1. RabidChipmunk
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    RabidChipmunk Member

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    Regarding Show, Don't Tell and Showing the Impossible

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by RabidChipmunk, Sep 11, 2013.

    A story I'm eagerly writing involves the main character, a girl named Sylvia, living with her family on a distant, ice-ball of a planet called Aquilon, where her family is presumably part of a mining project. She's lost her sister since she moved there and communication difficulties are forcing everyone in the camp she lives in to live on strict rations, so she's understandably frustrated with her life there. And it's then that she meets an alien lifeform, whom she befriends and names Angie in her sister's memory, and together they learn of the planet's true nature.

    Well, about that. See, the planet isn't actually a planet. It's an egg. And inside that egg is a monster that will destroy all life in the galaxy if it hatches. The planet is a frozen ice-ball because, millennia ago, Angie's race of aliens built a device to freeze the planet over and put it into a dormant state, thus preventing it from hatching, and now Angie finds herself embroiled in a thousand-year old conspiracy to deactivate the device and allow the creature inside the egg to rise and destroy the galaxy.

    The problem I have is this: how can I show to the reader that the monster inside the egg is capable of wiping out all life in the galaxy without just telling them that it is so and expecting them to believe it? I thought about including backstory on another monster, the one that logically laid the egg, that was defeated, but if these monsters are so powerful, wouldn't that one have destroyed the galaxy itself? I'm worried that, in my attempts to come up with a satisfactory explanation as to why the monster in the egg is truly dangerous, I'll end up piling on layer after layer of backstory, and the real story will get bogged down.

    So yeah, there it is. Any and all brainstorming ideas are appreciated :)
     
  2. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Perhaps by bringing up the issue of the eggs origin. Where did it come from? What were it's parents? What havoc did they cause? What kind of creature its it? To that end, what is it's power? You can tell me it can destroy the whole galaxy, and I will believe it on your word without you showing me. Unless it actually does something as an egg, there's not much to show, really. But if you can explain how and show the characters genuine fear, then it will be a much more believable threat. It's not important that the monster CAN destroy the galaxy, it's important that you show the characters reacting to the FEAR that it could. And fear is best understood if we know what they think will happen.
     
  3. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I think your problem is that there are plot holes to large to fill. Why, for instance, instead of killing the creature in the egg have they frozen it?

    I would consider redesigning the story away from the cloyed, "planet is an egg" plot
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I hate to be discouraging here, because the idea is interesting, at least at the outset. But then doubts arise. If you build a story upon a premise that just won't wash, it will be a waste of time for you to write it OR for anyone else to read it.

    If this was an ice-ball containing a giant monster who would eat 'a galaxy' —what, only just ONE galaxy?—then:

    a) as the person above said, why wasn't the egg destroyed instead of frozen?

    b) why are people allowed to live on this incredibly dangerous egg, possibly warming it up?

    c) and what are they mining? MINING???? It's an egg, filled with a monster. Not exactly laden with minerals worth mining.

    So, unless you've got some really really grand ideas as to how to overcome these kinds of problems, which will stop readers in their tracks, AND totally annoy them if they've read most of your book before they discover this situation, I'd move your story idea to something else.

    I like the idea of the frozen planet, the small colony stripped bare to survive, an alien being becoming friends with one of the humans, even that they discover something bad about the planet itself. It's just that this egg scenario is too fraught with unbelievable 'science' to work, as is. In my opinion, anyway.
     
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  5. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    There are so many other universe destroying things it could be
    1. A portal to another dimension with
      1. aliens who want to destroy the universe
      2. a material that will unravel reality
    2. a planet sized weapon
      1. built by Angie's people
      2. stopped by Angie's people
    3. a planet sized dimensional ship, that will destroy the universe the first time it's used (I like this one, something about it's engines destroys reality completely)
    4. Another dimension, tightly compressed, that will create a new big bang if unleashed (look up science on the actual end of the universe according to string theory)
    5. A race of aliens that cannot be killed only frozen. That also want to destroy the universe.
    6. the creator of the universe, who will want to destroy the universe...for reasons
     
  6. RabidChipmunk
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    RabidChipmunk Member

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    I understand, and appreciate, your criticism. Yeah, the idea is pretty far out there, but I like to think that, if given the proper time and attention, I can sell it. I'd like to try to, anyway, before I decide that the story needs such a drastic overhaul. So to address some of those criticisms:

    1) The way I figured it, the egg wasn't destroyed because the creatures freezing it thought that freezing it would kill it, and they vastly underestimated its hardiness.

    2 and 3) The humans on Aquilon don't know it's an egg, and perhaps I should have specified this in the OP. Millennia of ice and snow have made Aquilon resemble any ordinary ice-ball planet, which humans thought could contain valuable resources. (Spoiler: The humans are actually on Aquilon to harvest the technology behind the device that froze the planet for themselves. As it stands, my reasoning for this is that human greed and industrialization has completely borked Earth's atmosphere, and they hope utilizing the technology in this climate altering device will allow them to fix it. They didn't know why the aliens that lived on Aquilon froze the planet over, and indeed, once they find out, it's basically the end of the entire expedition).

    I'll admit, the plot is quite weak and flimsy in a few areas. But that's what this forum is for, right? I appreciate the criticism though, and will consider a drastic overhaul if I feel it is best for my story.
     
