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Perfect State Annotation One: Why I Cut the Deleted Scene
This story began with the idea of taking some common tropes in science fiction—the brain in a jar, the Matrix-like virtual existence—and trying to flip them upside down. In every story I’ve seen with these tropes, they’re presented as terrible signs of a dystopian existence. I asked myself: What if putting people into a virtual existence turned out to be the right thing instead? What if this weren’t a dystopia, but a valid and workable system, with huge benefits for humankind?
Kai’s and Sophie’s stories grew out of this. I loved the idea that putting people into simulated worlds might actually be the rational solution, instead of the terrifying one. An extreme, but possibly logical, extrapolation of expanding populations and limited resources. There are certain branches of philosophy that ask us to judge what is best for all of humankind. I think an argument could be made for this case.
This is the first reason why I cut the deleted scene. It shifted the focus too much toward “Let’s escape the Matrix” instead of the theme of technology doing great things at the price of distancing us from human interaction.
All that said, Sophie’s arguments in the story do have validity. One of my thematic goals for the story was to reinforce how the fakeness in Kai’s and Sophie’s lives undermines the very things they’ve built their personalities upon.
For Kai, this is his heroism. The fact that there was never any actual danger for him meant that he was playing a video game on easy mode—all the while assuming he was on the most hardcore setting. This asks a question, however: if his heroism felt real to him, does it matter if he was never in danger? I’m not sure, but I found it one of the more intriguing elements of the story to contemplate.
Sophie has a similar built-in conflict. Just like Kai’s heroism is undermined by his safety net, her revolutions and quests for human rights are undermined by the fact that she was fighting wars that had already been won in the real world. Her state was intentionally built without these things, just so she could earn them.
And yet, does the fact that the conflict has been won before make her own struggle any less important and personal to her?
She thinks it does. She thinks that the conscious decision of the Wode to put her into a world with fake problems and suffering is an unconscionable act. One that undermines any and all progress she could have made.
I like that the deleted scene helps raise the stakes for questions like this. However, there’s a more important reason why I felt I needed to cut it. And that has to do with a problem I have noticed with my writing sometimes: The desire to have awesome twists just because they are unexpected.
In early books, such as Elantris, this was a much more pervasive a problem for me. I was eventually persuaded by my editor and agent that I should cut some of the twists from that book. (There were several more twists in the ending; you can see the deleted scenes for Elantris elsewhere on my website.) I was piling on too many surprises, and each was losing its impact while at the same time diluting the story’s theme and message.
I felt like this ending was one “Gotcha!” too many. I see this problem in other stories—often long, serialized works. The desire to keep things fresh by doing what the reader or viewer absolutely would never expect. Some of these twists completely undermine character growth and audience investment, all in the name of a sudden bang. Sometimes I worry that with twists, we writers need to be a little less preoccupied with whether or not we can do something, and a little more focused on whether it’s good for the story. (With apologies to Ian Malcolm.)
A twist should be a natural outgrowth of the story and its goals. In Perfect State, I decided that my story was about Kai getting duped: duped by the Wode, then duped by Melhi. The twists in the published version contributed to this goal, giving in-story proof that his heroism could be manipulated, and that his existence had grown too comfortable.
I worried that the extra epilogue would divert the story away from these ideas. And so, in the end, I cut it. (Though I’ll talk in the next annotation about some ramifications of this that still trouble me.)