I gotta admit, I’m kinda reaching for a topic this week, but maybe it’s one that needs addressing, if only to see if anybody else has this problem, too. And, by the way, the reason I’m reaching for a topic is because my writing on Spree has really taken off. I think that alone might be worth a blog post, not because of the writing itself, but because of what I suspect might have spurred it. Well, anyway, there’s your teaser. I’m writing about something else this week. Maybe I’ll talk about the other another time.
Let me tell you what I mean by pesky whims.
I’ve been watching Supernatural here lately—almost finished with Season 3—and I have to admit it’s a good show. I’ve been borrowing the DVDs from my cousin. I started out borrowing the first two seasons of Lost from him, but burned through those pretty quick. When he initially offered to let me watch his Supernatural collection, I declined. I thought that a friend of mine had said they were disappointing. But when I asked him later, he said the first two seasons were pretty decent.
So I went back and borrowed Season 1. I watched the first disc—four episodes—but didn’t feel all that enthused about it. Neat idea, but it seemed a little repetitive. You know, the Winchester boys go to some new town that, no matter where it’s located in the country looks suspiciously like it’s located in Canada, Sam does some research to find the lore that Dean is too lazy or ADD to find, and they take care of the monster/haunting/demon.
Okay. Nice idea for, say, a movie. Not for a weekly series. I mean, c’mon. Week after week, we’re subjected to this formula? Please. It’s well-written and all, and I really like the black 67 Impala (what’s a buddy/brother show without an awesome muscle car?), but I think I’ll pass. Thanks.
So, I took Season 1 back, and while I was there, an episode of Season 6 came on. Lo and behold, the plotline has undergone what appear to be some serious changes. The Impala obviously had a mishap, and who’s this Bobby dude? He’s like a redneck wizard or something. How cool is that?
So I took Season 1 back home with me, and am I glad I did. I learned about the yellow-eyed demon and his plans for Sam, then got to see that storyline wrapped up at the end of Season 2. That impressed me because so many TV shows tend to want to stretch things like that out as long as they can. Of course, when they killed the yellow-eyed demon, they also opened the Gates of Hell and let out some nasties they have to deal with at least all the way through Season 3.
Supernatural is, arguably, urban fantasy. The scriptwriters draw upon the rich source of urban legends for their stories, so there are all kinds of critters running around for the Winchester brothers to deal with.
The more I watch it, though, the more I’d like to write something similar. And that’s where the whole pesky whims thing comes in.
I’ve had it happen a lot, even acted on it several times. Have you? If you have, you’ll recognize the ominous omens. You’re reading a good book or watching a good movie/TV show. Something jumps out at you—maybe the entire plot line, maybe just a reference to some other story the characters are familiar with—and your brain snaps it up. You think I could do that. And I’d do it different.
You’ve just been attacked by the pesky whims. Or should I capitalize that? The Pesky Whims. Sounds like something…yeah: Harry Potter and the Pesky Whims. Whaddaya think?
Okay, maybe not. But you get the idea.
Back in the 90s, I played a game called Mage: The Ascension. It was part of the White Wolf series of games set in the World of Darkness, all with names like that: Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocolypse, Changeling: The Dreaming, and one called Wraith: The Something-or other. I don’t remember what came after the colon on that one. Anyway, you can see the trend. They covered all the major supernatural groups, with vampires, werewolves, ghosts, wizards and elves. Among those five, you could find bestiaries that covered some of the other things, all the way from Bigfoot to mummies and zombies. They created an entire world to play in, and we did. Mostly in Mage, though we had the books for Vampire and Werewolf. Looked at Wraith, but playing a ghost didn’t look all that interesting. Neither did Changeling, though I did pick up the book. We played the GURPS adaptations rather than the original White Wolf Storyteller system.
White Wolf did a great job. Too good of a job, if you ask me. See, I’ve always wanted to write a good story with mages and vampires, and I did. It’s the urban fantasy I’ve referred to on this blog and even shopped around a little bit earlier this year. But my heart wasn’t in it.
