The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

The Primordial Stew Of Imagination, Part 2

Posted by BigWords on November 30, 2009

When To Add, And When To Take Away

In the previous post I ran through the precedents of the story, but sticking all of those ideas together higgledy-piggledy would be a mess. Simply adding ideas without knowing who, what, where, how, why and when is madness of the highest order. The bag of tricks is filling, but to pull out objects in the right order we need to go back to basics and ask whom the characters are. This is where I normally throw away the rulebook and look to television for a bit of help. There are lots of threads at AW which have various people urging against the use of televisual techniques in writing, but one in particular is acceptable. If you go back to the beginnings of my story you should see where I drew from Star Trek.

Yes, the cold, analytical mind on one side of the focus character, the hearty life and soul on t’other. It isn’t, you will discover, a particularly original idea. There are examples you could pull from very popular books of the last few years that contain the same set-up, though I’m sure J.K. Rowling wouldn’t admit to borrowing the make-up of the central trio from an old SF show. I also allowed myself the luxury of hand-waving the living situation of the characters at that point in the story, mostly to let the narrative move quickly on to other things rather than worrying about how they could get their hands on regular money.

There is very little in the above taken from the previous post. This is important. When the story requires any of those elements to be brought in they are already bubbling away under the surface, there to be brought onto the stage when they will have the best possible effect then quickly ushered from the limelight to concentrate on character and plot. It may seem counter-intuitive to plan deeply and yet present a thin slice, but reversing the levels would turn the novel in to a comedy, or unbalance the flow so severely as to make it unreadable. I think I have gotten away with most of the descriptions in the first draft, but they will be refined and pruned, edited and clarified as needed.

None of what has come before actually answer where the ideas come from, but I’m getting there…

I skipped any explanation of where my hovs came from in the last post. This is where I show how I stitch together the different ideas that others have come up with, throw in some new thinking, make major (and fundamental) changes to the transport system of the future. There isn’t enough space in a single post to list every instance of flying cars ever seen in fiction, but you should know the basics anyways.

  • The use of petrol in the future strikes me as dumb, mainly because the stresses would make it uneconomical to use. A fuel cell of some sort seems more believable. This would eliminate a lot of engine noise (handy if it was ever filmed :D), and provide a logical reason for bigger explosions than you would see than with an ordinary car crash. Hollywood Rule 1 is The bigger the explosion, the better.
  • A HUD rather than a conventional dashboard would be a logical step forward, with adaptive and customizable software to make each vehicle perfectly suited to its’ owner. There are already steps towards this kind of use, but we are still a way from having a completely digital representation rather than dials. I never completely bought into the fact that dials and switches in spacecraft for this reason.
  • Your now thinking “how do you stop fender benders?” right? Well, sensors on the sides, top, bottom, and on each of the corners would keep a minimum safe distance between the vehicle and all those around it. The screen could then flash red if an accident was imminent.

None of that is radical. This is:

  • Every action, every movement even, would be recorded and fed into a main computer system so that safety could be assured by insurers. The police would have full access to this system.
  • Roads incline up to the next vertical level anti-clockwise around buildings, descending clockwise. This wasn’t a big deal in my story, but I had it worked out before I started.
  • Hacked cars can be made invisible to the constant recording.
  • The cars need to be at least four feet above a solid surface to operate safely, save for military-grade vehicles. A plot point about the DCU vehicles travelling freely in a vertical manner never came across clearly, but it was what I had intended.

The rest of my uses of the technology rested on the fact that it wouldn’t be cliché.

I have to admit that I was reminded of an old First Comics’ series called Zero Tolerance when I got into any sequence where the flying cars came to prominence, though that is obscure – even for me. Umm… Maybe if I just pretend I was thinking of Fray, nobody will shake their head and sigh at my geekishness slipping to the fore.

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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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A Minor Side-Note About The Professions Of Fictional Characters

Posted by BigWords on August 13, 2009

I’m interrupting my train of thought on SF for a moment to comment on the lack of imagination in television and other continued adventures. You can add radio series, paperback series and comic-books to the contributors of unimaginative professions, though it is more specifically concerned with television. It comes as no surprise to realize that the occupations of most television characters fall into a pool which has remained rather static for decades.

The number of genres suitable or practical for television is small. Despite thirty years of experimentation (and sixty years of film history before that) the field remains remarkably limited: cowboys, cops, doctors, and soap operas.

David Gerrold, The World Of Star Trek

Adding reporters and lawyers to that list, and you will be hard pressed to think of any other profession that has had a foothold in popular culture. Postal workers are routinely shown, though could you imagine a series centering on the business of letter-sorting which would provide the requisite drama? I am, for the purpose of this post, ignoring comedy, which has marginalized and mocked jobs in a number of shows.

Yet there are jobs which remain largely unseen, and would provide all the interesting human drama which television now demands. Radio presenters haven’t been treated seriously in a serialized drama since Midnight Caller, yet if you look at the opportunities that present themselves with a talk radio presenter you will find more beneath the surface of the idea than is immediately obvious. Or maybe the thought of being inventive is beyond television these days…

What else are we missing out on, as channels gear their product to a narrower audience in the mad rush for ratings?

Drivers

The Transporter films have gone some way to give professional drivers representation in popular fiction, but there just isn’t enough focus on them. Films such as The Fast And The Furious series don’t really look at the driving component as much as they do on the culture surrounding illegal street racing, completely ignoring legal driving as a job. There’s really no reason that a continuing series couldn’t focus on a driver.

Consider the possibilities for a moment: A race in one episode, a chase around tight streets the next. Transporting vehicles across the country, driving a celebrity around, the crashes, the mistaken identity when he is assumed to be a car thief… There’s so many things  that could add in to the motoring theme, and yet there isn’t a wave of television series based around the concept.

Gambling

I’ve tried my hardest to think of a series focused around a professional gambler, but come up empty-handed. There’s a bunch of great books about gambling and gamblers, yet there has yet to be a definitive television series about a gambler. This is one idea I would really like to see, despite the morally dubious nature of such a character, as there is a number of possibilities that come immediately to mind. I’m keeping my ideas on this for myself…

Magicians

Don’t mock… There was a time when characters such as Mandrake, Zatara and (one of my favorite comics) Dr. Spektor carved out a niche in the entertainment industry. Current representations have descended into mundanity (the Constantine film should have been so much better) or juvenile fantasy, ignoring the real opportunity to tell stories that no other character type could possibly get involved in.

The reticence on the part of producers may have something to do with perceived budget concerns, but clever directors don’t need big budgets. The endless rumors of a Dr. Strange film only adds to my annoyance that there isn’t a brave network executive willing to put out a show about a magician. Will someone get the hint? I’ve got a feeling that a successful film about a magician would be needed before we get a television series.

Spelunkers

I guess this could come under hobby, but a television series about an explorer could encompass horror (The Descent), tragedy (missing cavers) and even a quest for hidden loot. There is a wealth of stories which could easily be told with such a character, yet the airwaves are suspiciously free of anything remotely similar. So I guess we’re going to have to wait a while on a Cave Carson series… Don’t hold your breath.

I’ll let others add in their voices to this situation. What jobs do you want to see in television, and why do you believe they have the ability to hold a series together?

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