First things first, It Starts With One has finished! I've written the last two chapters (Chapter 42 and 43!) and you can read them now if you haven't already.
Now, I would have normally posted this Afterword/post-mortem unmarked in my SpaceBattles thread where it would draw less attention than here, but for those who are unaware, that thread was permanently locked.
But this post isn't a protest. This is just me wanting an opportunity to explain some of my thought process for the story that has consumed my life for the past year and a half in a semi-constructed manner.
My penultimate disclaimer: If you enjoyed ISWO, I personally think you'll be better off not reading the rest of this post. I firmly believe that any sort of story needs to be able to stand on its own merits and anything added after the fact is superfluous. This post is superfluous, but I'm writing it because more than artistic integrity, I have things I want to share.
And the last disclaimer: Politics and spoilers below.
It Starts With One is the longest story I've written and I think it shows.
Now, I haven't gone and done a full re-read of my story because I keep getting overwhelmed with the urge to fling myself off a rooftop in the process, but I do eventually plan on doing a massive edit/rewrite of the story. The pain I feel comes from the gap between the number of things I wanted to do and the number of things I actually did. That gap is wide enough that if it were an actual chasm, I could throw myself into it.
I teased a number of plotlines and character arcs in Part One that I think I failed to properly resolve. Some of these are just minor and/or stupid things that I was definitely better off cutting without much loss (Redwood was going to have a series of voice-memos and blackmail material on his phone that Aisha would use, lol???), but there were others that were just missed opportunities.
The most egregious being my treatment of Feldman and Aisha as characters.
Now, I had aimed for this story to be a true multi-protagonist story, so that no one character could be definitively called the “main” character. I think the writing I did in Part One for Feldman and Aisha is some of my best work, but I can’t say I managed to keep that up for the rest of the story.
Part Two, Feldman and Aisha might as well not exist, and Part Three, they’re relegated to side-missions that only matter when they coincide with their superpowered counterparts. I had always intended for the two of them to be the critical element to defeating Alexandria and for Aisha specifically to be the face of the revolution, but at the end of the day, I could not get the plot to match the symbolism.
Just saying that kills me inside.
If I can get a story to work mechanically, but not thematically, what kind of story does that make it? Just another superhero story? Two superpowers battling it out in a “cool” fight, wowee. The “all flash, no substance”. Were the political elements just set dressing to see Alexandria and Skitter fight it out in a non-idiotic manner?
This is the shit I lose sleep over.
It Starts With One is a very political story, I had always intended it to be such. I once jokingly called it my anti-capitalist propaganda piece, but I very quickly came to realize that was anything but a joke. I hate capitalism. I can imagine no greater evil and no greater foe. People like to talk about the death tolls of communism as if Stalinism and the Cultural Revolution were the most horrific people have ever been, but they always forget to mention colonialism.
The brutality of colonialism — the sadistic exploitation, slaughter and enslavement of people — cannot be overstated enough, and yet that is what the civilized “first-world” countries are built upon. These horrors are so recent, so closely tied to the present day, and yet so little of it is represented in Western media. It is in one part, the natural short-sighted nature of capitalism, how no day seems to matter except for the present, and another in the shameful manner in which the West tries its god damn hardest to pretend like colonialism was just the landing at Plymouth Rock.
Which brings me to Alexandria. Her date of birth, her place of origin, her parents and her heritage were all things I carefully considered with relation to colonialism. That was her battle to fight — and in fact, one she lost before the story even began. This is where I fear I failed again. The action-oriented aspects of Alexandria came easily, she’s kind of a badass and cool as fuck, but as powerful as she was, I also wanted to convey her utter helplessness. Even if the world had a veritable superhero for 500 years, it’d mean shit if she and the people around her weren’t willing to change and be better.
So did I convey the badass part of her character? Yes, I think. Did I convey her tragedy? Well, I tried. Did I convey just how thoroughly colonialism and capitalism brutalized her? Not nearly enough.
The difficulty lies in the point of view. Alexandria doesn’t see herself as brutalized. She was raised in the age of colonialism, and thus she doesn’t see colonialism as anything but the most natural extension of human desire. Like most who are traumatized, her scale for what is normal and acceptable is completely skewed.
This is where I think Part Two needs the most work. I had at one point thought of relating each and every moment that occurred in the story’s present to some time in Alexandria’s past, but the size of such a task would be immense, and ensuring that it did not disrupt the flow of the action-oriented sequences of Part Two would be difficult. The action-oriented plot demanded that I include an extended chase sequence, a fated confrontation and conversation between Alexandria and the girl as well as a daring escape and a nail-biting mission to kill the Saudi king before the city was destroyed.
