When I reached Part 6 of The Mimas Object, I realized that several things were wrong. Conflict existed to a degree, but nothing seemed to change as a result of it. Julia was faced with a problem, found a solution, and moved on. Or, a problem happened outside her control, had some effect on her out in space, and she dealt with it. Boring!
To my dismay, this is a recurring problem with my writing. I have never quite understood what was wrong. I began listening to the audiobook version of Robert McKee's book Story. It's meant for screenwriters, but is useful for short story writers and novelists as well. McKee tells us that a Story is broken into 3 or more Acts. Each Act is in turn broken into one or more Sequences. Each Sequence consists of one or more Scenes. Each Scene consists of one or more Beats. Beats are small actions, even mini-conflicts, that move a Scene forward. A Scene, McKee says, must feature a conflict that causes a change in a "charged value" for the main character.
For example, consider the scene I've already written in this story where Julia learns that Russian hackers have taken control of Mars Two's computers. They demand access to The Mimas Object in exchange for not wiping her systems and essentially leaving Julia in space to die. The politicians back on Earth believe that The Mimas Object may be alien in nature and contain technologies that would advance US interests significantly. They refuse. The Russians shut down and wipe Julia's computers on Mars Two. She figures out a way to restore them from a backup on the tablet on the spacecraft and is immediately back on track to Mimas.
In McKee's terms, I've failed. Julia's situation at the end of this scene is identical to that at the start. In fact, if anything, it's better. Her computers are clean of Russian influence now. This is the wrong direction for an early conflict in the story.
Taking McKee's advice, I consider that Julia should see some "charged" (i.e., important to her) value change in the scene. So the rewrite I'm considering is this...
Julia is on-time and on-course for Mimas. Mars Two is behaving fine, until suddenly it comes to a halt and a message is displayed, telling Julia that the Russians have seized control of her spacecraft until such time as the American government agrees to give them access to the object she is bringing back from Mimas. They refuse to communicate with her. The American government refuses to share the object. The Russians tell Julia what's happened and apologize for what they're about to do. They trigger a shutdown and erasure of the Mars Two computer system. During the erasure, the main and some of the maneuvering thrusters fire randomly. Mars Two is now flying off course. Without computer control, Julia will not be able to get it back on course to Mimas - or even return it to Earth. She struggles to find a solution and remembers there is a backup on the tablet. She restores the computers and brings them online, only to learn something terrible. It took so long to recover the computer and regain control that she is now very far off course. The computer estimates that she no longer has the fuel to get to Mimas safely, or the fuel to return to the orbital platform she launched from. In a word, she's going to die unless she can figure something out.
In this revised scene, we have conflict - the Russian takeover of the spacecraft and her fight to restore the systems to running order. Her situation goes from the "charged values" of being safe, able to complete her mission, and able to return home, to being in grave danger, being unable to complete the mission, and unable to return home.
In a nutshell, this is what I need to do in this story. I have to decide where my climax is going to be in the story, and what happens in that Scene. From there, I have to work back to the inciting incident that starts Julia on the path to the climax. Then, I'll have a story worth writing. (Hopefully.)
I'll be working on this "proper" plot for the next few days. This post and the others in the series will remain up for the time being. When I'm ready to start the rewrite, I'll probably take them down and start with the new version of the story.
Wish me luck, and thanks for listening.