By now you’ve guessed that I’ve written a UFO novel, or I wouldn’t be asking these questions. The first draft, under the working title ‘Project Red Book’ is over two years old; I have placed it under ‘trunk’ status while focusing on other novels. Yet I still love how it begins, and I like cover-ups, conspiracies, and secrecy in fiction. I still want to explore a plot with these characters.
In other words, I’m not ready to give up on my UFO novel. But is it worth pursuing in today’s fiction environment?
Maybe if I revised it into a Young Adult novel—something everyone seems to be doing these days—but my story is too dark for that. My integrity must be invested in the project, so Project Red Book has to remain an adult novel. Either way, the target audience isn’t the problem—my quandary is, I don’t see anyone else mining this subgenre of science fiction anymore. It’s dead. In speculative fiction, the trends are vampires, zombies, steampunk. No big deal, I like a challenge. But browse through a bookstore and the only UFO volumes are in the conspiracy section. And they are short on facts and long on hyperbole. Not exactly what science fiction readers are drawn to.
I’d like to think I’ve done something original, but I know better. Regarding fiction—and science fiction especially—it’s all be done before, and by better writers. My only chance is to put a new spin on it. I won’t give away my novel’s details, but here are several key points I must decide on before revising this story into several drafts, put all the hard work into it, then send it out for an agent’s consideration.
# 1: The Era
In the original draft, I set the story in the modern day. Cell phones, internet, and all the accoutrements of the Information Age are present. Initially I thought this would make it more accessible to readers, plus it gives me the excuse that the hero is always under surveillance (this is a conspiracy-themed story, after all). I also added socio-political concerns that the character must deal with (immigration laws, drug enforcement, accusations of terrorism) that people still face, and are likely to face, for some time in the real world.
But what if I set the story in the past? Maybe during the 1980s, right after the MAJESTIC-12 documents surfaced? Or even further back, in the midst of all the UFO sightings and abduction stories from the 1960s? The past would provide a more concrete setting, since I’d know its limits. (And writing anything in the 60s would be a hell of a lotta fun!) Plus the UFO phenomena was stronger back then. Don’t forget that the U.S. Air Force studied UFOs for several years during the Cold War. This sort of environment might make my story more believable. The problem with this idea is that the reader will know that these events have already happened, and obviously didn’t change the world very much. Might be a hard sell. Unless I can make the story more compelling, so that era wouldn’t matter.
# 2: The Politics
Yes, there’s that ugly word. It plays a part in my original draft because of how human governments react to UFOs and aliens—and how these reactions affect the rest of us. Some will see only political diatribe, but in the real world, the existence of UFOs—particularly any interaction between them and the government—would have political ramifications. I really wanted the UFO phenomena to affect more than just the fringe conspiracy community in my story—otherwise, why even have it as a plot element? This goes beyond mere flying saucers, ray guns, and little green men. In my story, the presence of alien visitors affects government policy, towards the darker side. This also connects to the main character, and what his relation to the government is (he’s been wrongfully accused of domestic terrorism and is on the run).
I may have written the politics in too much, though. And by politics I’m not referring to speeches and elections. I’m talking about public policy regarding drugs, immigrants, guns, and privacy. Hot button topics in today’s world. I worry that it may get in the way of the actual story, making this more of a political thriller than a science fiction thriller. The aliens are what the reader is here to find about, after all.
# 3: The Depth of the Rabbit Hole
How far should the conspiracy go? How many really know about/interact with the aliens? This is a fine line, and I probably crossed it in that first draft. If too many people are in the loop, it might make the conspiracy less plausible. If there are too few, then how is it possible to have a worldwide conspiracy? In the first draft of Project Red Book, the conspiracy is large enough that the government has donated large tracts of (government) property to its upkeep. Alien/Earth hybrids (they all aren’t human-based!) probably appeared too much. Kinda like sighting Bigfoot in every small Nevada town—it just didn’t work.
What if I narrowed the conspiracy down? Make events more mysterious and surreal than blatantly have a hybrid step from the shadows every other chapter? This really appeals to me. But I still want to keep in my mutant Chupacabras, dammit! I’ll think of a way. In the end, though, the conspiracy must remain real—no way would I ever write a story like this, only to have the hero wake up at the end, or turn out to be insane. I might as well punch the reader in the gut.
# 4: The Nature of the Aliens
Without giving too much away, my aliens possess mental powers. Go on, laugh, because I know that’s not original. But these powers allowed them to reach Earth, not just an advanced, FTL propulsion drive. These are also powers that the government has attempted to recreate through the use of hybrids and some immoral gene splicing in the laboratory. One reason I went that route is I always hear that, if the government did indeed capture aliens at Roswell in 1947, then the discovery of their starship is responsible for all the technological advancements made since. What if the government were more interested in the aliens’ biology instead?
Yet while I’d like to retain this idea in a second draft, what else can I do to make my aliens different from the typical ‘Gray’ that has become a pop cultural icon? If this novel is ever going to get off the ground, my aliens must break from this mold. They should intrigue the reader—maybe freak them out a little. Or perhaps they are in plain sight (no, I refuse to do anything resembling David Icke’s reptilian rulers, disguised as humans).
Even if I revise these issues in a second draft, would that really matter? My main concern still rests with the marketability of such a project. I write stories I want to read, but I have so many I want to tell. Focusing on the ones that have the best chance at success becomes a priority—and I’m still unsure if Project Red Book, even after several drafts and a proper retitling, would ever escape from trunk story status.
Then again, if you believe in something, you should stick with it. Maybe I’ll venture once more into the Nevada desert…and bring back a story I can be proud of.