(We’re in for another round of Variant Bonus Features! I’m blogging about three chapters every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until Feedback is released, October 2nd. These blogs will be FULL OF SPOILERS, but they’ll only spoil Variant—they won’t ruin any of your fun in reading Feedback.) THESE BONUS FEATURES ARE WRITTEN ASSUMING YOU’VE READ THE ENTIRE BOOK, NOT JUST THE CHAPTERS MENTIONED. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
–People have asked me what the classes have to do with anything, since they’re so varied and seemingly random. It’s all about testing how the androids learn. First, we have Materials Science, which is an applied science, requiring a knowledge of other sciences (chemistry, physics, math) and using those sciences in real-world situations. Second, we have Aesthetics, which is almost the direct opposite: it’s not only a philosophy, but it’s a fairly inaccessible, esoteric philosophy–especially for teenagers with little background in philosophy. Finally, we have Field Surveying Techniques, which is a concrete skill, with specific tools and mathematical formulas. The school observes how the androids respond to these subjects (and compares the androids’ response to that of the human students). Everything in the school is some kind of test.
–Some people love the paintball scenes as cool action and some people hate them as slowing the plot. In the comments of these Bonus Features someone even compared them to the tactical fighting in Ender’s Game. I see them completely differently; all of the paintball scenes (there are now three–in the first draft there were five) exist as setting for other more important things. In the first paintball game, as mentioned in Chapter Seven’s Bonus Features, we see the paintball game as symbolic of Benson’s situation at the school (overwhelmed by rules he doesn’t understand, physically lost, unable to use his natural fighting skills against the enemy). Chapter Ten’s paintball scene exists for two reasons–first, for the conversation that Benson has with Isaiah, where we really get a good glimpse at The Society’s attitude, and second, we see Lily escaping. In the third paintball scene, which we’ll get to later, Benson is ignoring the game entirely and focused on something else. So, really the paintball scenes exist partially as fun action, but the action is entirely secondary to the real purpose of the scene.
–One of the bits of writing advice you hear all the time is that your villians don’t consider themselves villians; they consider themselves as the heroes of their own story. One of the things I most proud of in Variant is that, I think, all three gangs have very justifiable, believable reasons for acting the way they do. Isaiah’s discussion with Benson, while they’re both shot and waiting for medics, is a very clear example of this. Benson tries to argue with Isaiah, but Benson is the one who seems irrational while Isaiah seems calm and collected. Isaiah is making clear arguments while Benson gives responses like “You’re crazy.” In this conversation Isaiah isn’t even overtly trying to convince Benson to join The Society–he’s merely warning Benson about the dangers of escape, and reminding Benson about how the school can be a good place is everyone stops breaking the rules. It all seems to make perfect sense.
For that matter, the scene with Jane after the paintball game is illustrative of this very same thing. She’s not a villian, but her goals are very different from Benson’s. While she doesn’t have the strictness of the The Society or the wildness of Havoc, she still recognizes that Maxfield is a far better life than what she had before (or, in Jane’s case, what she thinks she had before). Her motivations for staying at the school are very different from Isaiah’s, which is why she’s a Variant, but she still thinks she can find happiness there. And Benson asking her to the dance only furthers that.
–When you see names of people that don’t make major appearances (such as when Joel, Hector, and John are mentioned as paintball squad leaders), rest assured that I have everything completely and totally mapped out. I’m a bit obsessive that way. The school starts with 74 people, and I have every single one of those 74 people in my character encyclopedia. Every single one of them has a picture assigned to them: I find it easier to imagine characters if I have a photo of them, so for every book I go to NowCasting.com, a talent agency, and do a search through their enormous database of aspiring actors. So, all 74 characters are named and “cast” and any relevant info is listed. And yes, I have been clinically diagnosed with OCD.
Maybe at the end of this Bonus Features series I’ll show some of the pictures of the actors I have cast as characters. Or maybe I won’t. You all have images in your mind. It might be weird to see the images I had in mind. For now, here are three very minor characters, just for fun.
–I love the relationship between Lily and Mason (or the lack of relationship, depending on how you read it). Some people insist that they must have been dating, while others think they were just good friends, or that Mason just really liked Lily but his admiration was unrequited. I have my thoughts, but I like that it’s an open question.
–This chapter contains a couple lines that totally forced me to rewrite the book, and ended up making everything infinitely better.
When I write, I outline enough to have a couple sentences describing each chapter, but usually not more than that. And with Variant I didn’t even outline that much. So a lot of my writing was what you call “discovery writing”–ie, making it up as you go. Well, I got to the end of this scene, and had the discussion between Mason and Benson about Lily, and then this came out of nowhere, completely unplanned.
Mason’s voice was serious. “Becky had a guy. She wasn’t always screwed up. She was a V. Helped start the V’s actually.”
“You’re kidding.” I rolled onto my side to look at him.
He pulled his red sweater on, and his eyes met mine. “Do what you want, man. But if you’re going to get killed next week crossing the wall, stay away from Jane. She doesn’t deserve that.”
I mentioned way back in the first Bonus Features that there used to be a girl named Sarah who played a huge role. She essentially played the role of Benson’s close confidant, and budding love interest. However, this line about Becky’s past just nagged at me. She suddenly was such a more powerful, engaging, tragic character. I knew she needed more screen time, and I knew there was such tremendous room for character-driven story.
So, I rewrote the book, removing Sarah and having Becky take that role as Benson’s closest friend. And, after all the rewrites, Becky is my personal favorite character.
–This chapter is short, and there isn’t much to reveal about it. Suffice it to say that there are many things I love about it. In particular, I love Benson’s outburst at Laura, and the point he makes about The Society hauling people to detention even if they’d stopped Lily from making it over the wall. And I love the final words while Jane is crying.
The Full List of Bonus Features: