setting the goalposts

31 05 2012

I’ve been doing free writing exercises, trying to determine what I wanted to do for my next writing project. After doing some additional exploring of ideas I felt I had something worth blogposting and discussing.

First, I decided what I wanted was established goals for myself. The story itself could then be tailored around the goals. That way instead of “I want something where this happens to these dudes” I can frame it as “I want something that feels like this and achieves these.”

The four goals I picked were:

1. Standalones. Doing an ongoing serial in which every chapter must be read in order for anything to make any sense makes for something very difficult to join in on, later in the saga. Some serial aspects are fine — I’m not looking for an episodic sitcom with a perpetual reset to the status quo — but something which leans towards satisfying sandalones would be best.

2. Awesomeness. It needs to be a premise that is capable of generating multiple Crowning Moments of Awesome. Something completely mundane on a mundane and ordinary world isn’t going to cut it; there has to be some fantastic aspect which can ply itself to spectacle and splashy incidents.

3. Modern or Scifi. I’ve never been able to fully connect with pure fantasy settings. Closest I’ve come is Penultima (which mocks them) and anachronauts (which blends them). I’d like something that can connect to modern speaking patterns and maybe even pop culture, since that’s the world my mind inhabits. Also, what can I say, I prefer guns to swords.

4. Visual aspect. It has to have some aspect which can be represented in commissioned artwork. anachronauts lacked this; due to its extreme serial nature (where 90% of the world couldn’t be shown without spoilers) I couldn’t make, say, scenes or character art which could be used in advertising or on merchandise.

So, those are the goals. What sort of project would meet them? The answer is to look backwards.

Ages ago, back in HIGH SCHOOL and college, I did a cyperpunk comedy series called A Future We’d Like to See. It had all of the above. It was focused on standalone stories which shared one single universe; characters could re-appear and there was continuity for them, but aside from a timeskip mid-series, you could pick up any story or skip any story and still understand what’s going on. It had a scifi setting flavored with modern world elements, it had some over the top aspects good for awesomeness, and plenty of prime visual material (even if none was made).

It also reminds me of the Discworld setting. Terry Pratchett’s books build on particular sets of characters, and the world itself builds as he goes along. But there’s no specific ‘arc’ to complete, no forced prereading (even if it helps to read earlier books) and you still get some good standalones. Also, it’s a modern setting, despite being fantasy.

(You may recall the “postmortem” idea I had, where ghosts were real and a bureaucracy had been set up to deal with their cultural affairs. This doesn’t meet too many of the above goals. It’s modern and arguably visual but lacks any awesomeness because it’s intentionally mired in the mundane, and it would end up being VERY VERY serial, to the point where I’d need 3 chapters just to set up the main characters the way I wanted them. I’d prefer something splashier and something with a wider scope.)

So for my next project, ultimately the SETTING should be the main character. We should care about the world, want to explore it more. Anachronauts was more of a 50/50 split; we started out focused on characters and the world opened up, but it was a SPOILER exactly how far the world opened. That hurt its approachability. Ideally we want to be able to jump right in anywhere.

That means the setting needs a single sentence elevator pitch, one which will be enough for someone walking right up to grasp it and start reading. They may not know all the tiny details but they should be able to know what to expect.

The next question, the one I don’t have an answer to yet is… what is the one defining aspect of this world?

Some possibilities.

1. Some children are born with mad science abilities, able to make the impossible possible on a quantum level. They become business icons, celebrites, world-changing avatars for their pet causes, etc. A cross between Reed Richards and Steve Jobs.

2. A world where a cycle of legendary heroes, thought ended ages ago, is starting again — because the hero who opted out of it got discovered hiding out from his/her superdramatic main character destiny. Likely not a modern setting unless the legends all happened in mideval times, or the legends are all bad mary sue edgy Kill Bill / spy style modern madness.

3. There is no world; there are only the living dreams of people, which they can enter and exit like teleporting to and from a sim in Second Life. (Sorry, best analogy I had.)

4. A steampunk elite live in sky-cities above a barbaric wasteland.

(I’m not that keen to flog the “What has science wrought” trope. Any of these also need to show the benefits of science and those who approach it with good intentions AND good execution.)

5. The world was destroyed, and all that remains are ghosts.

6. Superheroes?

So, yeah. I don’t have anything that grabs me yet and I’ve more brainstorming to do, clearly. But I think I’m on the right track — a worldbuilding story series, with standalone based writing, awesomeness, modern aspects, and visuals. All four and I’ve got a nice package. I’ll get there eventually; these are the first steps.

Regardless, feel free to suggest ideas, although as always, anything you post you have to surrender your copyright to. No lawsuits later saying “Hey, that was MY idea!” if somehow I actually make more than $56 on this project. Only legal way I can kibutz about the writing process with y’all.

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3 responses

1 06 2012
HP

In the vein of your second idea of recycling legendary heroes into a modern setting, how about a retelling of the Arthurian cycle ? I could picture King Arthur as the boss of some superspy agency, dispatching his agent-knight on various mission.

1 06 2012
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I suspect I’d need a LOT of research for that. Fans of Aurthurian lore, even “Elseworld” or other modernizations, expect lots of accurate details and throwbacks to the source beyond that surface level lore you find in Hollywood.

2 06 2012
Lirazel

In addition to Arthur, there are “sleeping savior” stories all over Europe. The Danes have one. So do the French, I think. In fact, I once thougt anachronauts was heading in that direction.

Still, as you say, lots of research.

I almost think you might get a start from “Legend of Korra,” where the key feature of the world is an imbalance of power between the few with Awesomeness and the many without. This was also true (in a certain sense) in Tolkien, where the way that Elves and Men experience death and change was the underlying conflict.

So, I guess what I’m saying is you should pick a conflict. But I also think that Superheros vs. The Rest, while more interesting than Superheroes vs. Supervillians, is rather overdone at the moment. And now my mind leaps to the conflict in “Hardwired,” which was Powerful Corporations who controlled the high ground (orbiting artificial moons, aka the top of the gravity well) vs. Nearly Ordinary People. Who manage to outsmart at least one of the bad guys. Of course they do.

And if you think about Pratchett, his conflict is often Truth vs. Accepted Reality; one reason why at least one of his leading heros is a detective.

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