In my previous post, I set out to talk about how real, physical problems in my day to day world were placing a huge burden upon my ability to write, even in this journal. Yes, I know how that sounds, given that I have been churning out words in this journal at a rate that even Stephen King might be impressed by. But I will level with you here: the flow of ideas to mind and the flow of words from fingers to text file suffers terribly when the mind is suffering any form of discomfort.
Aspiring authors out there might be motivated to ask me then how to keep the flow of ideas coming even when you feel frightened that you will not die. And I admit, that is a tough question for which there is no one right answer that works for everyone. But like every task or problem, there is a myriad of solutions. In that spirit, I am going to carve through my own processes and explain some important factors in how I get an idea from vague tickle in the mind to completed essay, novel, video, or whatever.
During lectures about the production process of a short film, a lot of time was both devoted and in my opinion wasted on the process of writing a script. Scriptwriting is a time-consuming and difficult process, as is any kind of writing as an artform or extended communication. But like any kind of surgery or repair, it is also a process that can be divided into steps and followed in a piecemeal, step-by-step fashion. In fact, the process sort of demands it. But the way people go about it depends a lot on the person themselves, and the variations can deliver a few quirks.
In one lot of the lectures I attended, the tutorial group was told that in most cases, the theme of the film being made was near the last of the things decided upon. Or rather, a writer decided what to call the theme of his story at the end of the process. This is almost a complete reversal of the way I do it, and as the lecturer told us that people often work differently when it benefits them, I told everyone such. Of course, people also have different ideas of what the word “theme” means, so I will also break that down a wee bit. To me, theme means things like what kinds of feelings, tones, and messages will be communicated in the finished product. Let us take the first season of True Blood for example. Although each episode varies slightly in tone and message, the overall arc is one of isolation, loneliness, and alienation that steps into a story of the relief felt when one makes contact with a person who seems to remove some of the barriers that promote such feelings. And as an added dash of spice, the series creates a conflict between the assholes who really do think that ignorance is bliss (most of the population of Bon Temps) and those who have had no choice but to learn better (Sookie, the entire vampire community, Lafayette, and so on).
In fact, in all of the years that I have been watching films for, the first thing that leaped out at me when I started watching them is the theme. Especially when I was young. I do not believe it is a surprise to anyone to know that children of all shapes and types live in the immediate, and thus tend to forget when they are watching a film that there is meant to be an overarcing story that may or may not be trying to communicate something deeper to the audience. Even as adults, we are taught to keep our stories as brief as they need to be (or, if you are particularly commercialistic, more so). But when one looks at a film for the first time, the aesthetics and visual elements can give the audience a good idea of what to expect. Let us take for example the title card from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.
As gob-smackingly simple as this title card looks, especially in comparison to those of more recent films in a similar genre, it communicates a few things to an audience, even when that audience is the proverbial Man From Mars. First, it tells the audience that much of the setting will be in the murky environment we refer to as outer space. Second, it tells the audience that there will be a very futuristic look to the film. That most of the frames of reference the audience will have from the Earth that they saw in the year 1982 will not apply. And as a final example, the actual wording of the secondary title tells them that characters will engage each other in a very bitter and hurtful battle. Even as a five or six year old, I understood better than any of my then peers what the word “wrath” meant. This is an example of deciding upon the theme before even the content of the story has been finalised. The people who hammered out the script and bent it into its final shape knew full well from the start that they were going to do a story about the single most intriguing villain from the original series coming after the single most egotistical member of the original series’ main cast and laying waste to anything or anyone that got in their way. The rest is just framework and window-dressing.
This is a reason why many of my own stories include references to the characters performing music for one another, making pieces of visual art, or even getting in front of that world’s equivalent of a camera and acting out whatever is deemed important to build the desired impression with the audience. You see, almost from the get-go, I decided that I wanted the world depicted in my story to be at a technological cross-roads. There were two peoples depicted in it, the Dwarrow and the Halflings, that had a keen interest in the arts of engineering and chemistry. Whilst one was appreciably more advanced than the other (in fact there is a division in the Halfling community that forms a major element of more recent writings), it became their defining characteristic for a long time. The presence of a powerful Mage with the ability to bring items or even living things from different worlds and share them with the world he has become part of also poses a bit of a storytelling challenge, such as what limits there are to his power and how much he can guide the technological development of the people. On Kali-Yuga, there is no such thing as nuclear research, so Kronisk is required to help them skip over that stepping stone towards semi-conductor research and means of powering devices that have lower maintenence costs as well as lower risks of permanent damage to the environment. Given that Elves live for thousands of years, the idea of a site within their world becoming dangerous for them to inhabit for thousands of years through operator carelessness or equipment failure is not palatable to them in any sense.
