I am finally at the part of content development that I need to select a tone for my story. Every author or team needs to decide at the outset not just what kind of story to tell, but how to tell it.
I imagine that some of you are saying "But Sean, can't you just write the story you want to write?" To which I can answer: Sure. But if that story doesn't commit to a recognizable pattern, people won't accept it very well. The Genres of literature exist for a reason. Stories that succeed in reaching an audience do so by presenting a reality that is more real than reality. It doesn't matter if the subject is fiction or non-fiction. Even the writer of a biography or historical narrative has to consider what information to present, what to leave out, and what underlying narrative to portray.
In short people have tried a LOT of different ways to present a story. And the ones that generally suck eggs are those that couldn't keep to a consistent style. The "rules" as they are aren't some sort of law from English professors. They are recognized patterns in evolution. Ignore them, and you'll likely run smack into a problem. On the other hand, the best authors bend or even break those rules.
Style, and the sort of rules they imply, help a reader predict what will happen. Storytelling is like a joke in some ways. There has to be the setup, for the punchline. There has to be the expectation for the sudden twist.
The Style of my blog, for instance, is basically "The Science of Writing." Lots of Trial, even more Error, and I don't hide the mistakes because that's where the real learning takes place. One is an expert in a field, not by knowing how things work, but by knowing the million ways they things DO NOT work. And being able to cite those examples on command.
Style will determine how my AI characters will behave.
A Soap Opera or Situational Comedy requires characters that behave consistently, despite common sense. But readers KNOW the characters are over-the-top. Readers expect characters to do stupid things. Readers enjoy the cringeworthy moments when, true to form, a character walks over a clearly marked clif. We will call these sort of simpletons "Base characters."
A Heroic Tale requires characters that actually do evolve and change. It also requires characters capable of plotting and scheming. Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest surviving great work of literature. And every one of the characters in that tale undergoes some sort of transformation during the telling. The main character goes from spoiled prince who can't keep his dick under his Tunic to a wise sage who finally comes to grips with the fact that life is finite.
Or at least that's what I'm told. I don't actually read Sumerian or Akkadian, and the translations into English are all somewhat terrible. There was a level of vagueness that was possible, and actually downright acceptable, in Cuneiform that English just plain does not allow. Similar issues crop up with translating the Tao Te Ching.
But getting back to my main point: Musing (borderline agonizing) on style.
The Sophistication of characters is still no help when determining style. Modern and Classic tragedies and comedies both have a mix of Simple and Heroic characters in every story. Heroic characters are where the audience is intended to focus. Simple characters are basically like a chorus. They are part of the performance, but no member is supposed to stick out.
Readers need a veritable spreadsheet to keep track of all of the comings, goings, and more cummings that take place in George R.R. Martin's works. Though at least he is nice enough to kill a great deal of them along the way of the story would be COMPLETELY unmanageable. But, returning to the theme of this post, Martin is consistent about this. Except when he isn't, and that's only to further along his plot.
So... now that I have laid out the problem statement, I should start laying out my particular solution.
This story pokes a stick in the eye of movie franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars by portraying space travel as a long, deliberate process. One cannot blast between two star systems in a ray of effects and a scene change. This story also pokes a stick in the eye Technophobic tales like The Machine Stops, by portraying technology as an actual ongoing process.
The world the characters live is nice, even pleasant. But the reason is less "the power of friendship" than "the power of learning". Society is socialist out of pragmatism, not altruism. A calculus of kindness exists in space. There are no outsiders in a closed environment. Stress leads to violence. Violence leads to collapse. And the best way to avoid Stress and Violence is to be kind to one another.
People in this world are very skeptical of simple formulas and pretty graphs, following the disaster of Spreadheet Revolution. In a world full of computer records, the highest form of Law enforcement is the Auditor. They don't find crimes. They find mistakes. They don't pursue justice. They fix broken systems. Hiding wrongdoing from an Auditor is considered a higher crime than whatever the original offense could have been. Murder will get you therapy. Hiding a murder... well that's when we can show that you really don't belong in our system.
Iliad-07 is a post-scarcity society. Food, Housing, Education and Health care are priceless commodities. Putting a dollar value on them is considered an abomination. Labor, Power, Raw materials and the like are finite quantities. Systems exist to distribute them to where they are most needed, and curtail waste. People on board have possessions, but there is no concept of Property. Everyone is part of a large, closed, system.
The style I am going for is Heinlein meets Douglas Adams. Straight Heinlein tells a serious story, but damn is he also too obvious and too brutal in telling it. Anything past a novel in length of his and every page starts to feel like an excruciating torture to read. Adams has an entertaining way of telling a story, but the style on its own is too meandering to be taken seriously.
Both Authors suffer from shallow characters. Heinlein has a greek chorus in the background and small cast of Übermench in the foreground. Adams style of situational comedy requires the characters to remain relatively unchanged between scenes to preserve the narrative.
But it is in HOW they write. Both engage in a conversation with the reader. Heinlein uses a first person narrative. Adams uses an omniscient, yet smartass, narrator. Both narrative styles comfortable slip in snarky observations about an imperfect world. Both also project the sense that they are above the comings and goings, and that the audience is free to point an laugh at the situation along with them.
The story I plan to tell begins with the player selecting a character. They can select any of a graduating class of colonists. Or they can select an artificial life form, a Specialist. For the colonists, you pick from an already formed personality and social network. For the specialist, you can put their mind together to suit, but they don't get a social network. There are pros and cons to each.
Whichever characters the player does not select, the computer will play as an NPC.
Next the player selects what sort of job they want to pursue. Their character may or may not actually like the work they are doing. And if the character becomes too unhappy they may rebel. They can refuse the player's commands. And once the player's character becomes too used to running on its own, the game is essentially over.
You get an epilogue, with a quick telling of how the rest of the mission worked out.
The Spiel is that the player has been sent by some nebulous authority, to watch over the ship. Part of the magic system includes a Cassandra device. This instrument predicts the length of time between now and when the crew will be killed by some sort of disaster. The instrument has a secondary metric of certainty on that prediction. The player also gets a Mentor. The exact nature of this mentor is also tastefully ambiguous, but he or she does allude to making the same mistakes you are making when he or she was at your level.
The Mentor is strictly hands-off, but you can ask it questions, and in some cases in the story, to perform some sort of divine intervention. As the player develops, he or she gains more power in the magic system, including the ability to leap into a different character, influence characters, etc.
I do want to make it ambiguous as to whether any of this magic system is real, or some sort of rationalization on the part of the character the player is actually playing. Think along the lines of Jack Flack in Cloak and Dagger.
The player will have conversations as the player's character. He or she may also have conversations where some part of the player's character's subconscious talks back. There will also be exchanges with the Mentor, and presumably through him, his Superiors.
I'm going to have to test this out actually. But there is plenty of room for creativity, fourth wall breaking, unreliable narration, and self-deprecation... at somebody else's expense.