Philia, postscript

Every part of “Philia” is tagged “Guidant.” There’s a reason for that. A number of years ago I conceived a story that centered on a Christian starship captain in a universe much like ours: while Christians exist, so do many other religions. The basic idea was to tell science fiction stories centering around a Christian character, as opposed to “Christian science fiction” or what most science fiction has become, which either ignores religion or ignores Christianity. I wrote up a full outline for the first story and did full workups on both the ship, every member of the crew, and a number of other pertinent characters.

“Philia” is part of the backstory of Captain Mary Bala. It was not meant to be the main story in the least, and in fact, I considered very little of it except as part of her past. Something got in me that I wanted to tell this story, though, and so we now have it. As we continue the blog, I imagine I’ll be telling more stories set within my Guidant universe, and I’ll tag them thusly. In fact, there’s already another one on here besides “Philia”…

Part One

When I first thought of this story, the focus was all on the pregnancy and none at all on how the pregnancy occurred. This was a travesty. Have I paid enough attention to Philia’s father? I’m not convinced I have, but it’s still better than I’d originally considered.

As one astute reader observed, I do owe quite a bit of my handling of the issue in part one to Peter Prellwitz’s Shards Book 2. He used a shower in much the same way, and I did steal that from him.

I made a conscious decision to never explicitly use the word “rape,” nor even to describe it. This is an example of “show, don’t tell.” I imagine that I was mostly successful in transmitting the idea, and I hope it was more potent because of what was not said.

Part Two

Wait a second, why the time jump? Honestly, this story could easily fill a novel. I didn’t want to take that time; I wanted to show highlights from the time. I could easily come back and do more scenes in between parts. However, as it was, the story got to be longer than my original plan of five parts. For a blog, eight parts is already too long, in my opinion. More on the nature of serials later.

Brandon suggested to me to make each chapter of the story focus on a different stage of grieving. It’s a great idea, and I wish I’d had it before I’d written the rest. Alas, the idea will have to be saved for another tale, and since Brandon came up with the idea, he gets first dibs.

Brandon also suggested I should have Mary struggle more. In the first draft of this part, Mary actually went to see the prisoners with the express consent of killing Philia’s father. I thought that was too much, and pulled back from it. I agree with the criticism, though: I pulled back from that too much. Mary is too strong, it seems.

Part Three

After I completed the first draft, I realized we needed to see more of the crew and get their reactions to the situation. We also needed to see some more problem solving. Part three was inserted in the second draft, and I think it’s pretty obvious. It doesn’t fit into the flow of the story nearly so well, in my mind.

I also wanted to get a little more of “why are we worried about the baby, anyway?” taken care of. I’m not sure if it succeeded there, either. Overall, we could probably lift part three out of the story and miss very little.

Part Four

I am a Confessional Lutheran. Mary has the same faith (though the designation Lutheran no longer exists in her world), and I wanted to make it clear that she doesn’t assume every child goes to heaven. Children in the Guidant universe are born in original sin and are in desperate need of forgiveness, just like anyone else.

I also wanted to avoid sermons, but still be clear with the theology. It interrupts the story, but at least here in part four I’m ok with that.

I wanted to develop at least some guilt on the part of others, though I think I do way too much showing rather than telling with both Trent and James.

Part Five

Like part three, part five was dropped in after the first draft, and just like part three, you could probably remove it without harming the story too much. I realized after the first draft that we never get to see any happiness associated with the baby, nor any mundane problems like figuring out where to put the baby to sleep. This part was written to alleviate that problem.

And another sermon. Well, I’m at the seminary. I guess it’s only natural. Doesn’t make it great for a story, though…

Part Six

I wanted to show why space travel would harm children. I also didn’t want to simply do an infodump by showing Mary’s or Paul’s research into the problem. I’m not sure if I really did enough here.

I also did want to show Mary struggle at least a bit. I wanted to show that she put on a brave face for her crew, but with her pastor, she could express those doubts.

