Dare to Be Stupid
Put down the chainsaw and listen to me! It’s time for us to join in the fight!
Wait, sorry, I was getting into a serious Weird Al thing there.
But the thing is, there is some wisdom to that advise when you’re in a creative field. As much as some hugely original ideas might crash and burn on their execution, sometimes what seems incredibly stupid in concept can turn out to be simply amazing once you get to see it in full motion and in living color.
As I pointed out, writers, especially spec-fic writers can and should draw from all kinds of sources for ideas. By that same token, they should also hesitate to discard those same ideas as ‘stupid’ before they give them a good honest try to see if they can get the shape of them.
Don’t believe me? Of course you don’t. I’m basically a monkey with a keyboard that give you, maybe thirty minutes of entertainment each week. Plus, I’m on the internet and the internet is where Nigerian Princes, Rickrolls and Anonymous live. You have every right to be skeptical of anything you read around here and never just take someone’s words at face value—it’s a bad neighborhood.
Luckily, I’m packing some well reasoned, if probably comically presented arguments. Because Cracked can’t give you enough of that to fill your entire workday.
So, without further ado, I present to you reasons why writers should dare to be stupid.
Reason the First: Lots of Popular Works are Stupid Upon Closer Inspection
As I am fond of saying, fiction starts with a contract with the reader stating that you are going to tell them baldfaced lies and they’re going to sit there and take it because you’re going to be entertaining while doing it.
The thing about lies is that the further from the truth you go, the more outlandish and less coherent they get.
When you enter my area of expertise, spec-fic, you’ve already pretty much flashed your ass at the concept of reality and are now in the realm of magic—yes, even in Science Fiction.
First of all, the elephant in the room for almost all but the hardest of sci-fi: current science says you can’t go faster than the speed of light. There have been points in time that we thought it might be possible, even very recently, but Lady Physics, fickle bitch that she is, puts her foot down on the matter again and again. ‘No’, she says, ‘not FTL Drives, no instant teleportation, and no subspace ansibles that allow instant communication across the solar system, much less across the galaxy.
And again and again, sci-fi writers (self included) look her right in her smug mug and say ‘You’re not the boos of me!’ and write some more galaxy-spanning fiction featuring devices that, as Arthur C. Clarke so accurately put it are ‘indistinguishable from magic’.
As much as we enjoy these stories and should enjoy these stories, you have to admit that it is kind of stupid to keep insisting that there’s any science in breaking the speed of light. At least until it turns out we were wrong, which and real scientist will cheerfully admit is a possibility. That’s what science is, after all: learning what’s going on and double checking that shit forever to make sure its right.
But you don’t have to break out the science to find some high grade dumb. All you have to do is describe some popular works in a completely honest, but unflattering light. For maximum fairness, I’ll be using some of my favorites AND more serious works to demonstrate. By the way, this makes an awesome bar game:
Lord of the Rings: Evil jewelry threatens the safety of the world. While an unemployed relative of a celebrity and his gardener embark on a dangerous journey to destroy it, three people learn a very valuable lesson about friendship in spite of poor race relations.
Stargate SG-1: The Air Force has a big, magic door to alien planets that they send four person teams through with only the most basic of recon. The main villains are evil snakes that possess people and their walking, talking incubators. One of the main characters is one of these incubators.
How I Met Your Mother: A father is telling his teenaged kids about how he met their mother. This requires at least seven years of flashbacks that include highly inappropriate stories about the escapades of the kids’ honorary aunts and uncles. Ninety percent of these flashbacks do not include their mother in any way, shape or form.
A Knight’s Tale: A comedy movie that draws interesting comparisons between modern times and what we see as ‘simpler’ medieval ones by likening jousting to football (both kinds) and balls to clubbing. There’s a plot in there somewhere and hardcore jousting action. You also get to see Geoffrey Chaucer’s ass.
