Where Stranded Went Wrong … and Right

Well, I figured I’d better do something to have more content this week than Being a Better Writer, and I wasn’t feeling another OP-ED today since I’d rather finish another writing project, so how about we talk about that other writing project for a moment?

I mentioned Stranded earlier this week and mentioned that it was a bit of a flop. This is true: It doesn’t seem to be resonating with Alpha Readers the way my other works have. More to the point, a number of them find it either A) boring or B) not to their liking.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to finish it. Experimental as it is (and it’s an experiment that seems to have bombed), I’m only a few thousand words from the end as of today. And even though it appears to not be what my audience is interested in, there’s still chance that it’ll find a home with a different audience, though I consider that a low chance at this time.

But I’m not disappointed with it. The whole point of an experimental piece is to learn, and I’ve definitely had some moment of that with this one. I took on Stranded with the goal of stretching my writing capabilities to some new areas, and I hold that I managed to do that, despite that it didn’t quite aim for my audience.

So … what did go wrong, and what went right? Even though the story isn’t finished, and all I’ve got is some Alpha Reader feedback, so maybe it’s a little early to say for certain, well … I’ve still been thinking on it as I wrap the story up.

Let’s talk about what went wrong first. Or rather, what didn’t work for the audience of my Alpha Readers. Because it was one big, very easy-to-identify issue (I don’t quite want to call it a problem for reasons I’ll explain in a moment): The primary protagonist has no one to talk to or interact with save herself.

For the record, this was supposed to be part of the challenge I was aiming at: Stranded is a story about someone stuck alone in an unfamiliar, post-apocalyptic environment. I wanted the story to be about them and their struggles in that environment. A sort of “man vs nature” aspect, but swiftly spiraling into “vs self” as it became apparent that the protagonist wasn’t exactly quite in a good place mentally to start with, and the continued isolation was only putting more strain and stress on them as the weeks went by.

However, this was a major roadblock for the Alphas even a few chapters in. They didn’t want to read about this character attempting to survive on their own—though at least they did agree that the scenery gorn, the other part of the project I was pushing for, was nice. They wanted to see this character interact with other characters, not struggle with herself. And when no other characters showed up, their interests waned.

I don’t think it was that the character herself was bland. At least, none of the commentary I received seemed to indicate such. It was more rather a disconnect from the audience and what they expected entirely. They wanted the protagonist to be an ensemble cast of several characters, all interacting like much of my other works, rather than what I wanted and was going for, which was someone struggling to survive and fighting against their own unstable state.

I can see the logic there. After all, The Martian added the chapters set on Earth (if I’m recalling Weir’s own words on the matter correctly) because some readers were getting tired of reading about Mark Whatney, and adding the other characters added some counterbalance to the story.

Granted, as quickly as the Alphas asked for other characters (by chapter two), I don’t think the same approach would help, nor would it have done much for the story.

There are two directions to go here, then. The first is that I dropped the ball—hard—on the protagonist and their struggles. Which is possible: I definitely stretched events a bit with my focus on scenery gorn (lesson learned here) which makes the story more drawn out than it had to be. And while the Alphas agreed that the impact of the environment hit really well, maybe it came at a cost of slowing the character’s own development.

But that’s only half of the equation. The chief question I was asked was ‘When will they meet someone else? I want to see interaction.’ Which I don’t think meant that they didn’t like the protagonist, rather that they just wanted more like the usual setup I’m known for: character meets other characters, and adventure ensues.

Instead what they got was “character is alone, adventure is a slow tale of trying to survive while gradually breaking down.” And most of them didn’t like it.

The tricky part is was that because of audience expectation, or did the tale of someone trying to survive just miss the mark? Well … I don’t know. While the Alphas I have are good, at least one admitted that they were not the audience for the story, and it wasn’t the type of story they liked to read. Leaving me with the question of “Does that audience exist?”

And the only way to find that out is to put it out there and see what a wider audience makes of it, I suppose. Thankfully, as is the case with most of my experimental projects, I’ve got a spot for this story to go to get some exposure.

So I guess I’ll find out. All in all, right now the story is looking like a serious dud. Which … sometimes happens with experiments. I knew that going in. Maybe it won’t be, but if it is … Well, at least some positives came from it.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about those. There was one primary goal I really wanted to reach for with this project, and that was scenery gorn. I wanted to build a post-apocalyptic landscape. Cityscape, farmscape … the works. I wanted the reader to be able to feel the stifling heat of the sun as the character wandered through a windless city, be able to sense the hot metal of a tower they had to climb.

In this regard, I think I succeeded. A little too well. While the Alpha Readers liked it, a number of them did get tired of the attention paid to in lieu of … Well, you know, other characters.

However, it was a valid point raised. The pacing when it came to these descriptions of ruined, abandoned buildings could crawl a bit. Something to keep in mind when I execute the eventual project I wanted to practice with scenery gorn for.

Again, experiments! On the plus side, the gorn was well done and evocative. On the negative … too much of it. At least for the Alpha Readers. But hey, now I know the tool works. It can go into my toolbox until I need it.

As for the other big positive that came from this? Personally I think I did the “lone protagonist trying not to go crazy” all right. Personally. I can’t speak for a full, general audience, and I’m leaving this one open ended to see what regular readers make of it. If they’re able to get around the “no other characters bit.”

Again, having no other characters was purposeful. I wanted to see how interesting I could make one character bouncing of themselves and gradually unraveling while trying to hold things together. Personally, I think I did a decent job at it, though I don’t know. Again, the Alphas weren’t interested in such an approach, and were disconnected from it from the start, expecting that I was going to do the larger cast extremely quickly, so it’s hard to say if they slowed off because I wasn’t delivering that or if the lone character themselves wasn’t that compelling. Some stated that the liked the character, they just wanted them to interact with someone else and have more than one character trying to survive, so …

At this point, I feel like all I can do is shrug and say “I think I got it, but the audience just expected something else?”

Obviously none of this “feedback” is final. I’m finishing the next to last and last chapters of the experiment today, which means it’ll be close to going to a full audience, at which point I can see if there are those that like what’s in it and can get a better gauge there of what went wrong and what went right. Again, all information that I’ll be able to take forward when I take what I experimented with here and place it into a full book sometime down the line.

So why post about this? Well … for one, people demand content on the site. It’s how eyeballs find it. But it’s also so that some of you can see what sort of work writing is behind the scenes and what kind of analysis and decision-making goes into it. It’s not just sitting down and writing out a story or a scene. There’s a lot of exterior analysis and information to take into consideration. Crafting a book is like putting together a very large, complex machine, one you have to produce all the parts for. And if you don’t have the means to produce those parts or “borrow” them from elsewhere, the machine you try to build won’t work, perhaps as smoothly, or perhaps at all.

In this particular case, I wanted to see if my “tools” were capable of producing said pieces, and decided to work on a story that would force me to develop those tools because they were the only thing that could lead to the story’s proper peices.

Did I succeed? Well … maybe. The public will judge that. In the meantime, I did learn through the process, and the next project will be all the stronger for it.

And with that, I’m going to go finish this story off.

See you Monday, folks.

2 thoughts on “Where Stranded Went Wrong … and Right

  1. When you get discouraged by the response to a scene-centric section, you have to remember that it is entirely possible to write an entrancing story without living characters in it at all. (i.e. Cold in Gardez and Lost Cities) It’s not *easy* but it can rivet the reader’s attention if done well.


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