FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement.
Help a time traveler return to the future without altering the timeline of the universe.
SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.
Zipporah Goldblum has traveled back in time from 5012 CE on a scouting mission. The people of her time, faced with calamity, want to know if they can escape to the 21st century. Her time machine self-destructs in the process, so she recruits physicist Pascal Rahali to build a new one, deceiving him into thinking she is an angel investor who wants to boost his research. Sick with a 21st century virus, she is running short of time. So, step by step, she reveals aspects of her mission to Pascal, hoping that he will not turn against her when he realizes the double risk of colonization by the people of the future and altering the timeline of the whole universe. Both cunning and vulnerable, she evolves though the story, gradually learning nuances of 21st century culture so that she can evade detection by the police and accelerate the construction of the vessel she will need to return home.
THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).
The Time Scout
FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?
Exotic Matter resembles Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things in that it explores colonization in a future setting, as well as the loneliness endured by people who are consumed by their missions.
It resembles Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem in portraying a physicist wrestling with real problems in physics while faced with a potential invasion from life forms with superior intelligence.
FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.
Deprived of funding, scorned physicist Pascal gets support from an unscrupulous time traveler who wants his help getting back to the future.
SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.
Inner conflict: Pascal longs to make a big scientific discovery, but he has neglected to publish and has lost his funding. A Moroccan immigrant to the United States, he feels scorned by established physicists. The quest for nature’s secrets inspires him; he has no desire to apply what he discovers to any sort of invention. Zipporah, an incognito time traveler, gives him money to pursue his research, but in return she – and the investors who follow her example -- demands that he invent technology that poses a danger to all of humanity. Now he must choose whether to abandon his life’s work, or risk turning it to the most dangerous possible uses.
Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?. Secondary conflict: In his obsession with making a breakthrough, Pascal forges the name of his mentor, Ernesto, on a scientific paper. Ernesto breaks off the friendship. And Pascal’s girlfriend dumps him after learning about the incident.
FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.
Exotic Matter takes place in Oakland and Berkeley, California, in the present and prehistoric past. One early scene shows the protagonist, Pascal, in a laboratory with cables snaking from floor to ceiling and an isolation chamber the size of a propane tank, suspended from above and split in half to reveal crystals, sensors and mirrors. In a later scene he watches turtles by a placid lake in the embrace of his girlfriend. That nature theme returns when he travels backward in time to find himself amid towering redwoods, so primeval he half-expects a diplodocus to emerge from the ferns. Taken to an indigenous village, naked, sunburned and mosquito-bitten, he dresses in a coat of mud from a freshwater creek, eats shellfish and acorn mush, and huddles at night across from his host family in a tule reed hut, owls hooting as he struggles to nestle in the fur rugs. Finally in the close atmosphere, warm and redolent of sweat and campfire smoke, he drifts to an uneasy sleep.