Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Take Inspiration From The Things That Piss You Off

"Where do you get your ideas?"

This is, perhaps, the most trite question any author will have to field. Some of us will offer a self-deprecating smile, and talk about how all they do is watch and listen to the people around them. Others will lean in, as if they're imparting a secret, and confide that the ideas for their stories come to them in dreams. And there are at least a few of us who shrug, and claim we have no idea where these inspirations come from.

I'm not going to beat around the bush on the subject. My greatest inspirations come from consuming media that pisses me off.

I got sick of reading bad steampunk, so I wrote some better stuff.
Part of that is because I am a creature of spite, and nothing makes my pilot light flare like seeing a good idea executed poorly. The other part of it is that, if you're going to complain about how a movie, book, or comic is a steaming puddle of afterbirth, then it's your responsibility to do it right.

Put Up, Or Shut Up

I have half a dozen examples of this process, but I'll talk about one of my favorites. I am, as I mentioned in What is The Difference Between Tragedy and Grimdark?, an avowed fan of the grimdark genre. I like my warriors brutal, my motivations murky, and my protagonists more flawed than low-quality rubies. As both a writer and a gamer, I admire the sheer creativity of the Warhammer 40,000 game, which gave grimdark its name.

What I did not enjoy was the Space Wolves Omnibus.

Even though I felt I should have.
For those not familiar with the genre, some of the most famous heroes (and I use the term loosely) in the 40k universe are space marines. These genetically-altered, cybernetically-enhanced super soldiers are colossi in power armor who have had their fear, their hesitation, and even their free will, stripped from them. They have sacrificed their humanity to become living weapons for the emperor, and they are forces to be reckoned with.

That's compelling stuff, and it's one of the many reasons I like this universe. So when a friend handed me the Space Wolves Omibus, and told me it was the origin story of Ragnar, one of the most infamous of the Space Wolves (take all the stuff I just said about giant cyborg super soldiers, and now add in a dash of vikings), I expected to tear through this book like a kid left alone in a room with a chocolate cake.

The problem was, as soon as I put a forkful of this story in my mouth, I found out it was made of wallpaper paste.

The book opens with the kind of fast-paced, hard-hitting action I expect from a Warhammer book. Great stuff for a few pages. Then we go back in time... back to when Ragnar was a boy on an underdeveloped planet. Just one more youth out to prove his mettle sailing the seas, showing no fear, and killing sea monsters with a spear. Then his people get killed, and Ragnar gets recruited along with another survivor as a candidate for the empire's highest honor.

That's a summary for the first hundred pages and change, which is about where I stopped. It was, by no means, the end of the book. But I felt that the whole purpose of going back to Ragnar's youth was to show us who he'd been before he underwent the procedure. Who was his family? What were his aspirations? Did he have lovers? Was he a good man, or was he cruel? How was the person he'd been back then altered, or erased, by what was done to him when he became one of the infamous space wolves?

Sadly, aside from the opening action sequence, it was all bland, cookie-cutter stuff. No great depths were plumbed, and no great characterization took place. No mysteries about who he'd once been were revealed.

That was about the time I cracked my knuckles, and got to work.
I let that disappointment roll around in my head for a while, and when I'd tumbled the gemstones of my malcontent, what fell out was a pretty engaging idea. Picture a dystopian society, where humanity's first intergalactic war had reduced much of the world to rubble and ruin. Corrosive rains, blasted cities, and hives of people living underground as they tried to undo some of the damage they, and the invaders, had done. Relics of the conflict exist everywhere, from massive gun emplacements, to a militarized culture, but one of the most unusual relics are the Myrmidon. Alien-human hybrids, the Myrmidon were created to act as shock troopers whose unique anatomies allowed them to access and use salvaged alien technology to aid humanity's fight. Now that the threat is defeated, though, what do we do with these perfect warriors we built? These perfect warriors who bear physical, mental, and emotional scars from the battles they fought to keep us safe?

That was the premise for my short story "Heart of The Myrmidon," which was featured in the collection End of Days. It wasn't the last story I set in that world, and though the original story is out of print, it's possible that some of the newer tales might be seen in the near future. If things swing my way, that is.

Fix Things, Don't Just Urinate on Them

There's a strong urge among those who are new to spite to take a thing they don't like, and lambaste it. Whether it's a person whose beliefs they find offensive, or a TV show they find banal, there's a temptation to just defecate on it, then point and laugh.

Your goal shouldn't be to just vomit your hate over something. It should be to help an idea live up to its full potential.

Kind of like how we're supposed to treat other writers.
Remember, spite is a powerful thing. But you should use it to build, and improve, instead of tearing down and destroying.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully some folks enjoyed my thoughts on the subject. If you'd like to leave a little bread in my jar, why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron? $1 a month helps more than you know, and there's some sweet swag in it for you! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, well, what are you waiting for?

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