I’ve been writing a series of posts on stories I started and didn’t finish. In most cases, I didn’t finish them because I was an adolescent and was still learning how to follow through on my ideas. That doesn’t mean I don’t have unfinished stories from my adulthood, though.
Sometimes an idea fizzles. Sometimes I decide something else is simply more important. I get far more ideas that I can ever actually complete. I don’t expect to ever write posts commemorating all of them, but a few are worth discussing.
One of my favorite lost stories, in retrospect, concerns a parallel world occupied by intelligent dinosaurs. I suppose that sounds clichéd, but I don’t mean talking triceratopses and t-rexes, like in The Land Before Time or dozens of other fantasies. I invented a new species, one related to velociraptors as we are to monkeys. I invented a whole culture for them.
I got the idea from a description of the raptor lineage that contained the comment “what might have become of these animals if extinction had not stopped their development?”
I later saw an illustration of somebody’s guess, and the thing looked like a hairless human with a sort-of odd face–upright posture, human-like feet, no tail, all features that we have, not because we are “more evolved,” and certainly not because we are intelligent, but rather because of accidents of our evolutionary history that a dinosaur wouldn’t necessarily share. I thought I could do better, so I tried it.
My dinosaur species retains the long tail and horizontal posture of its raptor ancestors. The snout is much shorter and weaker and the brain case much larger and rounder, giving it a somewhat fetal appearance (as humans resemble fetal apes), and the arms are long and angles forward so that the animal can comfortably look at something held in its hands. It doesn’t have feathers, because I was unaware at the time that dinosaurs generally did.
My dinosaurs have excellent vision and hearing and can run very fast. Their language is entirely signed, for while they do have voices, they can use their voices only to express emotion. Females are about four or five feet tall at the hips and close to 15 feet long, nose to tail, and a dull yellowish color. Males are smaller and darker, with a right color patch on their rear end so that they can distract predators away from the young. Mating is strictly monogamous, and young hatch from eggs laid in small groups.
My plot involved a human family who accidentally go through a portal to the world where these dinosaurs live. They get lost and can’t find their portal, so a dinosaur community takes them in and….
And nothing much happened. I wanted to daydream about intelligent dinosaurs. I didn’t want to fuss with much of a plot. I don’t remember whether I abandoned the story because I realized it had no plot, or if I simply moved on to other daydreams. Either way, move on I did.
It’s just as well, because in retrospect I am embarrassed by how inconsiderate the story was. For example, the narrator, the mother of the human family, was Deaf, a plot device I used to explain why her whole family knew and used sign language–not the same sign language as the dinosaurs, but something they would recognize as a language. They see the humans talking and realize they are people, however odd they look. But it never occurred to me to do any research on the Deaf community in general. I didn’t know anyone who was Deaf, and at the time I didn’t even know anyone with any kind of major physical disability. It never occurred to me that I might not be qualified to write a Deaf woman’s story. I never stopped to think about how any aspect of the story might impact readers, personally or politically, if it were completed and published. And I fully intended to complete and publish it. I was–briefly–as serious about the dinosaurs as I was about the australopithecines, when I thought up a story about them about a year later.
The story about the australopithecines became my first book, To Give a Rose, and took many years of research and development, from start to finish. I have no idea why one story became lost and another became a book, when they both felt equally serious in the beginning.
Looking back, though, the dinosaur story feels more like some of the story ideas I had as a child, qualitatively different from the various fizzled stories I began and abandoned later. I was playing at being a writer, not yet writing.
It’s not that I no longer play. I have all sorts of daydreams going that have no plot or a minimal plot at exist solely so I can entertain myself. And it’s not that I no longer entertain creative ideas that are grandiose, unsupported by personal experience or research, and perhaps unfit to be exposed to the public. The difference is that I no longer expect to publish these things.
Just because I am a writer and can make serious, professional works of art from my ideas does not obligate me to make serious works of art from all my ideas.
My games can remain games, now.
While the story about the dinosaurs was the last of my adolescent novel-attempts, the story about the town of Clair’s Fork may count as the first fizzled story of my adulthood. I got the idea not long after I started working on Rose, and for a while I thought I’d work on both concurrently. The story had a plot and it was about a core group of ideas. And it didn’t fizzle–I made a principled decision not to continue with it.
The town of Clair’s Fork sits on the confluence of two large streams in a mostly forested valley. Within the town is a neopagan counter-cultural community that is both idealistic and secretive–some of the things that they do are illegal, because of cultural differences between them and the larger society.
One of these things is a tradition of sexual initiation, where young people can have their first sexual experience with a gentle, trustworthy community member able to answer questions and willing to not be self-serving about the encounter. Sometimes the initiator is over 18 and the initiateee is not.
The story follows a girl who seeks and receives sexual initiation from an adult man, a fact which somehow comes to the attention of the authorities. The resulting legal problems puts the whole community in jeopardy. Meanwhile, there are plans to dam the streams at the heart of the town and flood a large area of forest, something local environmentalists object to, but the situation looks dire. I don’t remember how, but the two issues become linked and are resolved together in a way that improves matters for the entire town.
On Second Thought
When I told my sister about the story, she pointed out that the scenario could be seen as glorifying or excusing sexual abuse. That wasn’t my intent.
Our legal age of majority is essentially arbitrary. Human beings mature gradually some time between puberty and perhaps 25 years of age, some older and some younger than others. For legal purposes, we need something simpler and more consistent, so we set 18 as the legal age of majority, but it could just as easily have been 21 or 16. Some societies have set it as young as 14.
What adolescence means, which aspects of adulthood are conferred first and what kinds of support young people receive are also culturally variable. In our society, we’ve decided that it’s ok for young people to be left to figure out sex by themselves–even though that leaves them likely to make dangerous mistakes and vulnerable to abuse–as long as they are above a certain age. Generally, even underage sex is unofficially tolerated, as long as both partners are under-age. In making sure that one kind of bad situation does not occur, we let other kinds of bad situation pass by. It is easy to imagine another society making a different decision with equally good intentions.
Aside from telling a good story, I wanted to explore the tension between different sets of cultural expectations and the general unwillingness of many people to look outside of their own frame of reference.
But yes, that very unwillingness could have led to my story being badly misunderstood. My sister was right. I shelved the project.
As I said, there are a lot of story ideas I’ve tossed around and eventually put away. A few of them I might someday pick up again. I don’t intend to write about all of them here. But there is one more I want to tell you about. I’ll do that in my next post.