In the fall of 2020, I sat down and plotted out a story. It was the first time I had really done that. Before this planning, I had — except for some world-building — almost exclusively written as a pantser.
Before long, I had the first four books of Forgotten Fodder planned. Chapter by chapter, they were lined up and awaiting being written into their more complete, final form.
The characters of this series have more stories to tell. Once this four-book arc is complete, I have at least two more arcs in mind for them.
Since I finished the first four books I planned, I have begun to plot the next story arc for the characters. I expect that will lead to 3–4 more books.
As a pantser, plot has often been either very much in the back of my mind — or came into being as I worked. But for Forgotten Fodder, the plot is driving these books. Characters and situations are not neglected, as such, just more focused. And I love how this series feels compared to other things I’ve written.
As I began to plan out the next story arc, I only had the protagonist and a super-vague idea for what would drive the plot. I started to plan book one of the new arc — and got stuck. Where was the story going?
Then, it came to me. I sat down and wrote out a super-brief explanation of what the plot is.
The story of Forgotten Fodder takes place more than 550 years in our future. And yet — the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Not ripped from the headlines, but…
The overarching plot of series two is going to look familiar in that politics is the driving issue. And along that line — money, racism, and fear of the “other” destroying life as you know it.
Which looks an awful lot like modern politics, right? And the ongoing issues between the political parties in the USA and deep-seated beliefs?
Truth be told, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And like it or not — since we often fail to learn our lessons from the past — we repeat ourselves.
Lots of writers, as such, get accused of bringing real-world agendas into their work. Some readers take great offense at this, others feel called out by it, while still others feel it destroys the fiction.
In some instances, to be fair, that’s the point. The author wants you to see that if we don’t learn from the lessons of the past and present we’ll just find new ways to keep repeating them.
In the Forgotten Fodder series, 550 years in the future, because of human colonization, nationalism, racial divisions, and religious zealotry have largely faded out. This results from expanding beyond a single world, mixing of racial identity along the way, and discovery of extraterrestrial life (ergo — we are NOT alone in the Universe).
However — there was a war fought for 20 years where clones were created as the combatants. When the war ended — they had no jobs, no purpose, and became a new and despised underclass.
Without giving away the plot — some seek greater clone rights while others are opposed. And that is the cause of literal and metaphorical conflict.
Will weaponizing fear ever change?
I, for one, as an optimist hope so. But as a realist, I know it likely won’t.
This is a common theme throughout fiction, even sci-fi and fantasy. The Death Star in Star Wars is a fear-inducing deterrent. As Grand Moff Tarkin says, “Fear will keep the local systems in line.” The ‘Tarkin Doctrine’ is about exactly this idea.
Fear, in The Expanse, is used by the “Earthers” against the “belters” and vice-versa. Babylon 5 showed this idea via distrust of non-humans. Even in Roddenberry’s idealistic Star Trek, fear is used by the Romulans and even the Federation to move things in the favor of certain powers.
Those “in power” see fear — particularly of “the other” — as the best way to get and keep followers aligned with them.
How many people were offended by Finn, the black stormtrooper in the newest Star Wars Skywalker trilogy? What about all those who lost their minds about Rey because she’s female? Many people were saying that Star Wars had gotten too PC — and that was upsetting them.
Fiction, throughout history, has been a teacher. There are moral lessons and emphasis on the need for change and progress in much of it. The plot I am creating for series two of Forgotten Fodder might be seen by some as a political/moral/social agenda on my part.
Well, maybe it is. But why reinvent the wheel when I have plenty of real-world examples that can be applied to my fiction?
The weaponizing of fear in our society is why we live in a fear-based society. I work hard to take steps via my nonfiction (see my blogs here and here for examples of this) to help us shift towards a reason-based society. This, unsurprisingly, gets applied to my fiction.
Lessons for change come from lots of places
While using modern issues is a great way to create conflict in your fiction — it’s also a great way to teach lessons, too.
Morality, spirituality, life lessons can be hidden in fantasy, sci-fi, and other works of fiction. They are seldom there to bully and badger. Mostly, they are there because change is the only constant in the Universe.
Like it or not, you’ve changed. And you will continue to do so. Even the things you most desire to see stay exactly as they have always been won’t. That’s the nature of the Universe. Change is ongoing, constant, and unstoppable.
Fiction is a great escape. But one of the reasons it tends to be such a great escape is relatability. A story from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away still has relevant ideas you can relate to.
Sci-fi and fantasy tend to give you places and situations that are fantastic — but still relatable. That, in turn, makes for lessons in change that might be utterly subtle for most — which hitting others straight upside the head.
When you find yourself triggered, offended, or otherwise thinking, “Hey, that’s too real!” consider that it’s on you — not the writer. Because I am not nor can I be inside your head, heart, or soul. Thus, if I impact you there — that’s your interpretation of my fiction, not necessarily me trying to get a point across to you.
Current affairs can and will influence fiction. Some things never change. If you have a visceral reaction to fiction — the question is not “what is the writer getting at here?” as much as it’s “why is this making me think/feel this way?”
Originally published at https://www.mjblehart.com on May 11, 2021.