Tuesday, January 22, 2013

End of Act One

As promised, I finished Act One of my new novel, Schism, this past weekend.  In three weeks, I managed to get nearly 42,000 words on paper.  Unlike the aimlessness of a lot who do NaNoWriMo, this one has direction.  A large portion of time was devoted to outlining, and then I managed to set aside about an hour each day to get the outline into a more coherent form.

I'm really excited about this novel.  This may have been the easiest, least stressful work I've done yet.  Words simply flowed onto the page, and I'm thrilled with the direction.  If Act Two is anything like Act One, I can have this whole thing done, or at least the first draft, by the end of April.

Act One is entitled "The Spark."  Much like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand or the shelling of Fort Sumter, I tried to set a stage where the conditions were right for a massive conflict, and all it would take is the right spark to ignite a fire no one could contain.  As I've said before, our country is ripe for something bad to happen.  No, I'm not talking about a financial collapse or a new terrorist attack - although either is possible - but rather something from inside our own society. 

We no longer talk to each other - we screech.  Finding out someone you thought was a friend has a political view diametrically opposite of yours can result in the loss of that friend in today's climate.  Go to any political website, be it Right Wing News or Democratic Underground, you'll find that the articles and forums aren't so much an intellectual discussion of the day's issues as a constant slinging of mud and mockery where any dissent from the prevailing view is greeted by derision and outright rage.  On TV, we go from Rachel Maddow to Sean Hannity, again with each side looking not to engage, but to conquer.  These elements play to the base of its part in the Red/Blue divide and stoke fires intended to anger.  Each has the right to do so, but that doesn't make them mellow.

With this in mind, I've wondered over the last few years what could happen if the right incident occurred.  No longer do we have the massive majorities like Reagan in 1984 or LBJ in 1964 - casting aside 2008(an anomaly due to the timing of the economic collapse), no candidate has gotten more than 51% of the vote since the 1980s.  Popular vote majorities are razor thin, and the parties seem to be much more regionally focused than in the past, with a handful of swing states deciding the election.

When the blood of people is already riled up, how much of a push would it really take to push them over the edge and into political violence?  We like to pretend it couldn't happen here in the US, but that ignores that it has indeed happened before, with 1860 being the most notable example.  In the climate of Schism, neither side is willing to budge, and the politicians of each play to the constituencies of those that pay for them.  Each side eventually feels pushed against a wall and finally lashes out.  Soon, fighting begins without either side really knowing what's happening.

The novel I have so far is very much story based rather than character based.  There are a few that we follow - like Dean Turlman, the man whose family is murdered by an eco-terrorist group, and whose yearning for revenge keeps the fuse lit - but it's almost a documentary following various characters as they react to events.  News stories, internet blogs, and editorials are interspersed throughout to try and capture how the modern media would both follow the story and fan the flames, whether out of strongly held beliefs or desire for ratings.

I tried making it as realistic as I could.  How would a Democratic President react to special interest groups pushing him to respond to what they see as a lawless act of vigilantism?  What would a Republican Governor do so that he could be seen as standing up for law and order while simultaneously bucking a President the citizens of his state don't like?  Would there be any real cooperation between federal and state agencies when each has a different agenda?  And would those who are merely cogs in the machine use their own judgment, or would they allow the passions of others to govern how they proceed?

I've had to work real hard to stay neutral.  I've constantly asked myself if I've made one side more sympathetic than the other.  The point of "The Spark" isn't to engender sympathy, because those who have definitive political passions are going to leap to the side they normally do without prodding anyway.  Rather it's to show how easily things can get out of control when people get so blinded they focus only on the other side as an enemy.  To be frank, I expect a lot of readers to get caught up in this phenomenon while they read, yelling "HELL YEAH!" as the side they identify with the most does something they would like to see.

"The Spark" still needs editing, with probably between 6,000 and 8,000 words coming off when all is said and done, but that'll happen later.  Within the next week, I plan to begin Act Two: Conflagration.  This one will be about the war itself, about neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend, about pockets of blue within red states trying to withstand the onslaught, as well as islands of red within seas of blue doing what they can to survive.  I expect the national guards of several states to get involved as the Midwest and West Coast react to moves by the other, as well as the classic North/South divide to again come to life as each moves to claim Washington DC for their executive.  All in all, it's going to be a bloody mess, with a paralyzed US Military and the uncertainty of foreign attack as the wild card...

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