Monday, May 2, 2011

Ooops...Broke a Cardinal Rule

Can’t believe I made this goof.

My manuscript, Jihad: The Breath of God, is reaching the end stages of scrutiny before being offered to publishers. Marisa, my agent, let a couple of her publishers know that she has a great thriller coming down the pipeline, kind of tickling their interest. Everything looked great, until...yep, there always seems to be a worm inside that shiny apple. Osama Bin Laden’s death was great for the nation, but a lousy break for my story. Why?

Every fiction writer understands that if your story contains an element of the present in it, then the book can become obsolete the moment circumstances change and no longer fit the story.

My story is speculative fiction. It features current airport security protocol, modern military ability and present day scientific knowledge and technology. I carefully referred to the President of the United States but never give him a name because I wouldn’t want my book to become outdated after just one election. Past events like the Second Battle for Mogadishu in 2006 are real. Street names, gang warfare in Somalia and ultimate outcomes are all real and recent history. I paid attention to avoid references that might “date” the book. All but one! I used Osama Bin Laden, by name, as the presiding leader of Al Qaeda. Guess that “realism” got shot to hell this weekend. Mind you, it’s a happy “shot to hell”, but it’s also a strong reminder to me that I violated a cardinal rule of writing by providing the story with built-in obsolescence. And now, it happened. To tell the truth, after ten years of avoiding our best black ops guys, I figured he was good for another ten years, especially with Pakistan hiding him. But, alas, an important character now doesn’t fit the ending. Yikes!

Fortunately, the correction requires simple changes to a few scenes involving him. I'll insert a replacement terrorist leader who says the same things and makes the same decisions as I had Bin Laden making. In fact, the story becomes even juicier as the plot incorporates revenge for BL's death as a core motivation. This actually might improve the whole thing, even the ending.

Got lucky this time. I broke a fundamental rule of writing and got caught. The end result will strengthen the story, but it could have been a disaster in the other direction. Imagine if the book was already on the market! So, if you’re writing a present day fiction, don’t learn the hard way as I did. Avoid temptation to incorporate known characters or evolving situations in such a way that they could change quickly and destroy your plot.

Well, I dodged a big one. Promised my agent the revised manuscript by Friday, so I’d better get to to the keyboard-mill. By the way, if you don't wash your hands a lot now, you WILL after reading this story!


  1. Yep, an easy fix and a good lesson.

  2. No no no, it could still be great with Osama Bin Laden. You would help the CIA look good. Maybe they'd even want to promote your book as an alternate future--what could have been type thing. Who would care a lick if 9/11 had been thwarted? No one. No one would ever have realized what a HUGE crisis had been avoided. They wouldn't believe so many lives had been saved. It's beyond our imagination. But you provide a glimpse for the world to see just what a good thing it is that he's gone now. Right? Or am I missing the point?

  3. Actually, my protagonist kills Bin Laden in the old manuscript, and that is the part of my story that instantly went obsolete when the SEAL team popped him. Lesson learned.

    Fortunately, OBL's demise happened before the book is published and the new version contains even stronger motivation for the terrorist attack that my story foreshadows. Isn't writing fun!


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