A Funny Story About Writing The Gordian Protocol

The Gordian Protocol Cover

*Originally posted 3/6/19 on the Weber Forums.

PLEASE NOTE: This post will contain a few vague references to parts of The Gordian Protocol‘s plot and characters. I’ll do my best to keep from spoiling anything, but those who wish to experience the novel without any spoilers of any kind should avoid this post in its entirety.

Though, honestly, if you’re reading this, are you really trying your best to avoid spoilers? 🙂

Now, onto the story.

It’s spring of 2017, I’m deep into writing my scenes for The Gordian Protocol, and I come across a…problem. Not a big problem, mind you, but more of a “Hmm, how best to handle this?” kind of situation. I was quickly approaching a scene where I needed to get a key character onto the protagonists’ time machine. And the character (let’s call him “Jimmy”) had to board the time machine willing. That’s the important part, and I need to be snappy about it, because the story was on a serious crescendo, and I wanted to maintain that forward momentum into the climax.

Problem is, there’s a lot tying Jimmy to his native place in history. A lot.

This is a man for whom duty runs thick through his veins, especially to his…goldfish. (Okay, you know it’s not his goldfish, but I’m rolling with this as part of my anti-spoiler tactics.) He needs a Very-Good-Reason to leave his goldfish behind. He and that goldfish have been through some tough times together! Granted, our protagonists have that Very-Good-Reason, but their story isn’t the easiest one to digest, and Jimmy is no fool, especially when the needs of his goldfish are concerned. There will be questions. There will be discussions. There will be…delays.

Hence, I had a problem.

I took a step back and reviewed David’s notes. This was often my first step when I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Between the alternate history notes and deep character background, I had over 40,000 words of material to pull from when writing my scenes, and those notes almost always provided the guidance I needed to support David’s vision for the novel.

So, I looked up David’s notes on Jimmy and… Aha! This particular goldfish wasn’t named here! It only listed that Jimmy…found a second goldfish, long after the untimely passing of his first goldfish. (Have you figured out what the goldfish is?)

Well… 😜

Let me segue for a moment here and talk a bit about the collaboration process. As the junior partner on a project, I view it as my responsibility to support the senior partner’s overall vision for the novel while also contributing my own original ideas. Balancing the two can be tricky at times, so I was always keen to identify which parts of this story I needed to strictly follow David’s lead and which parts were my sandbox to explore.

The lack of a name for Jimmy’s second goldfish was like a bright green flag waving in my mind. We were in sandbox territory here! Yes! I could do whatever I wanted with the goldfish!

I pondered how to approach the problem with this newfound narrative freedom. And then it hit me. Jimmy’s goldfish couldn’t tie him down…if it wasn’t around anymore!

So I blew up the goldfish during one of the novel’s action set pieces. Little smoking pieces of fish strewn everywhere. Thus Jimmy was free to board the time machine without hesitation, and the plot could move forward efficiently. The engineer in me was quite pleased with how I’d dealt with the problem. KISS principle, you know? (Keep It Simple Stupid)

Sometimes it’s easiest just to dynamite the obstacle.

I went on to finish my portion of the novel and hand it over.

A little while later, David reviewed my work, and we had a conversation that went something like this (heavy paraphrasing to follow):

DW: So, you know Jimmy’s goldfish?
JH: The first or the second?
DW: The second. The one you blew up.
JH: Sure, I do. I’m the one who blew it up, after all.
DW: Right, about that. You do realize I had a story planned for that goldfish in the sequel.
JH: …You did? 😬

At this point, my internal dialogue looked something like this: Oh, &%#$! Oh, &%#$! Oh, &%#$!

DW: Yeah, you mind if I rework those scenes?
JH: What? Oh, uhh, no, not at all! Please, be my guest! Edit away! I wasn’t sure how best to approach that part anyway!

A little while later, I received David’s next set of revisions. And boy, was I in for a surprise!

You see, he didn’t take the goldfish death out. In fact, he ended up making the death scene even WORSE! He didn’t just blow it up! He mangled the goldfish’s body, had it flopping around on the floor, gasping for air, and then had it die in Jimmy’s arms!

I remember reading it, thinking to myself, “Wait a second. Isn’t the goldfish supposed to live?” And then a little bit later, “Huh. Guess not.”

And, wow. I absolutely loved the changes he made. He took a scene I wrote out of a desire to move the story forward as cleanly as possible, reworked it here, massaged it there, and then cranked the emotional impact up to eleven! It was a fantastic scene, but it’s also one he wouldn’t have written if I hadn’t killed…the goldfish…when I shouldn’t have. A small misunderstanding ended up blossoming into something neither of us would have written on our own, and it’s moments like this that make collaborating with another author such an awesome experience.

That said, I told David afterwards we should probably establish a “Thou Shalt Not Kill These Characters” list for future projects. 🙂

Speaking of which, I think I’ve procrastinated enough today. Time for me to get back to work on the sequel to The Gordian Protocol. I’ve got a lot of [REDACTED] to blow up this week. 😄😄😄

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