Shakespeare in Love: William Shakespeare’s life was exactly like one of his plays and he ends up falling for a woman who dresses n drag so as to be in one of his plays (one where, as per history, the parts of women were played by men). Queen Elizabeth has to have her say about their relationship at one point.
See? It’s not that hard to turn a great story into something that sounds like a Creative Writing student hastily jotted it down to make a deadline. So when an idea comes to you and it sounds really, really dumb in your head, maybe you’re just stating it in your mind in the worst possible way.
And even if you’re not, maybe you shouldn’t worry because…
Reason the Second: Sometimes the World is Pretty Dumb
It would be really, really easy to just make this whole section one long political joke. And to be sure, there are going to be political jokes peppered in here because people can be stupid and nearly ninety-nine percent of politicians are people (We’ll get to that in a second…).
The point is, weird, dumb and just plain insane things happen in this world of ours and often it’s the kind of thing that, if one came across it in a book, they would call bullshit on. But they’re really happening and they’re mind-boggling. So mind-boggling in fact, that I’m considering writing an article for Cracked.com about it.
People get eaten by dragons every year. Yes, I mean Komodo dragons, but the fact that it’s a real animal and not a mythological fire-breather doesn’t make it better. Those things are still horse-sized lizards with toxic bites and a tenacity that is normally considered to be fictitious. And they are eating people. They are so good at eating people that if you check that link, you’ll find that people are building their houses to reduce (but not eliminate!) the chances of being eaten by goddamn dragons.
Animals are Involved in Politics. Every election it seems, one town or small city puts a cat or a dog up for election. And almost every election, the animal wins. There have been cat mayors, more than one. And if that isn’t crazy enough, you should see how many votes Mickey Mouse gets for president.
Meanwhile, there are some very awesome people who know about fiction and are tired of the real and normal world dragging its lazy ass at the whole ‘turning out awesome’ thing sci-fi has been promising since Jules Verne. These enterprising folks are out there bringing some of the most outlandish bits and bobs of fiction to life and in some cases, merging them into our everyday society.
Subcultures are everywhere for this kind of thing. The Society for Creative Anachronism is there to help you literally get medieval at their various gatherings. And if you like comics and or anime, cosplay (costume play) is a thriving and vast community where people are out there everyday making the most impossible outfits into reality and then wearing them to hang out. And my favorite, steampunk has a growing presence in the world, with steampunk clubs springing up and even a genre of music that blends steampunk styling with, of all things, hip-hop.
I plugged Professor Elemental before, so now it’s Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer’s turn.
Not cool and weird enough for you? Well I’m about to blow your mind. But first, a story:
There is a folder on my computer for superhero ideas I’ve deemed out of flavor (actually, ‘too stupid’) for The Descendants. Among them was a supervillain who was an elderly lady whose power was super-knitting. That’s… a little out there even for the DU, so it got shelved and may appear in the world of So I Married a Supervillain, or something. The point is, I thought it the idea of knitting based crime was way too stupid for a superhero series meant to mimic the Bronze Age.
Only then it turned out to be a thing. Like a thing in real life. Behold!
That’s the work of a new type of activist known as a yarn bomber, type of vandalism that’s on the rise and incredibly cozy during the winter. Like garden variety mad bombers, they pick very public targets and then be-sweater the hell out of them.
And it doesn’t stop there. Like any good, clean crime, it can also be used as a form of civil disobedience and an entire new form of protect, called craftivism has sprung up to tackle worthy causes like women’s rights, the environment, and corporate abuses.
Not to put these folks down because I don’t want to do anything to discourage this kind of thing, but I can’t imagine anyone not looking at you funny if you told them that your next story was about someone who fights for the little guy at the end of a crocheting needle.
So yeah; if you’re looking for something to point to that’s realistic in the artistic sense, the worst possible model is probably real life. After all, there’s where quantum physics likes to hang out.