Part Seven

What? Action, in a science fiction story? I wanted to extend these scenes, but as I wrote them, it just didn’t solidify in any good way. I think I may need to practice writing spaceflight scenes. I’m not convinced any of this works well, except perhaps the emotional responses during the flight.

This is another example of my consciously decided to show vs. telling. Never does anyone say, “The baby’s dead.” Rather, we see in the reactions that medical care is now pointless. I think that last scene works well.

Part Eight

I struggled a lot with this part. How to give closure, but make it clear that healing would have to continue for a long time yet? I’m disappointed with how it turned out. Also, another sermon, though this one is pretty much necessary, so I’m more ok with it.

Concluding Comments

Brandon and I talked a bit about the nature of serials on the blog. I think posting daily for Philia was a mistake, and Brandon concurred. It’s just too much too fast. However, I finished the story (or at least a final form) before posting part one, and I wanted to get it out without making anyone wait.

We’ve talked, and in the future, if a serial is completed before posting part one, we’ll likely post two or three parts a week. Fast enough to show that there will be regular progress, but not so fast that the reader is overwhelmed (hopefully).

Thanks to those who read the thing. I expected that by the end we would lose a good number of those that started; it’s simply the nature of serials. While we did shed readers, it was far less than I anticipated. Many thanks!

And now I’m going to go write something shorter form!

In the meantime, feel free to leave some comments. I welcome them!

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9 thoughts on “Philia, postscript

  1. Luke, I think you did an excellent job with the story as a whole. You definitely communicated much of the stark reality of what happens when someone is raped and a pregnancy comes as a result, and you also brought in the wrestling match of what to do when there is a baby on the way but complications could mean the baby won’t live a very long life. I appreciated the very pro-life focus, remembering that all life is precious, regardless of how long it lasts.

    I really appreciated how clearly you brought a Gospel message through the story. It was a nice balance to the very somber and heart-wrenching story.

    Now, a little bit of criticism: I didn’t feel it was realistic enough. What I mean is, I got the impression that Mary was some kind of super-Christian. I have spoken with couples who have lost a child through miscarriage. I have talked with couples in their later years looking back and talking about when they lost a baby to SIDS. One thing I never have heard anyone say, either at the time they’re grieving or reflecting on that time from later on, is that they asked to hear Gospel. That’s not to say it isn’t what they wanted or needed most, but it is not something the grieving person asks for, at least in my experience. The reason is because we have a sinful nature that always wants to demand answers of God, not grace from God. I just find it difficult to believe that at that moment Mary would be able to tell herself, “This is what I need to hear, so I’m going to ask for it.”

    What I think would have been much more real, and therefore more powerful, would be for her to not know what she wanted to hear, but for her to here Gospel anyway, and have the power of the Gospel crashing down on her. That’s what makes the Gospel so wonderful, at our time of deepest need, when we’re not looking for it, there it is to give us exactly what we need.

    I also wondered about the conversation between Trent and Paul. It seemed a little inorganic. I was expecting at least one of them to still be kind of hold-offish to the truth of the Gospel. I realize what you were trying to do was probably demonstrate that the Gospel message has the power to change hearts, and in the limited scope of the conversation that’s difficult to do. But maybe a stronger response to the Gospel from Paul and a more resistant response from Trent would have demonstrated the Gospel’s power more effectively, even. You know, because some people will just outright reject the message. Some people who have heard the message growing up will abandon it. And some people will latch onto it and embrace it. When you set the two sides up counterpart to each other, I think it’s a little more effective at demonstrating the power the Gospel can have over a person.

    All in all, I thought it was a very good story. You mentioned some of my previous criticisms so I don’t see any need to repeat them. I definitely enjoyed reading this. It would be interesting to see more in this particular setting. I like the whole idea, I think it’s a realistic setting (Christians in space! Imagine!), and one sadly overlooked by too many Science Fiction authors.

  2. I quote, regarding part 8: “I’m disappointed with how it turned out.” Yeah, the conversations there are not nearly as realistic as I wanted to be. The ending was a victim of “OK, time for closure.” I like your solution: Paul growing closer to Christ, Trent walking away. Knowing my larger setting, both would have been more appropriate, actually.

