Title: Queen and Commander
Author: Janine Southard
On a world where high school test scores determine your future career, six students rebel.
A pair of star-crossed lovers plot to stay together, rather than be separated by the system’s college plans. A former off-worlder instigates: there’s a ship in orbit, he says. We could take it and run away.
But to take the ship, the three conspirators need more friends. Enter Rhiannon, the girl who set herself up for the ultimate success on this planet. She made sure her test would give the desired result: Queen. But her best friend begs her to take control of this plan to run away. So she drafts a would-be doctor who believes in following his Queen with all his heart. She finds a genius who can’t seem to make the system work for him.
And then she gets them qualified for the ship in orbit. The ship to freedom. Now what will they do with it? And was freedom what they really wanted?
Winning a ship means surpassing the competition.
The three competing Queens swiveled their heads, hare-quick, to home in on new prey. They’d ignored her until she’d made that noise. Now they had the scent of fresh insecurity and would peck away until they laid her meager confidence bare for the massacre.
“What a sweet little girl,” gushed the one in red. “Where’s your mother?”
Dead, actually. Well, if this Queen planned to come after her for her age, she’d show her appreciation in the way only a younger person could. She raised her eyebrows and furrowed them down the middle, then pulled her head back onto her neck as though repulsed or doing a proper sit-up.
From the way the older woman cringed back, Rhiannon knew she’d succeeded in making the derisive Did you seriously just say that to me? face that she’d seen on her more critical peers.
A teenager can out bitch-face you any time, Queenie. Don’t try that tactic with me.
The eldest cocked her head, more curious than cruel. Perhaps she found it as difficult to gauge Rhiannon’s age as the other way around. As far as Rhiannon knew, this woman had been one of Dyfed’s first Queens, self-made and just as untrained as herself. “Why do you think you deserve Ceridwen’s Cauldron?”
Why Six Minds Are Better Than One
I really like ensemble cast stuff. TV shows like Star Trek and Buffy. Movies like The Magnificent Seven or, I admit it, The Mummy.
All those different perspectives fill me with glee. Sure, the action is the same for each character, but none of them are living in the same story.
Just imagine if The Hunger Games included chapters from Peeta’s perspective interwoven with Katniss’. What does he see and feel during his presentation or throughout the supposed romance. Is he also guilty of using his love-partner at the start? (Hey, Suzanne Collins, if you’re reading this: Please write a tie-in novel for me with his reactions to everything. I’m dying to know what he was thinking!)
Writers are always told to “remember that each character is the hero of their own story, but you can’t let the supporting cast take over.” Think about that, though. As far as those supporting characters are concerned, the protagonist is the side character.
For Queen & Commander, I made sure my characters had different voices and different goals. In roughly 30 pages of notes, I gave each character a complete plot arc as though she or he was the main character (of their own story).
Let me tell you: getting six fully-formed character arcs to climax anywhere near the same time took a lot of plot outlining.
On the other hand, it also made choosing each scene’s POV really easy. Whoever had the most to lose got to own the scene.
In a novel, writers have choices about how much to reveal and how to reveal it. In a space opera epic, the ensemble cast adds flavor and perspective. Each character shares some unique detail that no one else knows about. (Whether that’s guilt or knowledge about how to fly a spaceship.) And those details flesh out the universe, make it real.
Each character doesn’t individually see their details as important, but, pulled together, they form a gestalt of veracity.
About the Author
Janine A. Southard writes speculative fiction and videogame dialogue from her home in Seattle, WA. She sings with a Celtic band and is working on the next book in the Hive Queen universe. She’s also been known to read aloud to her cat.
The cat appreciates all of these things. Maybe.