But maybe your idea isn’t secretly genius, and maybe even the sea of chaos that is real life can’t replicate your brand of crazy. You still shouldn’t necessarily give it up because…
Reason the Third: Stupid is Freeing
A lot of non-fiction writers think fiction is easier because you don’t have to do research. Those people are morons.
Any con man will tell you: the key to any good lie is adding to it enough truth that it feels real. This goes double for fiction. If you’re aiming for something that immerses the audience, you actually have to do a ton of research to make it feel real.
Regardless of what I said about FTL travel back in the first point, a lot of good sci-fi mixes the Clarke’s Law stuff in with extrapolations on what could happen based on the direction of current science. Jules Verne, who I mentioned earlier, did this so much that you can’t be blamed thinking he was really some kind of time traveling alien.
And there’s a wealth of stuff to speculate on too. You might remember back in the Descendants Issue ‘Waylaid’, I mentioned that humanity, by 2076, had captured an asteroid for study and mining purposes. That’s because plans are totally on the drawing board to do just that.
In fact, a great deal of the tech I feature in The Descendants is based on real things being studied right now. And believe me, it’s pretty difficult keeping up with the future when its happening. And if it isn’t science, I’m researching what hotel rooms look like, or women’s fashion, or breeding back animal species.
So there’s little wonder why I went and created the universe of So I Married a Supervillain. You see, SIMaS is actually the world I developed to receive all the ‘stupid’ ideas that didn’t fit with the Descendants Universe where things have to have some explanation, there are no Gods (technically) or aliens, et al.
They haven’t shown up yet, but SIMaS, despite having a more mature story than most DU fare is a place where there are aliens and molemen (who practice mole-magic) and all sort of less than sensible trappings that most superhero universes get away with.
And let me tell you: there is nothing you can do to research Moleman Mole Magic. It’s the insane babbling of a bored brain and its fun.
Yes, I do have to do research for SIMaS—I learned a lot about things like how the CIA filled South America and Africa with real life supervillains in coming up with the motives for the titular supervillains. At the same time, I can wax on forever in this world about evil magic critters from Beyond the Pale and totally get away with it.
There is a completely different feel to your writing when you’re trying to Craft a Narrative (note Serious Capital Letters) and when you’re just chilling out and letting the weirdness flow. Both are rewarding and I highly recommend both, but I feel that a lot of writers are way too worried about the artistic value of their output to dip their toe into the crazy pool.
If you do take the chance on an idea that seems stupid at face value, just know that…
Reason the Fourth: You’re in Good Company
Some of the most beloved creators of our time dare to be stupid; some of them have made their names on it. The key, as always, is that they take that dumb idea and use it as a framework to build something awesome, much like Skynet used the T-800 chassis to build Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Speaking of which, The Terminator came about because James Cameron had a weird dream. Cameron went on to make more money actually exists by making a movie about giant blue cat people that used the word unobtanium with a completely straight face. He previously made bank off turning a horrific maritime tragedy into a date movie.
Meanwhile, be have the master of horror and writing guru, Stephen King, who has made monsters out of clowns, the family dog, and cell phones. None of these were presented as anything but one hundred percent serious and scary, which, if you think about it makes no sense, but when you read it, works perfectly well.
In another direction completely, we have Sir Terry Pratchett, writer of the Discworld novels. For the five of you who are unaware of Discworld, it is a fantasy/satire series set on a flat, disc-shaped world that sits on the backs of four elephants who in turn stand atop a giant space turtle. The series manage to tell compelling stories while also humorously lampooning fantasy and literary tropes as well as modern life.
In fact, all life on the Discworld is governed by the Law of Narrative Causality in the same, undeniable way our world is governed by physics/the might of Sun God Ra. Notably, Death is the main character in one line of stories from the series and he may well be one of the most pleasant and likable people around.
On that note, I’ll leave you with this clip from one of the movies based on Discworld:
Questions, comments? Have your say in the comments below, or on the forum.
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