Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

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January 25, 2017

More Is Better

A few years ago, I wrote a pep talk for National Novel Writing Month, giving young writers some advice on how to keep going when their novels run out of steam. The basic message was, Your World Needs to Be More Complex. (Read it here.)

By complex, I meant full of differences and diversity. Tangled with detail and specificities.

One example I gave: If your story is about earth being invaded by aliens, don’t just show me the bad invader aliens. Let’s see some aliens who feel bad for us and are trying to help. And maybe other aliens who eat the bad aliens, and use humans for bait. And maybe even some aliens who don’t care about humans at all, and are just here to study zebus.

In other words, never have just one kind of anything.

As I point out in the essay, the history of humans learning stuff is that everything usually turns out more complicated than we thought it was. From atoms being sub-divisible to there being 3000 kinds of pears, nothing is ever as simple as our first assumptions. Books that don’t match that ever-expanding complexity tend to fall flat.

Following my own advice, I’ve made sure that in the world of Spill Zone, there was more than one spill. Not three thousand, quite, but at least two of them. And the other one took place in a very different country, North Korea, which means that it’s a very different spill. The contrasts in how that other spill affects the landscape and people around it—the politics of that other Zone, in effect—gives me another set of angles to address my themes of loss and otherworldy weirdness and art.

It also gave me an interesting character in Jae, who we meet this week for the first time. Like Addison, he’s the only survivor of his town, but he’s very unlike her for reasons of background and circumstance. And now that I’ve got him in New York, you can be sure he’ll be bringing his alien perspective to bear on everyone we’ve already met and everything we’ve already seen.

Indeed, having another version of Addison in the story changes the way we see Addison herself.

Please join us next Wednesday, and every Wednesday, as the world of Spill Zone grows more varied, various, and diverse.

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