I didn’t mean to write about romance. Really, I didn’t. In fact, one of the first decisions I made about Artificial Absolutes was that it would be about a brother-sister team (Devin and Jane Colt) who both had pre-existing significant others, precisely so I wouldn’t have to deal with romantic elements in my sci-fi adventure through space. I even tried to get rid of both significant others by having Jane’s boyfriend disappear in chapter 2 and leaving Devin’s fiancée behind when the Colts become interstellar fugitives. Other characters were kept as quick side encounters on their journey, leaving no time for any shenanigans.
Don’t get me wrong. I love romance, especially in adventure stories. The chemistry, the longing, the complications that arise—they make every story more interesting. But when I started working on Artificial Absolutes, I felt I had too much going on to deal with the complexities of developing character relationships. Books are a unique medium because they allow one to get inside a character’s head and see what they’re thinking. It’s a perplexing and messy business, and between the mysteries, action, and back-stories in Artificial Absolutes, I thought I had enough to handle.
But, as any writer will tell you, characters have a way of taking on lives of their own, and the stubborn fools won’t listen to a word you say. Even after Adam, Jane’s sort-of boyfriend, vanishes into thin air, she kept thinking about him, wondering what happened to him and reminiscing about the things he’d said to her. “Focus, Jane!” I wanted to yell. “You’re up against a powerful, faceless enemy—quit daydreaming about Adam!” However, being a dreamer was one of her personality traits. Although her dreams were meant to be about her own hopes and aspirations, they kept wandering back to her relationship, and I came to accept them. Without those thoughts, Jane wouldn’t do half the things she does in the novel. She leaves behind everything she knows, going from working at a desk to running from thugs, because of how much Adam means to her.
Similarly, Devin’s relationship with his fiancée, Sarah, is what triggers the events in Artificial Absolutes. The secret he discovers about her is what pits him against the mysterious “they,” an invisible force that pursues him and his sister across the galaxy. He doesn’t daydream as Jane does, but Sarah is certainly on his mind, and there is no denying the effect she has on him.
Because of the accidental way in which these romantic elements arose, the way they unfolded is perhaps a bit unconventional. Jane doesn’t fall head-over-heels in love with Adam. In fact, she pretty much friend-zones him. What could a cynical atheist such as herself have in common with an idealistic seminary student? Still, it’s because of those differences that she can’t keep her mind off of him, even as she stubbornly guards her heart.
Devin’s relationship with Sarah is more of a traditional romance—intrigue at first sight, a love that pulls him in, an unexpected proposal. As events unfold, the love that once brought him hope for the future comes to threaten his very existence.
The necessity of the romantic elements became clearer and clearer as I delved further into the world Artificial Absolutes. In trying to avoid them, I inadvertently brought them to the center of the plot. The book I ended up writing turned out vastly different than the one I brainstormed. It is, I think, better for it. As a reader, I find that in order to care about the story, one must care about the people behind the starship-piloting, laser gun-wielding adventurers. Bringing Jane and Devin to life meant exploring their relationships and facing the consequent complications. Oh well, whoever said writing was easy?
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