Enigma - Writing Wonders May 2023

My collected answers for Writing Wonders, May 2023, which focuses on Enigma (Lost Colonies Book 1), releasing later this year.

Picture "May #WritingWonders" with 31 questions, 1 for each day of the month. See blog post for question text.

May was my first month participating in Writing Wonders, created by Alina Leonova, Amelia Kayne, and Branwen O'Shea over on Mastodon. It's a fun writing community exercise where authors answer a question a day about their works in progress. My server has a 500-character post limit. I tried to stay within that, so each answer is short.

The work-in-progress I focused on is Enigma (Lost Colonies Book 1), a science fiction adventure set 10,000 years in the future, where humanity long ago scattered across the stars, and colonies have only recently begun to re-establish contact.

Enigma will hopefully be available this year.

Share 3 fun facts about your favorite side character.

Okay, 3 things about Dr. Crystal Castleton:

  1. She hates public attention, so she publishes her research under a pseudonym, ironically "Dr. Forthright"
  2. Deep tech expertise makes her leery of anything she didn't build herself (NIH syndrome)
  3. Her parents gave her to a rich family on indefinite loan when she was child. She's happy they did

What is your favorite side character’s relationship to the MC? Do they get along?

Crystal was practically adopted into Britta (MC)'s family at a young age, when her natural scientific talents became evident, making them sisters and best friends.

Crystal is a mathematical savant / introvert. Britta is her adoptive extrovert. Crystal brings Britta stability, while Britta helps Crystal enjoy life in ways she otherwise wouldn’t.

What is the criminal justice system like in your world?

Depends on the world! The Lost Colonies Alliance is comprised of 4 planets. Each colony has evolved their own distinct culture over their 10,000 years of isolation since they fled Earth. The MC’s planet is Galileo, who hold science and logic above all else. Their justice system is suitably objective, although other colonies would say too objective. (Except Vice, who call them softies.)

MC POV: What’s your job? Do you like it? Why/why not?

BRITTA: I’m the Galilean Ambassador to the Lost Colonies Alliance, and I love it! Bringing the colonies together has been my dream ever since space fold travel enabled us to re-establish contact with the first colony 12 years ago. I was just a kid, but I screamed loudest when the news broke. We’ve located 2 more of the 9 colony ships who fled Earth, and the search continues. Exciting!

What scents and sounds can be found in your MC’s workplace?

Britta is currently on special assignment on Hemera Station orbiting Enigma. The gentle hum of the grav engine permeates her bedroom / office—an ever-present white noise that brings her comfort. Traces of exotic perfumes cloud her makeup table, mixed with the delicious smell of the neglected meal sitting beside her desk.

If your opening scene had a theme song, what would it be?

Enigma opens with Britta in a sparring match against her boyfriend, Tanner, who she proceeds to trounce using a pair of fighting sticks.

I’d say the theme song from the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie: Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat) by The Immortals.

What does your MC look like?

Britta is tall and so thin that people often tell her to eat something, or assume she's frail, even though she's very fit. As an Ambassador, she wants to look her best, and puts a lot of effort into her appearance every day.

Like all Galileans, she has dark skin (darker than this picture), dark brown hair, and brown eyes. She also has a long face, long fingers, and a "bony" frame. Her smiles are frequent and genuine.

Side-by-side images of 2 girls. Left: Woman with tan skin, green dress, brown eyes, and a long-ish face. Similar woman on the right.

Describe your MC’s laugh.

Britta’s laugh reflects her genuine joy of life. Light, short, and almost giggly, it’s one of her few mannerisms that betrays her young age.

MC POV: When was the last time you laughed? Why?

BRITTA: What kind of question is that? I laugh all the time, like this morning at breakfast when Ambassador Bard flashed a smile at Crystal, and she nearly choked on her oats. I mean, I didn’t have to perform the Heimlich or anything, but her reaction was hilarious. Why she doesn’t just ask him out is beyond me. Guess I’ll just enjoy the show, hehe. Wait, see? Another laugh! Do I get bonus points?

How much humor is in your story? Share a snippet if you want!