Too many fucking elements, basically. There was at one point in early, early outlines where a nuke was involved, but I at least had the sense to cut that. Really though, I should have gone even further with my cuts. Too much of Part Two is devoted to the action sequences, and not enough to the characters or the themes. The same could be said for Part Three.
Which brings me to the girl.
The girl is an anti-character. I wanted to make her devoid of background or history because I felt the more she was rooted in actual human affairs, the less she could stand as an idea. This is not a new thought, it’s been represented well enough in history as well as media, but I do think I managed to take it a step farther with the girl, stripping her of even a name.
Which was probably a mistake. I should’ve come up with some appropriately nondescript name like V or some shit. Using “the girl” for every action and description seriously hindered the writing process, and made so many sentences clumsier than they needed to be for the sake of… making my character less immediately identifiable. Yeah, stupid.
One of the early outlines of Part Three involved Feldman investigating the girl’s history. Finding out where the girl used to live, where she went to school, what she was like, etc. It was going to be a real intense and detailed investigation, but it wouldn’t end up mattering because I didn’t want who the girl really was to matter. So Feldman’s investigation got cut (and his character suffered for it) and the girl continued to remain anonymous.
Of all the characters, the girl was the only one who I consistently planned to kill off and to compensate, Aisha, the natural successor, was always the character who would survive. Feldman and Alexandria fluctuated between “making it out alive” and “tragic demise” intermittently, but it was the girl’s death I was obsessed with. I desperately wanted to make the girl’s final moments as impactful and meaningful as possible.
In the end, just when I thought I had settled on a pyrrhic ending where no one but Aisha emerged alive, I realized I could not do it. I could not kill the girl, Alexandria and Feldman. Not without betraying the story’s inherent hope.
The nouns in “It Starts With One” are purposefully vague and pretty unsubtle. “It” is the revolution, the Movement, anything that means change. The “One” is all inclusive, as in “any one”.
More than anything else, I wanted this story to inspire people. I wanted people to be willing and to be capable of fighting for change.
And I mean that literally.
The fight is necessary. Violence is inescapable in politics. Even those participating in nonviolent protests, must accept the possibility of violence inflicted upon them. What is not acceptable however is the act of “turning the other cheek”. The abused cannot meekly hope that their abuser will suddenly discover their conscience. This is the familiar trap for victims of abuse, to hope, to pray that one day their abuser will just be better if they just suffer enough for their sake.
From personal experience and from a historical understanding that has not been white-washed, I can confidently say this is not a realistic expectation.
The only thing that effectively changes an abuser or a system of abuse is very simply, change.
It does not have to be any one thing in particular, violent or nonviolent, a riot, a boycott, whatever the case it must be significant and the abuser must be forced to confront it. When change happens, a person must re-evaluate not just their environment, but themselves. And the greater the difference, the greater the effect can be.
This is what we, people living under the rule of unfettered capitalism, must realize: that our way of life is not normal nor acceptable. We do not have homes of our own, we have no protections for our livelihood, and we can be fired without cause or reason and can expect little to no help in the aftermath. People go bankrupt from medical bills and the police murder with impunity. Our children cannot be adequately protected or cared for in our schools and our elderly are served meager checks and stuffed into underfunded nursing homes to rot. The people most in need are the ones least served. Is any of that normal or acceptable?
Why is it that our government’s only claim to fame in the last thirty years is what war crimes we’ve committed? What great projects have we undertaken? What infrastructure have we built? When did overwhelmingly popular and helpful social programs become the enemy of the people?
Governments are more than just a dial for how high or how low taxes are. Governments are meant to be a union of people. A collective coming together for the betterment of all.
Capitalism has poisoned that thought. Rugged individualism has become naked narcissism and objective facts are merely inconveniences to personal beliefs. There are no truths in a capitalist world, only points of view bought and sold in the “free marketplace of ideas”. The only truth, if it can be called that, is self-interest and greed.
In 2012, experts estimated that there was as much as 16 trillion dollars ($16,000,000,000,000) hoarded in offshore tax havens. 16 trillion dollars not tied down in real estate or stock or assets. 16 trillion dollars that could this very instant be used to help people and help the world. 16 trillion dollars that is currently being left idle to collect interest and dust for the benefit of no one but the very very few.
Is that normal? Acceptable?
Don’t turn the other cheek. They want more than anything for you to do nothing. They want you to numbly accept the madness. Life is unfair, they say from the top.
But change is possible, and it starts with you.