The theme of the first story in my arc about Mages, which in itself involves two Halfling Mage women and the Elvish men who love them, is about how childhood is not perpetual. Nor should it be in a healthy society. In fact, the very fact that the two young women around whom the story revolves, Ruby Amelda and Linula, live in a boarding school unit within a thriving Elvish city whilst the realm that they are from is starting to die and rot partly because of its lack of accomodation of their kind is a big factor in what the entire story is about. In country towns, the whole gung-ho we be number one attitude is both a defining characteristic and the single most annoying thing about the people. Do people in their teens dream about leaving the place that is the best in the world and going to somewhere where they have less opportunities, less chance to build a productive and rewarding future, or just less chance to not live like something stuck to the heel of the society they are in? Pig’s fat arse they do. And yet, in every conversation I found myself engaged in with individuals aged between 16 and 25 (inclusive) whilst I was stuck in one such place against my will involved at least one mention of wanting to pack up and go to one of those ohhhhh-so-baaaaaad cities. Because nothing is worse for a young adult than being deprived of the opportunity to find a place in the world where they can get comfortable and get down to the business of living out the rest of the fifty to sixty years they can reasonably expect to live. If someone told you to your face that you had to live in a place where every moment becomes a weariness, where unemployment in your age group is as high as eighty percent, and no tertiary education opportunities physically exist exist at all, you would have to be legally retarded to not want to punch them in the face.
It should not come as any surprise to informed readers, then, that the populace of the Halfling village called Bârikha, where this attitude is prevalent amongst its elders and ruling class (in spite of a mayor with such an attitude being ousted through fire and violence and replaced with one without), has a population of maybe fifty to a hundred thousand and declining. The populations of the other major centres in the Allied Realms of Kali-Yuga, as a point of comparison, vary between one million (Ljusalfheim) and twelve million (Arterclius). And here is the thing: in spite of both of these cities’ total residential areas being either the same size as Brisbane’s metropolitan area or twice that, they cope with such populations far better than Brisbane ever will. Wanna know why?
Simply put, it comes down to two things. One, Elves are capable of thinking thousands, even tens of thousands, of years ahead. This means that when they build a city within a great, vast forest, they design it with both expansion and sustainable growth in mind. They do not teach their young women to believe that giving birth like it is going out of fashion is a good thing. They do not teach their young that ignorance of the processes by which birth occurs and should be curbed is baaaaad. Because they know that if they do behave like this, with their lack of a fixed approximate limit on their lifespans, their world will become very uninhabitable very quickly. Two, Dwarrow like to impress one another, and potential mates, by (among other things) their craftsmanship. Yes, having an eye for quality, usability, and practicality is a serious advantage in the competition for mating among Dwarrow. Given how dependent upon the creation, use, and manipulation of tools Homo Sapien is for his near-total dominance of Terra’s delicate ecosystem, the fact that this is not the case with Homo Sapien is a major, major, major societal and design flaw. As Elves, Dwarrow, Humans, and to a lesser degree Halflings and Ursidae, find input devices that convert Human interactions into numbers, letters, symbols, and combinations thereof for communicative and design purposes, you had better fukking believe that the QWERTY standard keyboard layout will never get so much as a look-in with them.
(Oh yeah, and whilst I am thinking of it, attempting to picket a funeral on Kali-Yuga will get you killed, minced, and unceremoniously sprinkled on some Dwarf’s or Elf’s garden. Just saying.)
So in case you have not already figured this part out, a major, major part of what inspires my fictions is the contrast between the kind of people I generally find around me, the kind of people I want to have around me, and aspects of the people I do find who converge more with the latter. Ruby Amelda, for example, is a fictionalisation of a person I was lucky enough to meet, converse with, and generally learn that at least a very small fraction of one percent of Brisbane’s population makes a vague attempt to use their brain. Characters like Novannon or Herimír reflect people in the real world, usually public figures such as Frank Zappa or Gibson Hayes (respectively) that have done something to earn my admiration. It is not a coincidence that when Herimír joins the Mage council band on stage and performs a song, the descriptions I give of the song make it sound very much like a song that is informally known as Jimi.
Connections to the real world and its media aside, I believe I have mentioned several times before that when I hear things, a certain part of my brain fills in a visual gap with associated images. This is an ability that I believe many well-paid “artists” in today’s “creative” industries would kill for. Hence, when I hear songs or even words out of other people (as I believe I have covered in great detail during earlier, angrier posts), I “see” things that in my processing seem to match what I am hearing. In cases where I have seen awesome fan-made music videos for the song (look up “Butthole Surfers Dum Dum” on YouChoob for an example), I may picture a version of said video, somewhat retooled to fit with the worlds of my stories. If you have seen the video I used as an example and now imagine Dwarrow dancing around whilst mishandling snakes, you are somewhere in the sport.
In short, if you encounter an individual who tells you that they have an assignment to write a creative piece of a certain theme, idea, or word count, and tell you that they are not finding any inspiration, tell them they should consider a different career path. Although it is a bit like collecting puzzle pieces from all over a world and haphazardly fitting them together (think 1980s videogames like Impossible Mission or the one themed around Frankie Goes To Hollywood), finding inspiration for a script, a piece of fiction, or even a piece of visual art is less a matter of knowing where to look and just opening your senses a little.