    Thanks for the comments!

  3. Posted this privately, but realized that since you’re inviting tweaking, I’ll go ahead and post publicly:

    Okay, just finished reading Philia. I am at loathe to post any criticism on the blog because it was such an excellent story and brought me to tears.

    However, there was a small thing missing. You know that we were all rooting for Philia to make it through, but you didn’t put too much into WHY. Philia was “a baby.” We loved the captain and didn’t want her baby to die, and we don’t want babies to die. We rooted for her because she was the underdog. But we didn’t learn too much about Philia herself. Her cries, her personality, her tendencies… just that she didn’t sleep well at night. I believe you could have created a deeper bond between us and Philia. Remember, people who haven’t had children have yet to learn, or easily forget, that even babies have strong echoes of their personalities. A baby IS a person, and doesn’t slowly develop personhood over the course of years, as some philosopher-savages would have us think.

    That said, your story was FAR from a failure, and was certainly a rousing success, and probably the best ever posted to our site. Nice work.

  4. I would definitely say that “I’m disappointed with how it turned out” is far too strong a sentiment for how I feel about it. Just curious, is that a quote from you about your own work, or from someone else about it?

    I think it was very powerfully moving, the story as a whole. I think the inclusion of the Gospel was superb. With just a few modifications to how the characters responded to the tragedy and the message of the Gospel, it would feel at once both much more realistic and even more powerful, if that were possible. I think you’ve got the makings of a really excellent story here, I’d just like to see a little more in depth character development all around.

  5. Brandon, that was from me, regarding Part 8 alone.

    Mike sent me a private message that he made public, so I’ll make my answer to him public as well:

    “Mike — thank you for the compliments. There are certain parts of the story that sing in my eyes (Parts one and seven in particular are my favorites), and others that do clunk. I also noted that Philia was basically the suitcase from Pulp Fiction. If the audience cares, it is because they are “supposed” to care.

    “Part of that failure, I think, is the format (relatively short) and the other reason is… well, writing babies is hard, and I ran away from that task.

    “Alas. More prodding to continue growing in writing skill!”

    So, I’m not tearing this up or saying I hate it — but there are certain areas that I am disappointed in. Sorry if I sound too down on it! I usually hit myself harder, so that I can grow as a writer even more. If I’m “nice” on my own writing, I won’t take criticism well, and I certainly won’t improve.

    Though, I gotta tell you, the compliments are nice to hear!

  6. Thanx for mentioning me. 🙂 Philia was a good story, though I think the child should have lived, but maybe with some complications or something.(breathing tube…) Still would have made a good story with everyone being happy that she survived, but the sadness that there was permanent damage. It may be similar to Shards Two, but you develope the aftereffects of the story a lot more than Prellwitz, because that was the topic of the story and his was just “Abby” not the raping. Still a good story though. I think you should make a short story out of it. Maybe you could start a website/blog like Prellwitz’s and have a Guidant universe…I’d read it!

  7. Bookspirit, you hit the mark on the difference between Prellwitz’ and my story: the focus for him was on the event itself, mine was on the complications flowing from it. His universe is also wholly unique from mine, as is appropriate!

    As far as more Guidant stories… more will come, given time. After this longer tale set there, I’m going to set it aside for a bit and then come back to it. Keep an eye on the tags; not every Guidant story will feature these same characters… yet. And no need for a separate website for it; Brandon and Mike are great writers, too, and it’s an honor to share their space. 🙂

  8. The best compliment that I can give, is that I needed to come back and see what happened next.
    Like most things I read, there are usually things that don’t hit me as strongly as others.
    The ‘sermons’ fit the situation, although it would be interesting to redo spots based on the suggestions others have come up with. I think the real trick with ‘heavy’ thinking (the sermons) is to make it flow with the story. Very few of the books I’ve read have accomplished that. What I’ve enjoyed from some authors is while reading the narrative, to pause, go back, re-read a section, and go, “wow, that was cool!” Several places in Philia got close to that. I look forward to some more good reading.

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