I originally had a little trouble pinpointing the Big Idea for The Lives of Tao. Should I use the big idea I had when I first conceived the story, or should I go with the other big idea that manifested at the end? After all, big ideas could morph, couldn’t they?
I’m not great at elevator pitching, so for The Lives of Tao, I developed a little skit between the aliens in the book and humanity:
Alien: I’ve possessed you. Now, do as I command.
Human: Hmm… yeah, no. I don’t think so. I’m going to go watch TV instead.
Alien: But I’m all wise and advanced and…and stuff.
Human: How about this? Make it worth my while.
I’m one of those writers who love to build a mousetrap, plop the little fuzzballs in, and watch them suffer. In The Lives of Tao, I began by asking this: “What if many important historical events since the beginning of time were just part of a war between two alien factions using humanity as pawns in a massive game of chess?”
Now, aliens messing with mankind is a time-honored tradition in science fiction. We’re just so easy to mess with. For some reason, they’re always here to eat us, enslave us, take our resources, or steal our women, and they usually have a pretty easy time of it. After all, they’ve got the ships, technology, and in Joss Whedon’s case, space chariots. Humans only ever win, thanks to good ole’ fashioned ingenuity, in the last thirty minutes of the movie.
So that was my original mousetrap. I had assumed we humans were the mice and the aliens, known as the Quasing, were part of the trap. But then, I made two crucial decisions that changed the entire concept of my original big idea. I decided that, in order to complicate the plot and the relationship between the humans and the aliens, the inhabiting Quasings couldn’t control the humans; they could only talk to them. Then I made it so that once the alien inhabited the human, they couldn’t leave until the human host dies.
Suddenly, the aliens weren’t part of the mousetrap. They were right there alongside the humans trying to figure things out. This is when the big idea morphed. See, it is one thing to be someone in a position of power: when you’re the boss, captain, or leader, you give orders and others follow. Easy as pie. There’s little deviation from that chain of command.
However, what if you’re not the boss? What if you’re an all-wise ancient alien inhabiting a human and you want him to do something, but he refuses? Toss in thousands of years of alien manipulation, a civil war over control of humanity’s evolution, and now the bigger, better mousetrap is set. Time to put the little fuzzballs in and see what happens.
At the beginning of The Lives of Tao, Tao’s host had just died while on a mission for the Prophus, one of the factions fighting in the alien civil war. Unable to survive long in Earth’s atmosphere, Tao fled into the first available human, Roen Tan, an overweight lazy guy meandering through life.
I had created complete histories for Tao and Roen, and wanted to see how their personalities clashed. On one hand, we had Tao who was an all-wise alien who usually inhabited super spies and once had inhabited the likes of Genghis Khan, Lafayette, and the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. On the other hand, we had Roen, an overweight thirty-something loser who still ate frozen pizzas for dinner, got tongue-tied around women, and sucked wind every time he climbed a couple flights of stairs. As expected, the relationship started out testy, but what grew out of that trial by fire gradually turned into the highlight of the book, and it surpassed every other plot point in the novel.
So in the end, the big idea for The Lives of Tao is about the friendship that grew between Roen and Tao as they worked together to achieve both their objectives. Along the way, Roen helped Tao continue the fight against the humanity-manipulating Genjix while Tao helped turn Roen into a dynamic character who managed to lose weight, develop a stiff jab, find love, and ultimately discover a purpose in life.
All Tao needed to do was give Roen a reason to make it worth his while.