The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

The Primordial Stew Of Imagination, Part 1

Posted by BigWords on November 29, 2009

The old “where do ideas come from” question keeps resurfacing, and – even though I already covered this – there are writers asking this question now. I really don’t know how to explain the process that goes with the formation of story, character, concept and (shudder) Big Ideas, but I’ll give it a fair whack… The least I can do is dissect the piecework of thematically linked elements I used for my NaNo, since November is technically still with us. It won’t be pretty and it won’t be entry-level, but if you’ve come this far then you might as well see the “behind the scenes” extras.

The Scalpel Cuts Thin And True

There are, I am reliably informed, no new ideas. That’s fine. That’s groovy. I’ll play along with the notion that no matter how far I push things I’m never gonna create an entirely new genre, or open up hitherto unknown elements of the craft, or be able to transform the written word in ways which would make Shakespeare spin in his grave. None of that really matters. If originality is over-emphasised by a lot of writers, it is merely due to an abundance of fear. We’re all in the same boat – you, me, Stevie King too – when it comes to new ideas, mostly because the printed word has existed for so long. There are a lot of books, and writers, between the creation of the Gutenberg bible and this moment in time.

Which is why we have to take the scalpel to the world around us, and cut off slices of cool and interesting stuff. There’s big differences between the writing methodologies which have been given prominence over the last decade or so, but the generation of material is still the responsibility of each and every writer. You want my own examples?

  • Robots on the rampage featured in the lacklustre I, Robot adaptation. If you can ignore a woefully miscast Will Smith, and the not-so-subtle allusions to Apple being the OS of the future, you will find a couple of salvageable ideas in that mess of a film.
  • A robot rebellion (where the artificials gained some semblance of sentience) also makes a mark in the superior Michael Crichton novel Westworld. The films are recommended, though the television series is somewhat less impressive.
  • An agency dealing with cybercrime and robotic crime is the focus of the Ghost In The Shell manga and anime. It contains the best depiction of a future society where robots and people co-exist. The multitude of robot forms is more realistic than I, Robot‘s conceit that one company runs the entire industry.
  • My plans for Charlie were directly influenced by The Godfather, Part II (though it is kinda difficult to get close to that kind of character study, never mind surpass it).
  • The idea of the Turing collar came directly from an article in New Scientist which pondered the possibilities we might face once robots gain the level of intelligence we have.
  • The small pink rabbit/cat joke characters I used was (in part) a joke at Tenchi Muyo‘s expense. I never did like the annoying pet.
  • Robot dinosaurs are common in many SF works. I did, however, base my views primarily on old comic-books of the sixties and seventies, wherein they were treated with more seriousness than in some novels.
  • The notion of a robot framing a human for a series of murders really caught my attention. I’m not sure if I lifted the idea, or if it was a reaction to I, Robot. Maybe a little from column A, a little from column B.
  • The comm’s used throughout my story are direct lifts from Doom 3, which was the first game to make me like the PDA as a game device. It had, of course, been an SF staple for decades, but if I wanted one it would be the make and model seen in Doom 3 I would get.
  • Plastiglass is a more complicated notion than glass reinforced plastic, but the idea is in use today. The technology I describe at one point where the glass can be made to turn opaque is also not a strictly SF idea.
  • The concept of a city being built vertically goes back to Metropolis, and has seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to Judge Dredd and its’ spin-offs.
  • Flying cars… Well… Um… Moving swiftly on-

I would also add stories from The Outer Limits, the legendary RUR, and bits and pieces of non-fiction as having some bearing on the way I fixed my ideas up. See… There really are no new ideas – it is all in the handling. That accounts for the nuts and bolts, but the actual writing will bring out other elements of any idea that can be conjured. There are a few things which haven’t been covered here, but they aren’t pushed to the forefront.


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