When a Story Goes Off the Rails

17 Mar

Ah, Knights Errant.

Some of my readers will immediately recognize the name (Nate, I’m looking at you), and feel a certain amount of nostalgia for this colossal train wreck. Others will have heard me mention it, probably ruefully, while the rest of you are scratching your heads right now. That’s OK. Let me tell you a little story. Think of this, if you will, as an act of confession.

Forgive me, Readers, for I have sinned. 😉

Once upon a time, back when I was in college, I joined a group of fellow Rifts(tm) RPG fanatics called the Palladium Mailing List. There, I made some good friends, including one who’s still a friend all these years later. We argued rules variations, posted our own creations and conversions from other games and settings into the Palladium(tm) game system, and formed our own corporate entities in the Rifts(tm) setting.

During that time, I started writing an ongoing story set in the Rifts(tm) universe called Knights Errant. It was mostly a way to work out some of my ideas for expanding my own little corner of the setting, setting down some recurring characters, and just having fun. It was probably the first real long-form fiction writing I’d done outside of creative writing class assignments. When our relationship with Palladium(tm) collapsed (a story in and of itself), we went our own ways.

But I couldn’t let go of Knights Errant. So with some help (Nate, I’m looking at you again), I was able to strip out every element of the story that had been specifically part of the Rifts(tm…oh, forget it) setting, or a conversion from another setting. What I was left with were some amusing characters, and fragments of a story. With an effort, and a bit more help, I knitted the whole thing back together.

A new setting was created. An alternate timeline for Earth was written, covering the 1940s through the mid-2300s. It’s incredibly detailed, marking major turning points in human history, noting births and deaths of important characters, and covering a certain amount of geopolitical development of the planet. Technology was drummed up – some of it was even scientifically sound – and detailed, mysterious aliens were added, genetic modification became a thing for humanity…

And the most critical part of the story made itself known to me. The story would take place during a massive civil war, engulfing the Sol system and its colonies, and the sides would rotate around this: The survival of humanity as a pure, unchanging species, vs. the voluntary change and development of humanity into lots of sub-species.

It felt like a solid story idea. Still does.

The problem was that it became the backdrop of the story. At the time, I was convinced that letting the characters do their own things was the right way to go, that I had to listen to them and let them be who they wanted to be, regardless of my plans. My civil war turned into a personal revenge story, that morphed into something that resembled a mashup of Gundam, Macross, and Star Wars. Sort of.

It was going great. The characters were developing and interacting well, I wrote what I felt were dynamic and exciting battle scenes, and even managed to sneak in a romance that (looking back on it now) falls squarely into the Strangled by the Red String trope. It was big, huge, space opera stuff. I chose a theme song for it, and had even envisioned an opening sequence for an animated show based on it.

200–odd pages into the manuscript, I made a horrifying discovery: It no longer had a plot.

It didn’t just not have a plot…I had no clue where the story was going, no idea what the end point was going to be. I still don’t.

I stopped writing. Stepped back and took a long, hard look at it. Tried to get a feel for the shape of it. And failed.

And there the story remains, to this day, almost twenty years later. I have occasionally – every couple of years, if I’m being honest – taken a stab at repairing the damage. Sometime I try to pick up where I left off and bend the story to some end. Other times I start over from scratch, shuffling characters, adding or removing technology, changing the shape of it to try and make it roll.

I’ve even tried writing other stories set in the same universe. I usually make it a couple of chapters in, and realize that I’m not sure where I want them to end up.

But I can’t quite give up on it. It’s always there in the back of my mind, simmering, stewing, bubbling…but never actually cooking.

I suppose trying to make it work again and again is my act of contrition. 😀

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Posted by on March 17, 2018 in My Writing, Ramblings


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