See, Mage sets up various versions of the venerable magic-user of Dungeons & Dragons fame in the modern world, and accounts for people like Merlin along the way. After all, the TSR versions seemed a little pitiful compared to Merlin, didn’t they? White Wolf created an intriguing setting in their World of Darkness. It’s something of an alternate Earth, where things are just a bit darker. And the mages, while they have godlike powers, are hampered by something called Paradox. Basically, what it means is, when a mage tries to use magick (their spelling) in some obvious way, the belief of the Sleepers—their name for what are called muggles in Harry Potter—fights back. This belief in the mundane has been fostered over the centuries by the mages’ enemy, the Technocracy. The Technocracy is a totalitarian outfit, and their agent account for things like Men In Black, black helicopters and other things like that. White Wolf managed to account for most everything.
So it was hard to keep that from influencing me when I wrote The Firstborn. White Wolf has come up with a working model for urban fantasy that’s hard to beat. I had an equivalent of Paradox that I called the Balancing—basically a sort of super-karma—and I even had my own Technocracy that I called the Cabal. They were my versions, of course, but I felt very much like I was plagiarizing and just calling a rose by another name. It’s still a rose.
The basic story is still good, and I’ve toyed with various ideas from time to time on how to change the elements I’m uncomfortable with—mostly the ones I just mentioned—and try telling the story again. I may still do that someday, I don’t know.
But what got me to thinking about Pesky Whims was, while watching Supernatural, it occurred to me that writing a story about hunters like Sam and Dean could be entertaining. The easiest way would be to just write about other hunters in the Supernatural setting. Then I could use what they’ve already done in the way of world building and concentrate on plot and characters.
I’m not sure I’d be happy with that. And I’d like to make it really dark, too, what I think the writers at Supernatural might do if they weren’t constrained by TV standards. Could I make a full story out of this idea? I don’t know. All I have at this point is an opening set of sentences: The world is a dark place. Civilians don’t know the half of it. I’m not even sure if that’s any good or not.
But I’ve had an idea bouncing around in my head for several years now that I might be able to adapt to it: that of a hunter who finds himself having to help vampires save themselves from some mysterious new disease. Seems like my justification for it (I haven’t given it much thought in quite a while now) was that he’s learned the disease will end up infecting humans or something along that line. The real kernel of the idea, for me, was putting the hunter through the torture of having to help his enemies, and of having to gain their trust before he can.
Pesky Whims. Ideas that pop up and you’re not sure if you can do a thing with them or not. When you write like I do, they’re a constant hazard. I can only find out if an idea will work or not by sitting down and writing the damn thing. That’s it. There’s no magic way of exploring it for me. If I explore it too far, I lose it. Stephen King says he works out the entire first chapter in his head every night as he’s going to sleep. If he can do that until he has an entire first chapter he’s happy with, it’s a good sign he can write the book.
I can’t do that. I lose the freshness and, therefore, the story. If I think about it too much during the initial process, I lose it. I overwork it. I kill it. My process usually consists of something like coming up with that sentence pair I have above and then see if it takes me anywhere. I ask myself questions: Who is saying that? Is it first person? Third? What’s the story about? What’s the protagonist doing to bring up this initial statement? What happens after he asks the question or makes the statement? What about after that? And how does it end up?
I have to be able to answer all or most of these questions before I’ll start on something. And even then, there’s no guarantee.
But, perhaps, the Pesky Whims serve a purpose. I’ve always heard you should write every day (and I’m slowly learning that I have to break that rule or I exhaust myself), even if you delete everything the next day (don’t, no matter how bad you think it is. You might be able to use it somewhere else). I think Pesky Whims are a way of shaking off some excess, or maybe they’re kinda like those squeeze balls you see people using to exercise their forearms and work off stress: little things you can do to keep your creative muscles warmed up.
And maybe, just maybe, they’re a way of connecting with a good idea somebody else has come up with. I don’t think Supernatural is necessarily the best way to tell a story about hunters, but it’s the best one for their setting, and they’re doing a good job with it so far. We have some intriguing characters developing now, such as Bela, the woman who knows how things really are, but only uses it to make herself rich. There’s Ruby, the woman who is also a demon—but she’s helping the Winchesters. And there’s Bobby, an old friend of both the Winchesters and their late father. He’s the redneck wizard/magical scholar I mentioned earlier.
Somewhere in there, somebody might find something to write the Next Big Thing about. Some little something that means very little to the series’ writers.
What do you think Pesky Whims are? What do you do about them, if anything at all? Do you even get them?