Blind Alleys and Road Maps
(The Sun Runners Gains and Loses a Prologue, and More)


The picture above is entitled Sunrise Over Mercury and is by Mr. Angry Dog. It is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.

Enclosed, please find what I called “a potentially ill-advised prologue to The Sun Runners”:

They shouldn’t have been there.

That’s what many people said from the start, but the colonists of Mercury seemed to thrive on proving everybody wrong.

It was the beginning of the twenty-second century, as Earth’s technology made a great leap forward and allowed people to break out and colonize the surrounding planets. After the Lunar Launchpad, we had the Martian Biospheres, and the Giant Airships of Venus. There were Asteroid Scows of the Imperial Mining Companies. There were plans to go to Jupiter’s moons.

And through it all, a small group of people turned their eyes to Mercury. It was a reckless adventure. The conditions were too harsh. Even with the best Earth technology, the plan was too expensive. What could Mercury produce to sell back to Earth?

But they did it. They came up with an ingenious way to pull their cities away from direct sunlight. They figured out how to grow what Earth needed most. For the half-century that followed, they were as rich as the Forty-niners, or the first mineral prospectors of Antarctica.

And then the environmental collapse that that Earth’s technology had been desperately running ahead of, finally caught up and destroyed the economy. Shuttles stopped leaving the Earth’s surface. The Asteroid Scows lay derelict on Mars. The Jupiter colonies starved. In the century and a half that it took Earth to pull itself back together again, contact was lost with Mercury.

They shouldn’t have been there.

But when Earth recovered enough to start sending out more shuttles, and start rebuilding its relationships with Mars and Venus, someone opened the radio link between the Earth and Mercury, and there they were, waiting for us.

And they’d done some fascinating things in order to survive.

I called it a “potentially ill-advised prologue” because most prologues generally are. They exist outside of the story you’re trying to tell, to provide readers with a bit of background material or atmospheric set-up. And while that might be nice and all, and while plenty of prologues justify their existence, the fact remains that if this stuff is so important, why can’t these details come out in the middle of the story, once the readers are drawn into the main plot by the characters and their actions, experiencing things far more up-close and personal than any impersonal prologue can offer. And that’s what my beta-readers told me. Which is why I pulled it soon after.

So, why write it in the first place? Well, it was still a valuable piece of writing for me, because it helped me settle in my head the universe my story was taking place in. And while I won’t use the prologue (it might come up later in the book, as a speech by a character at a welcoming ceremony, or something), it helped me discover more about the story.

Such is the peril of writing without an outline. When you just start into a story as I do, discovering things as you go, it makes for a jagged journey, full of trips up blind alleys and backtracks until you find the path through the woods.

And, speaking of outlines, I’ve just tossed most of my material (almost 20,000 words), and I’ve started to outline.

Lots of writers tell you that you have to outline your story, and I’ve generally pooh-poohed this, preferring to embark on my own journey of discovery. For me, starting a story by writing an outline would be just as heart-wrending as trying to write a first draft, and I wouldn’t have the benefit of encountering bits of dialogue or turns of phrase that flash before me, revealing what I hadn’t yet learned about a particular character or setting.

That said, there’s no doubt that an outline is a powerful tool, allowing you to structure your plot, avoiding washed-out bridges, identifying sharp turns in the road, and getting a sense of the best direction to go.

And, so far, it’s going well. I fear my original draft ran up a blind alley in chapter three. Now, with reader suggestions, my outline is now well into chapter nine, and I think the revised plot seems solid.

But the thing is, I could not have written this outline were it not for the 20,000 words I amassed just stumbling around through the forest with a blindfold on, hands outstretched, whacking myself on trees.

There’s a lot to be said about the joy of discovering your way without a map. And there’s equally a lot to say about going back to home base, drawing your journey so far on a map, and setting out once again.

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