Always Do The Most Awesome Thing

tron-legacy-armyIn the movie Tron: Legacy, the bad guy inside of the computer knows that there is a world outside of the computer, and he knows that people can move back and forth between worlds. He make hundreds of copies of himself and enacts a plan to send them all out into the real world, and I thought “Holy crap! That would be so awesome! Several hundred super soldier programs come into the real world! I am excited for this.” And then the good guys defeated him before he had a chance to do it, and yay I guess, but man. Nothing in that entire movie was as awesome as the thing they told us might happen, but never did.

Around this same time I was writing the book that would eventually become EXTREME MAKEOVER, which is a book about cloning. At one point in that draft a character was kidnapped, and learned that a rival group was planning to replace him with a clone of himself; the character talked his way out of it, and I was pretty pleased with the scene and the logic and the character’s cleverness, but my writing group was incredibly disappointed. “What the purpose of that scene?” they asked. “He starts in one situation, and then he avoided an obstacle, and then he ended up back in the exact same situation again. We didn’t accomplish anything!” My first thought was: they’re wrong, we did accomplish something, we revealed the existence of this rival organization. But then I thought a little harder and I realized that they had every reason to feel upset. If all I wanted to do was reveal the existence of a powerful enemy, I could have done that with a line of dialogue. Instead, I outwitted them in their very first appearance, which made them look weak and ineffective, but even worse than that I pulled a Tron: Legacy. I teased my audience with an awesome new development–main character replaced by a clone and forced to work for the bad guys!–and then yanked it away. Nothing that happened in that scene was as awesome as the thing I said might happen, but never did.

Extreme MakeoverI went home and took a good hard look at my outline. If I moved things around here and there, could I switch this branch from one direction to the other and just do the awesome thing? It would take a few rewrites, and the addition of a couple of extra scenes, but yes I could. I wrote up a quick new synopsis of how the book would go if I made the changes, and I liked it a lot. It even gave me the chance to solve another problem in a different part of the novel, which was a nice bonus, but most of all it was just cool. It took the book in an ambitious new direction, and added tension and conflict and change. Reading it now (the book comes out on November 15!) you’ll think that yes, of course this thing has to happen in this scene, but at the time it was a big change. And I resolved to carry that kind of change forward through the book: every time I had a choice of two or more things happening, I would choose the more awesome one. No holding back, no pulling my punches, no saving up for a bigger thing later. This is a book about the apocalypse–there will be plenty of room for bigger things at the end no matter how crazy I get with the middle.

The final manuscript ended up around 200,000 words, which is very big, and we edited it down to about 130,000, which is a massive cut. Almost a full third. A lot of those awesome things I promised myself I’d put into the book ended up on the cutting room floor, but even more of them stayed in, and more than that, the feel of the book was different. This is a book that goes for broke.

I sincerely hope that you like it.

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