Story Jam 1

I’ve had the notion for this blog for at least two years now. It seems that now is the first time I’m actually settling down to do it so instead of wasting any more time setting it up I’ll jump straight in and see what happens. Let’s write a story from scratch!

By way of the shortest of explanations: TV Tropes is a massive online database of popular concepts and tricks used in stories the world over. I’ve always enjoyed drafting up story treatments from the smallest of inspirations. The idea of each month’s ‘Story Jam’ posts is to take the first random entry from TV Tropes (or maybe more than one later on down the line) and sketch out a decently constructed story using it as its main component. If the treatment works, maybe I’ll consider fleshing it out in the future.

So let’s get started! Story Jam number one, the inaugural post, begins with this random trope: Hybrid Overkill Avoidance. You know what? That’s actually a pretty cool trope to start off with! Read-up if you’re interested. If not, the quick explanation is: the way a story with monsters or supernatural creatures gets around having two uniquely powerful entities (think vampires/werewolves) breed or hybridise with each other. For example, if in a story one of those creatures (/monsters/entities etc) has a trait which is beneficial to them (like a healing power) but which is directly responsible for disallowing hybridisation (the healing power kills all alien cells) – that reason they cannot hybridise is the trope we’re talking about.

In stories this can be used as a good way of keeping two factions diametrically opposed to each other, but can also act as something of a Sword of Damocles – you just know that if someone’s trying to breed two things with each other in act one of the story it’s going to happen either at the end of act two or during act three. Of course this could be subverted, by having it heavily implied that it will happen (for good or ill), but then it’s non-event is the culmination of the story.

So, where to start? If today’s story is to center on the active avoidance of breeding two creatures together, then it seems logical that a main character should be actively trying to do it. For now let’s have this character as a man called, simply ‘Abb’ (I was going to call him ‘A’ but it became confusing to read).

Abb’s story could be on the small or big scale – we’re talking about the ‘size’ of the story here, not the creatures he’s trying to combine; that decision will come shortly.

  • In a ‘small’ story, Abb would be doing this mainly for a personal reason, probably in secret (or at least as an amateur) and probably in some sort of home-made lab. The characters in a smaller story would be less, but the emotional drama could be greater. There could be scope for the actions in the story to affect many more people, but the realms of the story would have to be confined to keep it from suddenly bursting out of its boundaries.
  • In a ‘big’ story, Abb would be doing this as part of a wide-ranging program, probably with a well-manned lab and probably with a team of staff. To make him a worthy main character, he would either have to be a gifted member of the team, or the team’s leader; with hybridisation as a back-drop, a ‘normal guy’ wouldn’t really work. With a bigger story, the scope of events could reach a global scale, but might lose sight of more nuanced emotions.

As I watched Pacific Rim recently, I’ve actually had my fill of ‘big’ stories for a while, so I’m going to opt for a smaller story for Abb. I’ve actually got a few ideas gestating right now, just from deciding the scale of the story – I’ll discuss those below, and then see what else needs considering after that.

Abb is the employee of a fledgling micro-technology company. In a world where every-day electrical items are powered by microscopic creatures, the company is trying to breed a new type of creature for greater output. It’s going badly and they are almost at the limits of their funds. Abb is obsessed – he works all hours he can to try and make the project work, to the detriment of his family life.

Ok two things right off the bat that can be tweaked about that story idea:

  1. There needs to be two types of microscopic creature so that the breeding process is valid. Appliances could run on one type of creature or another, but the breeding of both together could theoretically produce a creature which not only powers every appliance, but also provides significantly more power. Thinking about it, it could be more akin to animal husbandry, but on a teeny-tiny scale.
  2. There needs to be a paralleled sub-plot between Abb and his partner; the easiest way to do this would be to have them trying to conceive a child. For whatever reason they can’t and Abb is spending more time at work to get away from it.

This is good progress, except that I now think that Abb should be a woman. The trope of a man working constantly to escape the issues he has with starting a family like a weary, or perhaps too obvious story. By having the protagonist as a woman however and redressing that balance freshens it up, in my mind at least.

That then allows access to another interesting option. What if Abb – now a woman, remember – is the main driving force for starting a family and instead of constantly working as an escape mechanism, is constantly working because she’s afraid they won’t be able to make ends meet if the company goes under.

This leads me to a thought: does there need to be a husband character at all? Perhaps Abb is already pregnant and is struggling with the hybridisation program against the backdrop of the looming twin issues of the birth and bankruptcy.

I actually think that there should be a partner and that perhaps the subplot uses their relationship, and not their attempts at conceiving a child, as a parallel for the hybrid program. Therefore it needs to be in jeopardy for some reason. To parallel the hybridisation idea, perhaps they both need to embrace each others’ ideals for the relationship to be able to support a child. To give this idea any sort of weight, let’s start of with having Abb’s partner as opposite to her as possible.