Enigma has just enough humor to offset the heavy scenes. It’s partly by design, partly accidental (I didn’t realize that was funny, but glad you liked it!), and partly opportunistic. Sometimes a scene just begs to be made fun of. Who am I to argue?

This snippet is from Chapter 1, and falls soundly under “opportunistic.”

Tanner gasped and sat up. He rubbed his throat, then dropped his hands. "I'll never get used to that. I swear you'd broken my windpipe."

"If not for your spar suit, I would have."

"And you don't feel the least bit guilty?"

Instead of answering honestly that yes, she did, Britta just smiled and patted his cheek.

Let him wonder.

Does your MC laugh or cry more in the story?

Laugh, definitely, which is amazing because… well, let’s just say she’s had better weeks. But that’s what I admire about Britta: her attitude is never “poor me” or “poor you,” rather “how do we move forward?” She does cry from physical pain, but only when it becomes unbearable. Otherwise, the room is usually filled with her laughter, trying to make those around her comfortable.

Do you think your story will make your readers cry at some point?

Definitely. Although generally uplifting with adventure, inspiration, and humor sprinkled throughout, if Enigma doesn’t make readers cry (especially at one particular point), then I’ve failed. Like, “time to lock the writing pen away and take up underwater basket weaving” kind of failed.

Share a description of a secondary character.

Crystal is a short, pear-shaped 28-year-old woman with brown skin, short, spiky black hair usually colored blue or purple, a bulbous nose, and dark brown eyes. Thick hips and a sagging bust make her self-conscious next to her rail-thin best friend, but her raw genius quickly overwrites any superficial first impressions.

MC POV: Have you ever broken anyone’s heart?

BRITTA: Men of all ages flirt with me constantly. Turning them down has become an art. But have I actually broken their hearts? No, I don’t think so. Even my current boyfriend might take it in stride if I broke it off. He’s nice and all, but I’m more of a status symbol to him, just like he is to me. I’m the Silverstar heir, and his father owns the biggest trading company on Fortunus. Mutual benefit!

Is your MC good at romantic relationships?

Not especially. She’s warm and friendly, but also very focused on her career, so she doesn’t give her significant other the attention necessary to maintain a relationship. Being the youngest ambassador in her planet’s history creates a lot of pressure for Britta to compensate for her inexperience by constantly pushing herself. She hopes to have a family someday, but that day is a long way off.

Is your MC good at relationships in general?

Fantastic! Relationships are her job. Britta excels at endearing people to her from Word One, diffusing difficult situations, and steering conversations toward her goals. She believes strongly in what she’s selling, which engenders trust. She also has a good memory for names and faces; people feel liked when she asks about their kids by name. And when she says she’ll call later, she does.

Secondary character POV: Do you trust the MC?

CRYSTAL: With my life. This one time, I was presenting on the physics behind destructive harmonic feedback between two artificial gravity fields. Some jerko* who didn’t know his quadratic from a hole in the ground kept interrupting. The moderator did nothing, but Britta stood up from the audience and put him in his place. She’s got my back, and I’ve got hers. Always.

* Note: Moderated from Crystal's original word, which was too inappropriate for public forum.

Do people find your MC attractive?

Most people, yes. Britta is a tall, comely, naturally thin (too thin, by many standards) twenty-eight-year-old. But above all, she puts time in every morning to look her best. Her mother preached the importance of first impressions from a very young age. Britta takes pride in her appearance, and believes it has served her Ambassador career well.

Author’s note: this affectation MAY play into the central plot. 😁

If they knew who you were, would your MC save your life?

In a life-or-death situation, yes.* Britta is generally a kind person, but her blind spot is smaller-picture things, like forgetting to be courteous to her servants. If I simply looked hungry or unhappy, she may gloss over that to talk about issues she deems more important. My life in jeopardy would be significant enough to merit intervention. At least, I sure hope it would. 😅

* This assumes:

  • I'm on her world, not mine, and in her time 10,000 years hence
  • The question implies she knows the kind of person I am, and not me as the author who wrote her into existence. The former better illustrates Britta's personality. =]

Do illicit substances play any role in your story?

