Whenever an author is interviewed, one question above all others seems inevitable: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’.
That makes sense. Not only do we like knowing the origins and pedigree of the stuff we like, and aspiring writers always want to know where to get ideas, but the question is always asked with the hopes that there will be a funny anecdote to go with it.
I’ve mentioned before how Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera is a mixture of Pokemon and The Lost Roman Legion by way of a bet that good storytelling can save stupid concepts. And I’ve never made it a secret that The Descendants started as a backlash against Marvel’s Civil War event.
But here’s the thing: people only ever ask these things about the stories that came to be, not the jumble of abandoned and nascent ideas bubbling around in any given author worth their salt’s brain. And I think that’s a shame because I feel that a lot of really cool concepts get lost before they ever come to be, whether from the story simply never gelling, to the author feeling it’s too ‘out there’, or they’ve been paralyzed by the Originality Trap because the concept is born from tried and true stock. Or maybe the stories just aren’t that good—but the way they came into being might still be worth thinking about.
Which is how it’s come to be that I’m writing this article where I intend to give you, my readers a peek into the roiling sea of light and chaos in my head to see stories that might never be and where they came from. I hope it’s as fun for you as I think it would be if other writers did the same.
And with further ado, let’s start with the story…
Inspired By A Random Name Generator
This is my most recent little flash of inspiration. See, I’m an avid player of the free online game, Kingdom of Loathing (Character name: Raast) and this year’s Christmas content involved fighting anime-inspired elves. Some of these elves have their names generated by a program that mashes up the titles of real anime.
Some of these have gone into my file for TV Show/Band names to use in Descendants, such as Witch Seed (Witch Hunter Robin and Gundam Seed) and Love Proxy (Love Hina [a show I could write an article about because it’s so misread by most people0 and Ergo Proxy) , but one stuck in my brainmeat and sent out roots.
And that name was Cowboy King (Cowboy Bebop and Shaman King). Maybe it’s just me, but I find the concept of cowboys having a king in the same sense that pirates or thieves would to be delightful. Of course, when we say ‘cowboy’, we don’t mean the actual guys that went on cattle drives and were rarely boys—no, we mean gunslingers, lawmen, outlaws and a pre-‘chair screaming‘ Clint Eastwood: the badasses of the Old West who were one with the gun and sowed violence across the territories like dragons teeth.
Just think of how face meltingly cool the king of these guys would be? Or the quest to become that king?
For example, he would yell at thrones
And so, the first seeds of Cowboy King were born: A Weird West story about a world of wild west level technology colonizing a neighboring world. As in the Old West, the new territories are sparsely governed and controlled by land barons who are in constant war with the natives and the bandits. Everyone relies on and/or fears the gunslingers that roam the land, selling their services as they please.
Into this world enter gunslinger Wesley James ‘Jim’ Wesson and his cardsharp-cum-spellcaster partner, Bardlet Colt. They’re hot on the trail of the land baron Duke Beretta, who has stolen the legendary revolver formerly belonging to the ‘Cowboy King’, a historical figure that once led his nation to unity and peace. Beretta plans to use it to unite the hellish creatures of the world-between-worlds, Tarnation, under his rule and conquer all three worlds.
Complicating their plans is ‘Bonetaker’ Kate Winchester, a bounty hunter on their trail for crimes they may or may not have committed, and the fact that every hired gun in the colony world is looking to prove themselves against Wesson, whose reputation for being a great gunfighter is more hype than truth.
Of course, there are other sources of concepts in my head. For example:
If You Want Something Done Right…
At some point in my life, I realized that while sometimes the stars would align and some writer or producer or director out there would make a show or writer a book that is the exact show I want to watch or book I want to read, that’s not always going to be the case. Sometimes, it’s just not going to have the focus groups or slushpile readers behind it enough, or no established creative minds will be on the same wavelength and if I want to see that particular story, there’s only one man brave enough to step forward and create it.
Case in point: Maybe I’ll lose my nerd card for this, but I’m kind of tired of the undead. Especially zombies. Oh my god, you can’t swing a chainsaw these days without lopping off a dozen rotten limbs off the shambling masses. And really, there’s all the same.
No, stay with me here: granted the spirit an execution varies between Zombieland, The Walking Dead, and Resident Evil are different, but when you get right down to it, it’s still people vs. rotting people who move in swarms. There’s no real variation in zombies beyond if they run or shamble. Maybe—maybe–you’ll get gorier or more disturbing looking zombies like the Bioshock (shut up, they’re zombies.) or the aforementioned Resident Evil, but I don’t like gory or disturbing in the first place so there’s no help there.
But that’s another blog post (probably the next blog post). Either way, my next go-to is vampires… which ain’t much better.
I mean, yeah, Twilight, but the vampire parade that came after wasn’t a whole lot better. They all focus really, really heavily on the ‘this is a corpse I want to sex’ aspect of the vampire and less on the ‘sweet monster powers’ aspect, which is the one that decides whether to not I personally will be buying.
Why does no one ever want to sleep with mummies?
Actually, I lie. There’s a lot of aspects of vampirism that I think could be use some attention. For example: how would society react is vampirism just suddenly became a thing tomorrow? That is, there’s no in-place ancient vampire conspiracy like in World of Darkness, or Blade; not even a hidden community like in True Blood (based on the Sookie Stackhouse books). All there is is a new blood borne disease that gives you superpowers at the expense of becoming an obligate sangrevore (is that the word for ‘blood eater’? It should be and therefore, I decree that it is.) with some control issues.