Let’s call this guy Bee. He doesn’t have a job, he’s artistic and he loves the idea of having a family. Abb is a workaholic, without much interest in creative expression and is secretly intimidated by the idea of having a family. Abb and Bee got together during happier times at university but have grown apart more recently, even with Abb’s pregnancy. I think it’s important that Abb works for the hybridisation company, and not owns it. If she was somewhat helpless in its ultimate success or failure, then it could imply that she feels similarly adrift in her relationship.

Ok, so, I know I spent a fair amount of energy on working that out, but the story’s main focus should still be on the company Abb works for and their attempts to hybridise the two creatures. Now that I have a moderately stable emotional foundation – which is always useful for a reader or audience’s connection with the characters – I can work on the more fantastical elements.

First up are the two big questions – should the experiment be successful in the end? If it is, should that be a good thing? As the experiment is paralleling the protagonists’ relationship, I guess there are a couple of ways of approaching this. Either the result of the experiment could be the reverse of the relationship’s outcome – i.e. if Abb and Bee break up the experiment would be successful, or if the experiment fails Abb and Bee stay together – or it could match the relationship – i.e. both the experiment and the relationship fail or succeed. The reverse option could offer more of a neatly balance outcome but risks feeling trite, whilst the matching option could offer higher drama, whilst risking being super depressing or unrealistically happy.

The obvious approach would be to have Abb and Bee remain together, perhaps rekindling their romance. That’s the obvious approach. As a warning, I tend to opt for going away from obvious… and today’s no different. I’m afraid I am going to end the story with Abb and Bee breaking up. BUT I’m going to have that being a good thing, and have them both ending the story happier. I think that should mean that the experiment succeeds though and for it to be a good thing.

I’m seeing a few things happening here now; the experiment is a success and the company does become wealthy. Abb achieves a much higher salary and as such can support herself on her own, alleviating the pressure of needing someone else around to help pay the bills, which was one of the main reasons she had remained with Bee, and also was frustrated with his incapacity to find paying work prior to the birth.

Another idea: Bee isn’t looking for a job because he’s working on a long-term project which he’s hoping will come to fruition sometime soon. After a particularly bad argument – potentially the climax of the story – Abb and Bee agree that the relationship isn’t working and in the silence that follows each others’ realisations of their own flaws, they begin discuss their respective long-term, but ultimately doomed projects (which perhaps the story could imply Abb’s experiment is). It’s in this discussion that together, they realise the solution to the experiment by paralleling it with the abstract problem of Bee’s art project. Abb races back to the lab, implements the idea they came up with together and it works! Even though it was Abb whose work completed the experiment, she knows she would never have reached the epiphanic realisation, so she shares her newfound wage with Bee, as they remain platonic friends.

Too cheeeeeeesy! I guess it was helpful to see that idea through, but I really don’t like how nice and warm and fuzzy that wraps up the story. What I do like the idea, however, is that Bee has a project of his own that is as much of an obsession and escape as Abb has with the experiment.

But, once again, I digress. I understand that I’m once again off the topic of the hybridised creatures project which should be taking the majority of the scope (although, thinking again about the sub-plot, if Abb and Bee’s relationship is also classed as the story’s Hybrid Overkill Avoidance then maybe focusing on it isn’t so much of a bad thing). But this story really should be about the creature experiment because… it’s cool? That’s a good enough reason in my mind at least.

Note for later: If I was sticking exclusively to the trope then Abb and Bee getting together would be ‘overkill’ that needed avoiding. Maybe some characters could comment on what the relationship would be like if they actually got on properly? A thought for another time.

I should really draw this post to a close – it’s nearly 2000 words! Therefore, I’ll spend the short time left setting challenges for myself to fulfill with this story in next week’s post.

  • The creatures need a big part of the story. Their existence is what the modern world depicted in the story is based solely upon. Think about a world like that and what sort of a society would thrive in it.
  • What are the power creatures? Really think about it in a serious way as they’re the main focus of the story and the main focus of the protagonist too.
  • The story needs tension, but also… wonder. I think by allowing the characters moments where they step back and simply enjoy the abstracted beauty of the microscopic power-giving creatures (note: bioluminescent, starling-like murmurations could be a good image to play with) in ever-increasingly poignant ways the more serious domestic tone of the interplayed subplots could be counteracted.
  • The characters can’t live in a social vacuum – they need friends and relatives who all interact with Abb and Bee’s projects and relationships – and the power-creatures too – in personal and unique ways.
  • There needs to be an tonally appropriate denouement. It can’t be overly sentimental, but I do want the characters to be contented and if possible, genuinely happy. Think about their motivations and what would help them achieve that.

Ok, that’s enough for now, I think. Leave comments below or on the TideBreakers Facebook or Twitter. I’d genuinely be really interested to know what you think of the story’s progression so far – please try and keep any criticism constructive, though!

Until next week – happy writing!

Posted in Creature Feature, Romance, Sci Fi, Shoegazing, Story Jam

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