches his destination! We suggest he won’t even come close to disrupting history in even  minor details. If God allows time travel, He will in His sovereignty account for the time traveller’s actions in the unveiling of history as we know it. Which discovery could be a story unto itself!

Now we should say that interacting with the fallen pre-Flood world wouldn’t have much effect on the modern world anyway, as every living creature died upon the face of the earth in whose nostrils was the breath of life when the Flood came, except Noah and his family. Humanity of the pre-Flood world are more or less “dead men walking” from a practical sci-fi standpoint. It should be said that extracting a fallen person from the pre-Flood world should be impossible from the standpoint of God’s sovereignty. If they chose to ignore God’s warning and find safety in the Ark, there’s no reason to presume they merely prefered a time machine instead.

We should also be careful to avoid paradox. For example, imagine what would happen if God allowed a time traveller to kill Noah before his first child was born. This would create a paradox in which the time traveller [a descendant of Noah, as we all are] prevented the building of the Ark which allowed humanity to continue on to produce the time traveller. As stated, I do not think God in His sovereignty would allow such a thing to happen. But this brings up an important point. If God allows time travel and accounts for the time traveller’s actions in His sovereign plan, we can also assume that God will not allow the time traveller to go back and prevent his own birth or the invention of the time machine or a particular time travel episode, etc. In other words, what’s done is done.

Writing a time travel novel with God’s revealed sovereignty in mind would be challenging to say the least, especially if the time traveller makes more than one foray into a particular time frame, but the reward is well worth the effort of the extra consideration required.

If you have any thoughts on time travel in Christian sci-fi, I’d like to here them.

-Tony, DefGen.org

Author of the up-coming superhero sci-fi novel, Johnny Came Home.