1. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    What do you think of using natural disasters to help advance plot?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by JadeX, Nov 2, 2015.

    I have a problem.
    My book takes place ~50 years after a global nuclear war. Obviously this will have a very dramatic effect on weather patterns. And megatons of nukes being detonated may cause seismic disruptions. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, derechos, etc., would presumably become commonplace.

    My book also involves an advanced extraterrestrial race occupying the planet, and an underground resistance rising up in the form of a rag-tag underdog insurgent militia. Being that there is such a difference in capability and power, I had thought that perhaps natural disasters, like the ones mentioned above, could potentially play a role in levelling the playing field, so to speak. The ET occupation government may not be too familiar with Earth weather and may not respond appropriately or effectively to such disasters - which my resistance could take advantage of, potentially capturing large swaths of territory in blitzkrieg fashion before the government is able to effectively respond.

    Now, it may sound good at first, but I'm very, very, very cautious about using weather events in such a way. Personally, if I were reading a book about a raggedy resistance movement getting pounded by the enemy, "taking one step forward and two steps back" for a week, suffering heavy casualties, and then all of the sudden a hurricane or earthquake pops up out of nowhere and just hands them a victory, I don't know if I'd want to keep reading. I'd look at it as a sloppy, poorly-done cliché and a hallmark of bad writing. But on the other hand, keeping in mind that there HAS been a nuclear war and that WOULD dramatically alter the climate and weather, I would also think it somewhat odd if the weather didn't have any bearing on the plot.

    I'm stuck between a rock and a hard spot here, so I'm asking opinions. It's like I have two buttons in front of me, one says "Your story calls for crazy weather" and the other says "Weather plots are terrible" and I'm sweating profusely not knowing which to press.

    What do you guys think?
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  2. Jones
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    Jones My body is ready

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    Weather has been and can be done effectively. The only thing I would caution is to make sure not to cross the line between just a feature of the setting/plot and deus ex machina. It's one thing to have your protagonists use the weather to orchestrate sorties, but another to have the superior enemy bearing down on them, and only be saved by happenstance of a freak storm or tidal wave or something.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
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  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Very sound advice from @Jones. All I'll add is that I love a good natural disaster in books. :D
     
  4. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Japanese, a thousand years ago, were saved from a Mongol invasion by freak storm that devastated the invading fleet. They called it "kamikaze," the divine wind.

    England was saved from an invasion by the Spanish Armada by another freak storm, which permanently altered the balance of power between the two.

    And in the last few years of the Roman Empire (Western) in 468AD, a joint amphibious operation with Constantinople of 100,000 men and a thousand ships was destroyed when errant winds allowed the Vandals in N. Africa to drift fireships down among their forces. Rome marched off the history books forever seven years later

    So there is historical precedent.
     
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  5. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    If the story calls for weather, write weather.
    Wouldn't it seem silly for the story to call for weather, but to leave it out. There would be a hole that could create a bigger problem than writing weird weather.
     
  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Truth is stranger than fiction. Real life is full of coincidence or strokes of luck but in fiction it's usually implausible and irritating.
     
  7. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    I did some more thinking about it. What about this:
    1. Eventually, my main character will become somewhat of a global figurehead for the resistance, but he doesn't start out that way. He needs some way to rise to the top and take command. He really needs to impress some people in order to get him where I want him.
    2. Regardless of the event, it's obviously not going to effect just the government. The resistance is likely to take casualties too. It would be a setback for everybody, it's just a matter of how each side responds to it.
    With those two points in mind, here's my idea:
    The event will deal massive damage to everybody. To the government, unprepared and unfamiliar with Earth's weather, the event is particularly debilitating. Widespread civil chaos erupts as the regional government struggles to keep itself from imploding. Maybe a government official dies too, leaving a power vacuum resulting in internal conflict within the government.
    Meanwhile, the resistance has lost a valued commander and those who followed him are unsure what to do next. My main character quickly realises that somebody must take charge, and takes it upon himself to do so. My MC then rallies the forces for an assault to take advantage of the catastrophe, and his quick thinking and improvisation proves him to be a competent leader.
    Rebel forces quickly advance across the disaster zone, capturing territory from the receding government forces. The rebels take advantage of the situation to launch a "Hearts and Minds" campaign, offering food, water, shelter, and medical aid to civilians affected by the event. Whereas the government uses force to attempt to restore order, the resistance uses sympathy. This turns large pockets of otherwise-neutral civilians in favour of the resistance, potentially bringing in many new recruits. The resistance rises from the rubble stronger than ever, and my MC is hailed as a hero for his role in making the best of a bad situation.

    How about that? I think I could make it work...
     
  8. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Maybe if you "foreshadow" the storm beforehand, it wouldn't seem out of nowhere. For example, you could have someone mention strong storms that have appeared in other areas or in recent history.
     
  9. ReproveTheCurlew
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    ReproveTheCurlew Member

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    I agree with Renee that foreshadowing the occurrence would be a good idea if you want to include it. However, you must note in any case that it certainly would appear as a form of a negative deus ex machina, and those should be avoided like the plague. If it has good reasons for occurring, certainly, go ahead with it - but be mindful to do it well.
     
  10. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Yeah, it'll have foreshadowing. I've decided that I'm going to go with an earthquake. A hurricane would give too much warning, they'd see it coming days or even weeks out and thus be able to minimise the damage. I'm going for maximum disruption, so I'd like it to be more "sudden". With an earthquake, there'd be a small pre-quake a few days before - perhaps just enough to knock over small objects and make people go "Huh, that was different" but small enough that they'd just shrug it off. One of my characters has a dog that follows him, and I read that dogs and cats can feel seismic vibrations 10 - 15 minutes before humans, so I think the big quake itself will be foreshadowed by the dog whimpering and crawling under a table.

    That way, there's still the element of surprise, but anyone who's paying close attention will recall the earlier mini-quake and will know what's about to happen when the dog starts acting weird.
     

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