Plots, Pantsing and Evolution

February saw me finish my characterizations and move into the plotting phase of Descent : Diaspora. I’m as happy as I can be with my ten characters, but I know that (as usual) they will have their own way with me and change in some form or another as things progress. I enjoy being dragged around by them or, as is more likely the case, having my subconscious find it’s way through the murky and disturbed waters that is my conscious mind, to make improvements.

It’s much the same with plotting for me. There always seems to be conversation on social media about plotters vs pantsers, those who write out each and every detail and then follow the outline closely, as opposed to those who just sit and go for it. I seem to straddle the camps. I start with a detailed plot outline, the whole novel broken into smaller chunks of around 2,500 words, each one covering a specific action, failure or development. It takes me ages to get these sorted, mainly as I am writing the whole novel in my head and working out the intricacies of how the section fits in, how it progresses the story line, and just what I am trying to achieve.

When it’s all done I know for absolute certain that it will change. It’s like my driving. Yes, I have a destination; yes, I have a route; but of course a small (or large) detour is necessary. I find that the plot outlining gives a sense of certainty that allows me to throw it all up in the air and change it, try to make it better than it could be. I think it’s the whole conscious vs subconscious thing again; my conscious mind writes the plot outline, my subconscious mind broods on it the whole time and interjects itself when it determines it’s necessary.

It makes life at the Soledad household a touch fraught once the plotting’s done; most of mind is bubbling away in the background working it all out 24/7, and sometimes breaks through the surface quite unexpectedly. Understanding a maniac’s motivation and exactly how an airlock blowing open on Iapetus will impact a non-helmeted astronaut is not the thing to have on your mind when making dinner. Believe me. And it was one of those episodes that set me off the other day.

Descent : Diaspora has a long timeline; 2,598 years to be exact, during which the small slice of humanity I have will be changing. Which led to me question how we’ve changed over the millennia. Everything I’ve read or heard seems to say we’re getting better, faster, more intelligent, and generally doing what we’ve always be told we do, that is, become better than our parents – in every way. Same across the generations; from the 1950’s on, each generation (sorry about this millennials) claims it is the greatest. Undoubtedly now, today, there’s more access to information, goods, travel etc than ever before, and that’s reflected in our lives and the capacities at the fingertips of people today; but does that make us better or, more to the point, more intelligent?

A decade or so ago I spent some time overseas looking into my distant (talking about 1700’s / 1800’s here, not too distant but distant enough for me) ancestors. No formal schooling, tuition, internet, high value nutrition or supplements for those guys, just hard graft as farmers so obviously (I thought) they’d be fitter than me but nowhere near as bright – how could they be? Turns out they put me to shame, utterly. Not only did they build their own houses, make their own food, run their own small businesses, home medical clinics (not limited to maternity, child medicine and disease control) and veterinarian services, they also had to know and understand intimately how the world around them changed and adapted as the year progressed. Whereas I can look out my window and guess if it will rain in an hour or so, my great-great-great Grandfather could sniff the breeze and tell if the rains were going to come that week, that month, and if the fields should be planted.

More to the point, if I get it wrong I get wet; if he got it wrong, his whole family dies (and obviously he got it right or I wouldn’t be here feeling inadequate).

However (and there’s always one of those) that’s just one data point, one opinion, and for not very far back; so I looked for something deeper, and found it over at the Australian Museum. Another mistake, another blow to my ego.

Seems that not only are we shorter, lighter and smaller than we were 40,000 years ago (down from an average of 183 centimeters to 175 centimeters) but we’re also less muscular, weaker, and more disease ridden. On top of which, misery on misery, our brain capacity has fallen by ten percent; from 1,500 cc about 100,000 years ago steadily down to 1,350 cc today.

Some would say it’s not size that matters, but what you do with it, but I’m not convinced. Having ten percent less brain to utilize seems to me like there’s a ten percent fall in capability. Perhaps we’ve simply become more cunning, learned to use (and create) better tools and devices that have not only masked the decline, but placed a veneer on top of it. Society has also broadened and changed, which could imply that there is room for us, as less capable beings, to exist – whereas earlier there was none.

So in Descent : Diaspora I have a bit of a tricky choice; my small slice of humanity start off in our future, which makes them both more advanced and less capable than us, even though the built environment over-compensates for their smaller brain capacity; how much of a crunch is there when they find themselves thrust into the primitive far future?

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