  7. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    No we know that that the humans don't know. The question is why Angie's alien folks are letting people screw around on their galaxy destroying egg.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    One idea that might solve some issues is this: Sylvia and the other humans, along with Angie, are not on the egg. They're on a normal planet, possibly mining real minerals. The egg is actually one of those comets that takes thousands of years to orbit the star, and spends most of its time so far away from the star that it's totally frozen. The problem is, it's approaching its perihelion - the point of its orbit where it's closest to the sun. When it gets there, the sun will warm it enough to thaw it out and hatch.

    The egg wasn't always one of these comets. It used to be a planet, or asteroid, much closer to the sun. Angie's race, thousands of years ago, attached a rocket or some other kind of propulsion to it to push it far away from the sun it orbits, so that (hopefully) it stays frozen forever. They miscalculated (or perhaps a wandering celestial body passed near enough to it that its gravity changed the egg's orbit), and now the egg is approaching close to the sun, as I described in the previous paragraph.

    This would satisfy a couple of Jack Asher's and jannert's objections, I think. There would be fewer plot holes.
     
  9. RabidChipmunk
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    RabidChipmunk Member

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    Well that's where the whole "conspiracy to shut down the device" thing comes in, in that someone/thing is manipulating the characters behind the scenes in order to get the device turned off and the egg hatched. Why anyone would want to do this, unless it's the beast inside the egg manipulating things itself, I'm not sure of. But like I said, this is still plot development. The story is in its most primordial phase.

    Perhaps this, and minstrel's post above, is a good sign then that I sit down and think about where I want this story to go, and if "the planet is an egg" is that direction. There are lots of ways to go with this and the story is just beginning to unfold, so I can still make some big changes and keep the story afloat.
     
  10. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Honestly, "planet is an egg"? I absolutely hate it. It has immediately affected my disinterest. I might be alone in this, but I think there are lots of universe destroying things that could be put inside of things that are far more inventive than eggs.
     
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  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    A planet is an egg? I love it! It's so far out, like from a mushroom dream! This would work beautifully as some kind of a comedy/satire thing.

    I'm not feeling very inventive right now, but one option could be that you do just tell it eventually. At first you just allude to the cataclysm, to this terrible monster. People don't really like to talk about it, think about it. Some kid (maybe not Sylvia though) becomes intrigued about the mystery, sticks his/her nose too far, and eventually brings down the whole galaxy. Or maybe you have another character who's convinced the monster can wipe out all life in the galaxy and s/he keeps telling that to people, but no one believes him/her ("yeah right, our planet can't be an egg!")

    As for the mining, maybe they mine egg yolk? Well, I guess it'd be called drilling then. And they didn't even know it's an egg... so they don't know it's yolk. Or maybe the crust of the egg is really thick, so all they mine is, like, calcium. I don't know. It could be anything 'cause this seems to be one imaginative story!
     
  12. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel like this thread has gotten away from the original question. The OP is writing a story about a planet that is a monster-harboring egg. There's nothing wrong with that -- there have been crazier plotlines. Anything can be believable if it is written well enough. OP: If you really like this idea, then make it happen -- don't let people discourage you. That said, however, they raise some valid questions -- ones that you will have to explain in the story, so I don't mean for you to ignore them entirely. Just don't let them make you give up on your idea, if it is one that really excites you.

    Now, the original question seems to be concerned with the fear of too much telling over showing. This is exactly the type of fear that too much reliance on a "rule" like "show versus tell" creates. I say not to worry about it so much. Not everything can or should be shown. In this case, it seems that there is a problem that has at least a small degree of uncertainty about exactly what will unfold. It is something that needs to be prevented -- if it actually happens and you "show" it happening, then there's no suspense insofar as preventing it from happening. (Plus, the reader's imagination might make it scarier than you could show.)

    This may very well be a case where the history/theory/problem has to, in some respect be told, rather than demonstrated to the reader. You could bring this out through dialogue, or through some sort of news article/book/paper that the MC discovers and has to go through. You could even include emails as part of an information exchange between a few people. We should be with the character as he makes a lot of these discoveries or learns about the problem. Most likely, you'll use a combination of us seeing characters discussing, learning, hearing, and reading about the problem. Maybe a few characters discover different pieces of the puzzle and later share some info, which leads to a discovery -- there are many possibilities.
     
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  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That's not a difficult plot hole, Asher. You just make the egg freezable but something bad happens when you kill it or it can't be killed.

    As for the back story, there could be an oral legend, there could be some record that is uncovered telling why the egg is frozen, there could be some symbol on the storage device that takes time to decipher, there are any number of ways for a warning message to be discovered.
     
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  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If I may make a polite suggestion, this is your story. I don't know how other writers feel, but for me, critiques that suggest turning my story into someone else's aren't the most helpful.
     
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  15. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    'Planet is an egg' attracted my attention somehow :)
    To address the original problem OP is facing, I would say a little back story is not going to hurt if you insert it at the right time. And the parent who lay the egg need not be a monster. By the way, galaxy eating monsters already exist in the real universe in the form of black-holes.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @RapidChipmunk Don't let anyone divert you from the story you have in mind. Certainly it can be done, especially given the breadth of subject matter you can find on the bookshelves.

    Getting at your specific question - if the viewpoint characters of this story don't know these details, then my recommendation is not to share them with the readers. Yet. Let the reader take the journey with the characters, finding out details as the characters do. To the extent possible, dramatize the character's own uncovering of the mystery surrounding their "planet." I don't think it is necessary to tell the reader anything the characters don't know, and if you let the reader discover it with the characters, then you can 'show' the information as the events of the story unfold.
     

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