Beta Rising

Title: Beta Rising
Target Audience: New Adult
Genre: Science Fiction, Distopia
Intended length: 100k

Summary

Dane Hasler has it all. Good looks, captain of the school gridball team and from a powerful family in the ruling Alpha caste. Plenty of girls want to date him but he falls for a tomboy called Effie, who is not interested. His friends warn him she’s from a Beta family, but Dane is undeterred.

The last day of school is Test Day, where all eighteen year olds must complete a test to determine if they are part of the Alpha ruling caste or the Beta serving caste. During the test, Dane undergoes sims where he must punish betas in various gruesome ways. He ruthlessly dispenses justice without flinching, but when the test results come through it turns out he is a Beta.

Dane says there must be some mistake, but his father tells him that it is treason to challenge the test results, and his family have no option but to disown him. Agents from the government’s Beta Support Agency come around to take Dane away.

In a cell at the agency, Dane sees Effie, whose test result was also Beta. She gives him a sympathetic smile. Then he’s taken away for Genetic Boost Therapy, which is supposed to help betas with their genetic deficiencies. In reality, it is a toxin used to suppress betas. Dane loses all his hair and develops a limp. Then he’s thrown out onto the street.

After sleeping rough for a couple of nights, he bumps into Effie, who lets him sleep on her couch. Effie teaches him how to get by. His hair grows back, but it’s gray now and Effie says his limp will be permanent. He asks why she hasn’t suffered any ill effects from the Genetic Boost. She explains that she is part of a resistance group called Beta Rising. They have agents inside the Agency who switched her therapy for a placebo.

Dane gets to know Effie’s friends. A group he would previously have considered a bunch of freaks and lowlifes. He slowly adapts to his new life and realizes it isn’t all bad. Now he’s free to be who he wants to be, without judgement. He falls in love with a beautiful young man called Tobyn.

Effie’s friends are all part of a Beta Rising cell planning a daring terrorist attack on the Agency. Due to his limp, he can’t fight with them, so he supports them by training to become a nurse.

On the eve of the attack, Dane discovers secret papers in Effie’s desk that reveal she was responsible for switching his test results. His real result was actually Alpha, but they were switched with those of a Beta Rising agent.

Disillusioned, Dane goes back to living on the street. The terrorist attack fails. Tobyn finds Dane and persuades him to come back and to forgive Effie. Dane learns to accept his life as a beta, and is more determined than ever to help Beta Rising bring down the system.

Major plotlines

  • Dane descends from a member of the elite to a social outcast. What he loses in privilege he gains in freedom to be true to himself, as part of a group of freewheeling friends, where he can explore his newfound sexual fluidity.
  • Dane learns to come to terms with life changing disabilities that fundamentally challenge his self identity.
  • Effie appears to be a loser at school. From a Beta family, she’s an unpopular loner who doesn’t fit in. But as we get to know her, we discover there’s more to her than there seems. She’s a ruthless and powerful terrorist leader who will stop at nothing to bring down the government.
  • Initially, the concept of Alphas and Betas is presented unquestioningly. It’s even promoted by teachers at the school with quasi-scientific lessons about wolf societies and how humans developed in the savanna. But as the story develops, Dane realizes the truth. No one is born to rule.

What makes it different

  • The concept of a graduation test may seem similar to Veronica Roth’s Divergent, but Beta Rising’s themes are very different, exploring privilege, entitlement, social exclusion and queer identity.
  • Some people presume they are born to rule. Like dogs, they believe human society is comprised of alphas who are naturally dominant and betas who are subservient. But scientific research shows this is actually not even true in dog society. It is a myth that has been used to preserve the existing social hierarchy for the benefit of a privileged elite. Using science fiction to create an exaggerated caricature of today’s society, Beta Rising aims to explore this misconception and hopefully tear it apart.

I appreciate that Dane has a relatively clear path at the beginning, setting him up as arrogant and in need of a fall. And he certainly does have that fall and in some ways he grows. And then in some other ways I become a bit confused. It feels like it didn’t stick the landing or has some mixed metaphors or confusing points to it.

