Now, let us go over the points made in chapter three's checklist, in light of what I have said about "Fifteen Miles."
1. In a good story the reader forgets where he is and lives in the story; the reader wants to be the protagonist. "Fifteen Miles" is a heavily masculine story. The story has been widely anthologized, which means that many editors have liked it, and many readers have seen it. I suspect that most of those readers are male. That is one of the problems a writer faces: Every story choice limits your audience to some extent. When "Fifteen Miles" was written, the science fiction audience was almost 90 percent male. Today, nearly half the SF readers are women. It is certainly possible to write stories of adventure and exploration in which women are the protagonists. Yet I wonder if this particular story would work well if Kinsman were changed to a woman.
2. The protagonist must be admirable, or at least likable, but he should have at least one glaring weakness that forms the underlying tension that drives the character's behavior. Capture those conflicting traits in a simple emotion vs. emotion equation. As we have seen, Kinsman's basic equation is guilt vs. duty. I was quite clear about that before I began to write the story. He is a likable character (at least I think so) who has a remorseless weakness gnawing at his soul.
3. The protagonist must struggle to solve his problems. That struggle is the backbone of the story. Kinsman certainly struggles, both physically and emotionally. The story is a record of his struggle to deal with his various interior and exterior problems.
4. Avoid stereotypes! Kinsman is certainly not the stereotypical steely-eyed, jut-jawed hero of adventure fiction, nor is he much like the public image of NASA's astronauts. Neither Lemoyne nor Bok is a stereotype either—which leads us to the next point.
5. Study the people around you; draw your characters from life. All three of the characters in "Fifteen Miles" are based on people I have known for many years. I said above that Kinsman is not much like NASA's public relations image of its astronauts. True enough, but most of the astronauts are really not much like the public relations image that NASA has tried to maintain. Kinsman is more like a real jet-jockey: outwardly flip, inwardly torn by a moral dilemma, extremely capable in any task he undertakes. Bok and Lemoyne are, likewise, composites of people I have known, including a few Jesuits who are among the world's leading geologists.
6. Show the story from the protagonist's point of view. Every line of the story comes from Kinsman's point of view and no one else's. When he faints from exhaustion the narrative stops and resumes when he comes to. I believe that this gives the story an immediacy and emotional impact that it could not have gotten if I had shifted viewpoint among the characters, or even if I had used a more distant, godlike third-person point of view.
7. Use all five senses: Describe what your characters see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Check through the story and see where Kinsman itches, what he smells, how he strains to pull the priest out of the crevice he has fallen into. I believe the only sense I did not make use of is taste, although Bok mentions that he tasted the water melted from the ice that Father Lemoyne had unwittingly brought to their shelter.
In addition to the seven points from chapter three's checklist, there is an eighth point that came up in this chapter: The protagonist must change. Kinsman is a changed man at the end of this story. So, too, are the astronomer and the priest, though to a lesser degree.
In a well-crafted story, not only does the protagonist change, you, the writer, change also. If you put your heart and guts into what you are writing, you will not be the same person at the end of your story as you were at the beginning of it. Perhaps that is why writers have the reputation of being highly emotional; they are constantly bleeding and dying with their characters.
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