One of the things I’ve struggled to avoid in this story are the standard tropes that we’ve all come to expect from the genre. I know that I’m certainly not avoiding all of them (there are so many that I’m sure I’m adding in a few out of pure ignorance of their existence) and I’m also aware that tropes exist much for the same reasons that cliches exist – they tend to work. So I’m not exactly painting myself into a corner by aggressively sidestepping all of the stuff that has already been done. That’s more of an exercise for a creative writing course than it is for someone who is trying to write an actual book.
All of that said, there were a bunch of things that I tried like hell to either avoid or to “get right”. I’m sick to death of books having to do with an action genre where firearms play a significant part and in which people are taking rounds through the arms, trunk, or legs all the time and just walking it off. Yes, there are rounds out there that are inherently more survivable than others, however .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO ammunition (which are now effectively, for better or worse, the most popular center fire cartridges in the United States) isn’t something you just walk away from, especially the higher pressured 5.56. The commando-shrugging-off-a-rifle-round trope is so wide spread that I wasn’t even aware that I was perpetrating it in the first draft of Commune, Book 1 until I had a copy proofread by a Marine buddy of mine. Subsequent research uncovered the sheer devastation that can be expected by the recipient of one of these show stoppers.
Let me lay it out straight: a 5.56 round may occupy the same diameter as a .22 LR but if you get hit with one inside of 400 yards, you’re in a world of hurt. For example, if you get hit in the leg, you get to keep that leg only through the application of supreme emergency medical care, both on and off the battlefield. In a world the likes of which you’ll find in my book, getting hit in the leg means you lose the whole damned leg and probably die of infection not long after. This is a hard reality that had to be learned both by myself as the author and by the characters in my story.
Aside from the technical realities that I needed to wade through as a civilian who has never fired a weapon at anything other than inanimate targets, there are the usual character developments that I’m trying to work my way through. The reality of a post apocalyptic landscape is simply going to generate certain attitudes in the people who occupy it. Even so, I have read so many stories where the characters were outright humorless and bereft of joy. I get that the world is a hard place now but personally, as a reader, I have a really hard time identifying with characters that are a bunch of Gloomy Guses all the time. It’s just a bummer, you know? I wonder to myself: all of these people are wandering from point to point in the story obviously miserable – what the hell are they fighting so hard for? Without a single ounce of joy, levity, or basic human compassion, why would anyone fight to stick around?
Some stories attempt to alleviate this by baking in some existing relationships (i.e. person X is the father of child Y, therefore there is emotional weight and stakes are present). I get it, you can’t avoid that, and even I have a bit of that in my book. But I’m always looking for the development of that relationship in the books that I read. It’s what makes you care about the characters and, ultimately, it’s what makes the action exciting.
Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles are an outstanding example of books with excellent character development and deep, emotional stakes (whether you’re a fan of the genre or not). These books are essentially high fantasy but they occupy a spot in what I’m coming to regard as the New Fantasy, which tend to be several cuts above the old-school Dragonlance pap that we tend to outgrow at age 13. It is fantasy crafted for thinking adults; consequently, Rothfuss’s work is riveting and there’s hardly any action in these stories at all (comparatively speaking). It is clear in the writing that the man adores character-driven work and uses it as a lever and fulcrum around which the reader’s emotions may be turned.
I certainly don’t regard myself as a Patrick Rothfuss but it is my hope that my series of books produces the same kind of regard from reader to character and that I’m avoiding a lot of the stupid genre-specific things that would make your average Veteran (a big part of my intended audience) cringe.
In other news, all of the back-end accounting and paperwork necessary to publish the first book in the series should be completed by this weekend. With luck, the ebook will be available for purchase by the 31st (I’m really trying to avoid an April Fools release date).