Such is the case for White Pine Hollow. This story would be set in the Descendants Universe, where Morganna’s actions in returning magic to the world awaken the inherent vampirism within a teenaged girl. While catching some major downsides (silver and allium allergies, severe blistering in sunlight, crippling nausea in proximity with religious relic), she also gets the basic vampy superpowers.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize she’s contagious until after a pot fueled party where she fed off a number of popular kids for revenge. Now vampirism is the hot, new thing all the kids in town are doing, the parents are completely failing to understand, and what’s worse, each successive generation of vampire is more degenerate and feral than the previous one.
There would be a lot of social commentary in this one (like in any good zombie story), and the higher level vamps would explore just how people would deal with being given a ludicrous amount of power with no limits or permanent consequences.
Of course other times…
I Am Pandering Scum
As Dave Chappelle once said in a sketch, then the internet ran into the ground so hard that it might have contributed to the premature demise of his show, ‘cocaine is a hell of a drug’. And as Landon Porter once said in an article for which he was knighted by the Queen of England (… in this comic I drew…), romance is also a hell of a drug.
That’s why the supernatural (and pseudo-supernatural) romance genre is big money right now. Apparently all those years where use guys were secretly furry for Cheetara from Thundercats and Gadget from Rescue Rangers, the girls were also hoping to make time with weird monsters during their private time.
Therefore, EVERYONE who grew up in the 80’s is going to hell, not just whoever did this travesty.
With Anita Blake getting it on with werewolves and stuff, and Bella Swan (and her clones from 50 Shades and Gaberielle’s Inferno) hooking up with… things… hot, nasty monsters shagging is in vogue and in the mainstream now.
That means that we are through the goddamn looking glass here, people. Now that it’s totally okay to fantasize about making love to a super-strong corpse or a wolf (but not, strangely, overweight spec-fic writers), all bets are off… if you’re a woman.
Yes, in a strange twist, it’s now totally okay for women to have a thing for this thing:
Remember when they liked him for being good at basketball?
But dudes are still weird and creepy for liking monster girls.
She is just as good at basketball, I assure you.
So I figure it’s time to test the waters for doing the polar opposite, an Anti-Fifty Shades if you will. And by that, I mean it would be a story of a (relatively) normal man falling in love with a monster-girl and it would be a Love Story, not a neo-bodice ripper (See my article Bad Romance for the difference).
I think there’s a market for it, but I’ll admit that while I’ve been wanting to write a more romance-heavy story, it’s pretty hard to sell your typical guy on a love story. That’s why the story, Single Red Female would add in noir detective elements.
See, it would take place, again, in the Descendants Universe and would follow a detective with a mild psychic talent who takes a case from a female protomorph (in case you’re just here for the blog or Rune Breaker, a protomorph is a person whose mutations manifest physically, making them, well, monster-ish) to investigate her sister’s disappearance.
Told in the first person in a noir-ish style, the story unfolds as the mystery deepens along with the feelings.
Yes, it’s the same ‘spoonful of sugar’ approach Mary Poppins takes to giving medicine, but I think it would serve pretty well in getting a foot in the door toward selling a male audience on a more romance-heavy story.
But sometimes, my motivations are far more simple than money. Once, I conceptualized a story just because…
I Like Scythes
With apologies to Fighter from 8-Bit Theater, swords were never my favorite weapon. When I was younger, I was all about axes and spears. When I got into D&D, it was all about kukris and sickles. And then one day a friend of mine introduced me to an anime called Vampire Princess Miyu. The show itself was too downbeat for me to follow, but the lead character’s guardian/companion, Larva packed one hell of a scythe and he used it to maximum badassery.
Since then, my appreciation for the sinister curves of this humble farming implement have only grown, along with all the kick-ass examples like Death from (among all other fiction) Discworld, Gundam Deathscythe, and Abel from Trinity Blood. I suppose it’s a surprise to no one that Ru from Rune Breaker packs one too.
But back a few years ago, you might have caught me starting a National Novel Writing Month project that came into being just because I wanted to write a story about a dude reaping the hell out of his enemies.
The tagline was ‘he who wears the mask must then take up the scythe’, which you should probably chant to the tune of the single greatest opening themes in television history:
If this doesn’t make you smile and bounce in your seat a little, I pity you.
It would follow a young man, down on his luck, who is hired to steal the Mask, which has sense become a ‘useless’ antique. In the process of stealing it, he ends up putting it on and becomes the new Death. The ancient, wizardly conspiracy is quick to try and bring him to heel as their watchdog against necromancers while evil necromancers want to kill him before he learns how to use his powers.
There’s a lot more where these came from, but I think they’re a good sampling of the stuff that’s in my head. And by ‘in my head’, I mean all the time. Like I said, a truly creative person has a big, boiling caldron of this stuff in their head, waiting to get out.
And who knows? Maybe one day one of these will. I’ve already put some of The Mask of Death and Single Red Female on paper, so there’s a chance. If you’d like to encourage me to move forward with one of these, drop me a comment below, or pop into the forum and we can jam. Hell, there’s even a comment form if you want to say something away from prying eyes.
Next week is a new chapter of Rune Breaker, so until then, ciao, guys.
Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.
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