Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

Micheal Lee Nelson
A: During my teen years, I brainstormed and worked out my own answer to an old unanswered literary question I identified.
Plato said “Necessity… the mother of invention.” If so, I wondered, then who or what is the father?I tucked that question away in the back of my mind, hoping to find or create the answer. I thought about this over, perhaps ten years, when I finally ran over the right word in the right context, and, out came my answer, and my own quote:

“Desperation is the father of invention.”

Desperation is necessity multiplied by urgency. In a life or death scenario, the priority shifts. Solving this problem becomes both important, and urgent. A whole new set of hormones and brain processes activate, to help us find the solution, right now!

This is when brainstorming feels amazing, as if we are hunting! We decide between fight or flight? We fight! With our minds, on overdrive!

As I wrote scifi and Star Wars^tm fanfiction, in the back of my mind this idea of writing my own scifi creations lingered. I wondered, how to set up a story someday for a character to utter my phrase? Now this question percolated slowly in the back of my coffee pot mind.

I wanted to design a scene where the hero falls, wounded, and utters this as his last words. As with all good speculative fiction, it begs many more questions, which the writer uses for further worldbuilding and character building.

What happened that the hero has a moment to speak that line, before he passes out or dies? Clearly, some dramatic action happened, yet did not kill him outright.

As much as I grew up enjoying all forms of Scifi and fantasy, I also watched a lot of cowboy westerns and TV shows with my dad. I had the idea of a laser gunfight- a duel!

I’m of the “Han shot first!” camp, by the way, just so we’re clear. But what if both duelists hit each other? Would this give the hero a moment for uttering that line?

What did he invent, as alluded to in the quote? I decided my hero, a pilot, needed to recognize the other gunfighter as the faster draw. My good guy was sure to lose, and he knew it!

But my hero is creative, in his desperation, in the prep-time awaiting “high-noon,” he “MacGyver’s^tm” his gear and comes up with something. A “tool” hack, an exploit, a chance to win!

This character driven brainstorming and scene writing led to more questions: Who was he fighting and why? Historically, the usual answer among humans is, it was over a good girl, or a good place, or good resources. If my hero is at all heroic, he’s trying to save the woman, right?

From what? The other guy. And what does that say about the other guy? Is he a kidnapper, a slaver, a pirate? From that comes character driven world-building of the pirate gang. The entire premise and plot of Act One grows out of this, setting up the duel. The entire book grows out of that.

If the expectation is my hero is good enough to be heroic, but can tell the antagonist is faster, doesn’t that imply a natural, observable reason? Here comes the “sci” part of scifi.

If a human had been born on a higher gravity world and came to Earth, his strength and reflexes would likely be faster than normal. This helps design the antagonist: he is shorter, wider, more muscular- a stout, massive, strong body built in/for/by high grav. Maybe he doesn’t even have a neck?

He might be noticed for these differences, and human nature shows people get defensive when picked on for being different. Thrown in among regular humans, such a small, odd-looking, but very strong person might become a bully, cruel, willing to fight to prove his strengths.

He might assert dominance over others like some pack animal, to take their women from them to prove there is nothing they can do. And so, our first nasty antagonist is born.

These clues and character designs help me subtly show my world-building and a touch of the scientific thought going into my setting.

The Expanse^tm TV show does this by depicting Belters as over 8 feet tall, with long faces and long, thin bones. They have low mass muscles (read: thin and weak) made for low or no-G, which cannot stand up to planet Earth’s gravity.

Such details make characters seem to live in the reality of their setting. Or so my readers have told me, too.

My hero realizes he has a big problem and comes up with a tricky way he might win anyway. But there are consequences. Heroes still get shot. So, mine falls down, at least wounded, and utters his quotable line.

This is just the peak action of Act One.
[Stop here to avoid spoilers RE how it works out for the story to continue.]

Does the woman he dueled for nurse him back to health? How and where did she learn those skills? This implies further world-building and character driven questions. Allowing her to do that, the bad guy’s group must, therefore, have a code of honor?

Earlier, we decided this first antagonist represented his pirate gang. They may be slavers too, but dueling is part of their culture? The hero won, and he is let to live? Now the prize-girl is his prize. The winner takes the spoils.

Character moral dilemma: Does the hero take her as his slave? If he does is he not just another one of the bad guys? Is she eye-candy? A damsel in distress? Those are old misogynist concepts from last-millennium fiction, fallen out of favor in modern days.

What if she wanted to appear weak because she’s surrounded by this huge pirate gang? To avoid further aggressive treatment and stronger imprisonment, she went along, seeming passive, hiding her strengths and abilities for now.

She needed to fool not only the bad guy, not just all of his pirate gang, not only the hero, but you, the reader, as well. Hmm? Never saw that coming did you?

Like some of my pleased beta readers, reread the chapters above, my “Act One,” and check your assumptions: Was the duel for her hand, her idea in the first place? How exactly did the woman convince him to fight for her if they never spoke?

Maybe you’d better pay closer attention to her if she is pulling his strings, leading him so subtly he doesn’t even realize it. Is she secretly acting like a general, sending forth her troops to do the front-line battle work for her?

And here he thought he was the hero! Now free of the pirates, now that she has groomed her heroic pilot to fly her away, what else will she get him to do?

fuschia with hummingbird
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