Dane’s character arc seems to be to learn a lesson about respecting others or not being so arrogant. And there’s some pieces in here, maybe I’m looking at a darker version of this, or I’m trying to reconcile the differences between the plot points or differences and the summary as presented.

Dane thinks he deserves everything because, as an Alpha family, he basically does in current society. When he falls for a beta, there isn’t really a consequence or anywhere that goes, she’s just not interested in him. He doesn’t set out to try and woo her, it doesn’t get him in trouble, it’s mostly just so that he pre-meets her before re-meeting her later. When he finally does re-meet her, she reveals she’s of the resistance, which is strange that she trusts a former alpha who has been beaten down (do they have some sort of connection that would indicate she should reveal this?) and a bit confusing. It’s also confusing as to how Dane would take any of this, where I start to fall off his arc.

As an arrogant kid who had everything, is he trying to fight back to regain his status? Like he is constantly fighting with the system and guards, going to protests events, refusing to do work because he selfishly says he is an Alpha and Effie is exploiting his rage as enemy of my enemy is my friend sort of situation? Or does he genuinely join because he suddenly understands their plight? In which case he just did a 180 from his previous state.

There’s also a weird plot point here. If Effie is part of a resistance and that resistance can switch her for a placebo, then why would they not also switch Dane for a placebo? It seems they recognize that they don’t want people to be disabled so they can fight the resistance but they’re okay with forcing it onto someone so they can join the resistance? This doesn’t make a lot of sense and also sends some mixed messages around disability (sure he finds himself but this is a case where he was forced into it and also a case where the disability is framed as negative since Effie explicitly avoids getting one).

I think if this is supposed to be the sort of dark storyline that you sound like you’re going for, where nobody is good and nothing is entirely resolved but the main character has at least personally progressed, you’re going to have to focus in significantly more on Dane’s personal story rather than the external one around him with all the recruitment.

If he’s going from selfish to selfless, then he needs to experience challenges that push him to be that way. I can’t get behind or believe a character would just have one severely traumatic event happen to them and would be able to flip that switch. I would imagine, from the set up, he wants to pursue Effie from the beginning, thinking he can use his influence to help her become an Alpha because he’s so arrogant. Effie gets close to him, but mostly keeps her distance, not fully interested but not denying anything. She, privately, is interested in recruiting him to the cause, that cause being that Beta Rising is struggling and they feel if they can force some Alphas into Beta there will be upheaval and outrage and they will be very strong fighters.

During the test, he tries to do everything right and comes out a beta. He is outraged and while his family disowns him, he constantly fights for his right to be an Alpha, not because he sees the injustices but because he believes he deserves it. He begins receiving suppression treatments, bumping into Effie again who comforts him now that they’re betas together. He feels the barrier breaking down between them and starts to recognize maybe it was the alpha/beta thing before but he still thinks if he’s an alpha he can make her also an alpha or at least make her his servant and “save” her.

As suppression continues he starts to lose feeling in one leg and his hair falls out. He literally descends into being a lesser and, through a series of trials, is becoming increasingly familiar with being a better person. Effie confides in him that she’s part of a resistance and asks him to assist them. His growing skills as a nurse will make him useful and she’d also like him to be the face of propaganda, showing how nobody is safe from being turned beta in the hopes of getting the youth to revolt.

He helps, and in doing meets Tobyn, finding himself in love with someone else and confused. He’s giving up on Effie and recognizing more to himself now that the Alpha is stripped away. As the posters start to go out, he finds the secret notes showing how Effie fudged his test just to get him in. He starts to recognize her more as a ruthless terrorist leader who will hurt anyone if she thinks it will bring a future good. He becomes disillusioned with Beta Rising specifically, abandoning the movement, and Tobyn, in order to pursue his own path to find personal happiness without hurting everyone.

Or something to this effect. I think Effie being this sort of ruthless leader has to be played up more throughout so that it is more believable. She is happy to lead him on, happy to use him because of her personal plans to take advantage of his situation. Otherwise it ends up as just a twist, a sort of shrug at the end that will certainly surprise but not really reframe the story before it. And there’s a lot of details in what I suggested that could be changed, I’m just trying to muddle through the different things presented.