No, though alcohol plays a very minor role in one scene. Britta doesn’t drink as a rule, but when she realizes her life is taking a nosedive that she may not be able to pull out of, she says what the heck and finally gives it a try. Did I mention that she’s rail-thin and has never drunk before? 😅 It’s a fun scene.

MC POV: If you had to give your younger self advice, what would it be?

BRITTA: “Skip the physics courses and focus on social studies.” Hard science isn’t really my thing, but it took me too many years to figure that out. As the Silverstar heir, there was a lot of pressure to become one of the great scientific minds of my time. It just wasn’t going to happen. *laughs* Now ask if stubborn me would actually follow that advice. Stars, no!

Do you prefer writing the first or last chapters?

Last chapters, no contest. The first chapters feel like kick-starting a stubborn motorcycle. By the time I hit the last chapters, however, I’m so invested in the story that I write until I can’t keep my eyes open because I can’t wait for the exciting finish. It never turns out like I plan, which makes it all the more thrilling.

If you switched places with the MC, would you survive the story?

Nopity nope no way. There are points where Britta survives only because of her talents and skills, including singing, diplomacy, and the futuristic version of Escrima (stick fighting). The diplomacy piece I might have been able to fake, but attempting the other two would have ended badly—the six-feet-under kind, assuming they ever found my body.

Secondary character POV: What was the best thing the MC has done for you?

CRYSTAL: Most who look at me would say "opportunity." Britta’s family owns the largest company on Galileo, and I’m their top scientist. But honestly, I could have achieved that on my own.

No, the best thing Britta did was NOT put me up on some ridiculous science pedestal, and simply be my friend. To this day, she’s the only person who has. I’ll always love her for that.

Does your antagonist have a favorite food or drink?

Yes. (Not naming anything to avoid spoilers.) His favorite dish is a sort of large flying lizard prepared in a stew with local veggies and a flavorful ash found only on his home planet. He’s missed it more than anything else during his current long-term assignment.

Does the media or public opinion play a role in your story?

For sure. Silverstar Corporation, owned by Britta’s family, produces an indispensable wearable medical device called WetWare. Silverstar’s reputation is therefore everything to them. If public opinion were to waver, no one would trust their WetWare, and their business would quickly crumble. Let’s hope for Britta’s sake that nothing happens. 🙃

What genre of music best fits your current WIP?

A combination of “Ambient” and “Action/Drama Movie Soundtrack.” Half the story takes place in space, where serene or ethereal ambient music would fit nicely. The other half is on an Avatar-like planet, where serene ambient music also fits. However, dramatic/fight scenes happen in both settings. For those, you’ve got to have an action soundtrack, right?

Secondary character POV: What was the worst thing the MC has done to you?

CRYSTAL: Ugh! That’s tough, because it’s also one of the best things she’s done.

I’m a lab hermit. I know it. Britta is bigger than life; she enjoys the spotlight and knows exactly how to play the crowd. Yes, she occasionally drags me out of my cave, but she also accepts who I am, and that… well, I think that’s one area where I need to be challenged, not accepted. You know?

What type of government exists in your story?

Governments have evolved differently on each colony world, heavily influenced by their core philosophies.

GALILEO (MC’s homeworld): Democracy + light corporatism.

VICE: Military.

FORTUNUS: Democracy + heavy corporatism.

ENTROPIA: Parliamentary.

What colors do you associate with your WIP? Why?

Green and blue. Over half the story takes place on Enigma, whose perpetually cloudy skies cast a green tinge on everything. When I’m writing, that’s how it plays in my head, like I’m watching The Matrix.

However, blue plays a part of the story because *spoilers*. The planet also reminds me of Avatar, so I can’t think of it without imagining blue.

Does anyone that your antagonist trust try to rein them in?

There is no such person, so no. The antagonist is the proverbial lone gunman, far from home, on a mission that’s baked into his very DNA. For good reason, he hasn’t even attempted to make friends, let alone trust anyone. Even if he had, they couldn't possibly have talked sense into him.