Currently its ending includes a revelation that the person who was helping him was kind of not (which opens the disability plothole) but he forgives her because the guy he likes says he should and just keeps fighting in the resistance. It feels a bit unsatisfying. I didn’t get to see this person get torn down and then rebuilt into something that makes their own choice by the end, especially when the story is very focused on binaries and on forced decisions. It’s powerful to showcase, much like his situation or his sexuality, that there’s more than just one choice or the other.

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Wow!

Thank you. There is so much insight here, and I’m going to need days to process everything you’ve said.

A lot of the points you raised I just hadn’t considered and need to reflect on. Some of it I was aware of, but was struggling to get across in a 500 word summary. (My problem invariably is that I bury the lede!)

Yes, it’s definitely supposed to be dark and nuanced. While the alpha/beta system is fixated on binaries, the characters are (hopefully) much more complex than that. The problem with the alpha/beta system, apart from its inherent injustice, is that life is really all about the gray areas. Effie exemplifies this. As you say, she makes morally questionable decisions in the short term for noble long term goals. And she embodies leadership qualities even as Dane realizes that no one is born to lead. There will be some flaws deliberately left in every character’s world view, because no one here has a monopoly on truth here.

I imagine Effie Initially saw Dane as a presumptuous spoiled brat. Maybe amusing but nothing more. Then after his testing and treatment, she takes pity on him, because she’s not all bad. And as she sees how he adapts to his new life, she develops a newfound respect for him.

The only reason she targets him for the test result switch at the beginning is because he’s a sure-fire for alpha status (his family always cheats the system, which they can do because they have money). The reason she doesn’t rescue everyone from the genetic boost is because it would blow their cover. It’s risky. Beta Rising’s mission is, in the long run, to bring down the entire alpha/beta system. So in her view any means justify the ends. It’s just bad luck for Dane. He was a pawn in her plan.

I imagine Dane’s attraction to Effie at the beginning is more about his ego than anything else. He wants what he can’t have. Plus, he’s initially trying to conform to norms. Alpha society is very heteronormative, whereas beta society is more edgy, cool and queer. So his attraction to Tobyn is part of his personal development story that he gives himself permission to embrace his non-norm side.

I want to focus initially on Dane’s athletic prowess and good looks, which really define who he thinks he is at the beginning. And then take those away from him, forcing him to reappraise and reconstruct his sense of identity. He realizes that he’s still a valid human being, even though he can’t be the action hero he thought he was. “Accept and adapt”.

I want to try and convince you (the reader) of this if I can. Not that the change itself is sudden, but the change in direction is sudden, triggered by that one traumatic event. But I realize there would need to be clues that all was not as perfect at the start, to set the scene for the transformation.

Yes! This reminds me of chemotherapy, which I know all about from personal experience and can write in gruesome detail. It feels exactly right for his transition. He wouldn’t give up on his entitlement so quickly. Something like the stages of grief would kick in as he slowly comes to terms with his new reality.

I’m thinking this will be more tough love than comfort. A cruel tutor: hard knocks leading to respect - one of my favorite tropes! The girl he thought was going to be his greatest conquest turns out to be his toughest critic and begrudging savior.

This is exactly what I want to do, so I need to do a much better job at articulating my ideas! :slight_smile:
The way you have highlighted the binaries has made me realize that’s an important theme I was neglecting. Dane starts out with a binary view of the world, and by the end he has a far more nuanced view and can see the gray areas in life. He embraces himself, even though he now see’s his own imperfections, and he’s also able to accept someone like Effie for who she is too.

This story has been bouncing around in my head for a year or so, and this is the first time I’ve attempted to get it down. You’ve given me a massive boost in trying to straighten it all out. (Not a genetic boost). And you’ve got me even more energized to work in it.

So thanks again :smiley:

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Since it’s thematically all around binaries, lean in to it, and make sure the ending satisfies on that theme. He picks a third option, he decides to stay with the rebellion but plans on changing it from within or overthrowing Effie, something that moves beyond simply going with one of the options, even if he has a better worldview in the end.

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Great idea. This really sharpens the themes for me. Thanks again.

And I love rebel leaders who become as bad as the regime they fight against. Very Hunger Games :slight_smile: