Saturday, December 8, 2012

How I Write A Grandpa Anarchy Story

How I Write a Grandpa Anarchy Story

Some of my story ideas come nearly fully formed.  "Mostless in Capertown" was a simple idea:  Hostess had gone out of business, and I remembered all of the single-page superhero comic advertisements from the past.  Usually the crime was foiled because the criminals could not resist the lure of twinkies or cupcakes or fruit pies.  I knew it would be funny to do a Grandpa Anarchy story where he tries to stop a bank robbery, and he's all out of Hostess snacks.  From there it nearly wrote itself.  I did some quick research by finding a website that had many of these advertisements archived and after reading 20 or 30 I had a really good idea of how my hypothetical bank robbery should go.  Right after it was announced that Hostess was going out of business, people hit the stores and soon there were no twinkies or ho ho's to be found anywhere... so it occurred to me that my hypothetical bank robbers had only robbed the bank to get Hostess treats.  Grandpa Anarchy, of course, likes to solve things with his fists, so when he has no snacks he decides to end the robbery "the old-fashioned way", even though the bank robbers are willing to give up.  Add in a goofy sidekick named Boy Waitress, and I had my story.

Other stories were much harder to put together, and since I was doing one each day I had to come up with at least an idea and a title each day even if there was no story yet.  For November 30th I decided that a story focused on the silly logic-defying or physics-defying things that go on in superhero comics would make a fun story.  I didn't have a specific idea, but the two examples I could think of were one that my friend Keith had talked about several times before, where a villain/hero in a fight delivers an entire soliloquy while flying backwards into a wall, and the old "rebound off a wall/tree/object" to increase your momentum.  I wrote these down, titled it "Gravity of the Situation" (not a good title) and then it lay dormant for a few days.

When I went back to work on it some more I settled on the idea of Grandpa Anarchy and his sidekick Kid Physics (who is of course appalled by the way Grandpa routinely breaks laws of physics) fighting an elder god of some sort.  I decided to make my god mostly human in shape, rather than a Cthulhu monster, but basically it was a similar idea where he had arisen from a sleep beneath the ocean, on an island in the South Pacific or something.  I jotted more stuff down in my story without really writing any fully formed scenes or sections of actual story.  My god was first named "Derrick the dark god", then later I decided this read more as "lazy author" than actually funny, so I renamed him Dorek.

When I went back to write the story in earnest I revised this name again.  At this point he was a giant black man, over seven feet tall, with long braids and a face like an Easter Island Maori statue.  He needed a tiki-god style name.  I did some more research then made up a new name that at least sounded Hawaiian:  Huameia.  I didn't want to use an actual god's name, and Hawaiian names were more easily researched than Easter Island names, and the languages are related anyway.  So that seemed to work pretty well.

I added two more characters -- Unpossible Man and Dark Dr. Dark, two of Grandpa's allies in the League of Two-Fisted Justice.  I was stumped for other things that heroes did in comics that defied logic or physics however, so I did more research.  Trying to research on "imaginary super hero powers" and variations on that theme got me nowhere, but then I remembered the web site, which makes fun of old superhero comics, particularly the covers of old Superman/Lois Lane/Jimmy Olsen/Superboy/Supergirl comics.  I spent an entire evening reading through this site again -- well, it's funny and pretty addicting -- and came up with some other stupid things for my heroes to do.

When it came to assembling my story I decided to start right in the middle of the battle, with Grandpa and Unpossible Man doing physics-defying things while Kid Physics complained about it.  I'd added Unpossible Man because one Idea I'd jotted down was where Superman traveled through time by spinning at super speed -- somehow -- and this wasn't the sort of thing that Granddpa Anarchy could accomplish, but Unpossible Man probably could.  He's basically an extra-large, extra-stupid superhero in the mold of Superman.  I don't think he flies or has heat ray vision or half of Supe's powers, but he's basically super-strong and super-invulnerable and can probably attempt such silly things as super-weaving or super-landscaping, which are legitimate Superman powers according to the Superdickery web site.

This story involved stitching a lot of bits of dialogue together into a coherent story.  I had several stupid things for Kid Physics to complain about, and I had bits of dialogue from the dark god, who was both powerful and also wanting to catch up on things after a thousand-year sleep.  The island they were on had recently arisen from the depths of the sea, and they had to bind the god before it sank again so that he would once again slumber beneath the waves.  Grandpa and Unpossible Man were trying to subdue him long enough for Dark Dr. Dark to complete a spell of binding.  Kid Physics really wasn't doing anything but complaining.

My original idea was that he'd escape their binding spell by travelling through time, prompting Unpossible Man to follow him by the trick of spinning very fast.  But when I got to the end it seemed to work better for Dark Dr. Dark to just complete the spell of binding.  At this point in the fight they were standing around talking about what Huameia missed about the ancient world -- that bakery shop in Pompeii, his favorite playwright whose manuscripts had been stored in the library of Carthage -- all things that no longer existed.  It was funnier to have Dark Dr. Dark complete the binding spell so he could yell, "No fair!  You distracted me, that's cheating!  I only wanted one last pastry...."

I also did research for Dark Dr. Dark's spell of binding.  It needed to sound authentic or plausible.  A quick search led me to the TVTropes website, which frankly has been invaluable in the writing of some of my Gandpa Anarchy stories, since they're often nothing more than a scene built around a trope.  This page stated my problem perfectly:

The nature of the words varies from plain English, through dodgy rhymes and ancient languages, to unpronounceable by human tongue. The more normal the words, the more stringent the other constraints on casting the spell will be. Making the rock move by shouting "Move!" will usually require rare talent or considerable preparation; making it moving by saying "Fthagnchmthesgf fprnjklmpt fhqwhgads" merely requires extreme verbal dexterity.
I did more research on ancient Phoenecian/Caananite gods.  Spells of binding often seem to involve calling upon ancient gods or powers for aid.  I've also seen where such spells involve such things as gods to the left and right of you, or winds or powers -- sometimes the four elements of air, earth, fire, and water.  I constructed a spell involving more obscure names for the Phoenecian gods of hell (earth), the ocean (water) and the ultimate god (air, on the theory that he's up in the heavens), and then added Astarte to represent fire, even though that part makes no sense, she was largely a fertility goddess and war goddess.  It didn't really matter, I had the framework for a spell calling upon ancient gods whose names weren't that obvious to most readers.  I threw in a few lines borrowed from the Lina Inverse Dragon Slave spell quoted at the top of the TVTropes page, and I had a pretty nifty sounding spell of binding.

"Adad above me!" shouted Dark Dr. Dark.  "Mot below me!  Yaw on my left!  Astarte on my right!  I call upon the darkness beyond twilight, the crimson beyond flowing blood!  I call upon the power buried in the stream of time!  Grant my wish and seal Huameia of the elder gods once again so that he may dream beneath the waves in Yaw's embrace!  I bind you within this circle by air, by earth, by water and fire!  Sleep again for a thousand years!"

Much more complex than the story actually required, but I liked it.

There wasn't enough of a punchline however.  I had a great setup line for a real punchline:  Kid Physics saying, "You realize that elder gods were a figment of H.P. Lovecraft's imagination, meant to represent the insignifigance of humanity."  But then... I had no response.

It took me until the next day to write a last line, and I'm not sure it makes the best punchline for a Grandpa Anarchy story.  But at least it's a complete story now.  I retitled it "Let Sleeping Gods Lie" and moved it to my "completed Grandpa Anarchy Stories" file.  That makes 26 of 30 stories started in November now finished.  Only "Two-Fisted Ghost Story", "Trouble Focusing", "Jungle Opera" and "Earth vs. Planetary Destroyer" are not fully written, and three of those at least are partially written.

Several of the stories I wrote in November came together like that -- just the germ of an idea that became something very different when I worked on them.  And since November 30th I've jotted down four more story ideas:  "Turncoat", "Nemesis", "Troubador" and "Love, Grandma".  These are just ideas right now, and probably will change a lot when I write them, but they're all starting points.  "Turncoat" is an idea I've had for a while -- Grandpa's sidekick is kidnapped by the Society of Former Sidekicks (a villain group made up of former Grandpa Anarchy sidekicks).  The idea in this story is that the sidekick joins the enemy by the end.  "Nemesis" is intended to be a big confrontation between Grandpa Anarchy and the same Society of Former Sidekicks... right now I'm not sure if it's really a separate story from "Turncoat" or not.  "Troubador" is the idea of Grandpa Anarchy facing a singing villain, and "Love, Grandma" is Grandpa Anarchy vs. Grandma Chaos and her boys.  That idea came from a line in a Radiolab story about how, at the lowest level, our bodies and cells are not built on order but seemingly on random chaos.  "Stochasticity" from June 15th 2009:  This show contained the line "Grandma means Chaos" or something similar, and I immediately envisioned a villain similar to Captain Dola from Laputa, The Castle in the Sky or the unseen Mrs. Cropper, the mother of Medium Dave and Banjo Cropper from Hogfather -- basically a large and powerful cigar-smoking grandma with a gang of sons to do her every bidding.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The City of Heroes Connection

In writing my Grandpa Anarchy tales I've been influenced quite a bit by things in City of Heroes -- not the least of which is that Grandpa Anarchy himself came from there.

That's just for starters.  His first major nemesis was Carnival Act, and I borrowed that name from a character of mine in CoH also.

Grandpa Anarchy is a member of the League of Two-Fisted Justice, along with Unpossible Man, Dark Dr. Dark, Deep Fat Fryer and Nina Ballerina.  These were all characters I created in City of Heroes.

Other things I borrowed along the way:

The old League of Two-Fisted Justice included Adjective Man and Popeye Khan... two more of my characters.

"Dancepocalypse" includes a zombie-eating werewolf named Zombie Roaster, my tribute to my friend Zombie Fryer.  He had various versions of this character concept, and I don't remember if he specifically had a Zombie Roaster, but he did have a Zombie Broiler and a Zombie EasyBakeOven.  (Our friend Tinfoot had a female zombie-eating werewolf named Zombie Wok as well).

Two of the assassins that Grandpa Anarchy fights are Double Donkey Motel and the Amish Assassin, also charcters I created.

The entire story of World of Hero is based on the closing of a game very similar to City of Heroes.  It includes a person named Gammatron who is similar to Positron, and a  giant monster named Hamsaladon, simiilar to Hamidon.

Grandpa Anarchy teams up twice with Jenny Nova, based on another character of mine, Jennie Nova.

He twice meets a villain named Baron-Who-Cares-For-Pets.  This was based on the stories on the boards of Sister Flame, a young girl whose father wrote about her exploits in the game.  She had a villain Master Mind named Cares For Pets.

The basic idea for Solar Sister and the Disco Trolls of Doom also came from Sister Flame, who wrote (with the aid of her father) a fun AE story arc that included a group of disco-loving trolls led by a troll called Fudor.  My story has a troll named Four Door.

One of the devs of the game, in the last week of the game's existence, requested help creating a "fiscally responsible" hero, someone who always looked at the big picture.  For example, why give yourself up to save one person, when you can clearly do much more good in the long run by not giving yourself up?  One person dies, sadly, but it's for the greater good.  I spun this concept into a sidekick, "Big Picture Boy" and a story called Justice Hangs in the Balance.

Another of my many characters became another in a long line of Grandpa Anarchy's sidekicks:  the canine girl known as Dog Is My Copilot.

There are probably other things I've borrowed that I can't remember right now.  And there are things I still intend to borrow for new stories.  For example, this character:

How can I not use that in a future story?

NaNoWriMo and the Grandpa Anarchy Tales

To begin with, I played City of Heroes for most of its 8 year existence.  I loved creating new characters.  The game really encouraged this -- 12 slots per server, something like 10 or 12 servers, an amazingly diverse  character creation system that let you look like whatever you wanted to look like right from level 1.

One of the characters that I created was an old man in a grey suit and fedora with an anarchy symbol over his breast.  I called him Grandpa Anarchy.  He was an extremely old hero who fought with his fists and said things like "That ain't the way we did it back in my day!" and "Mr. Fancy Pants wants to try a little fisticuffs?" and "I've been taking down punks like you since your father was in diapers!"  He was an old school, get-off-my-lawn hero.

Years later, sometime in 2008, I wrote a story about him.  The first story, "Remember This" is not especially funny.  After that though, I wrote a series of silly short-short stories all starring Grandpa Anarchy.  He had a different sidekick each time, his sidekick was often smarter than he was, and he faced off against a variety of strange and silly villains.  You can't write an actual plot in a short-short story, these were just silly setting or situation, silly characters, funny dialogue, and some sort of punch line.  I don't remember which story was my 2nd, but I know that "Reading Comprehension" and "Garden Variety Hero" were written as far back as 2008, and "Doomed", "Simple Solution", "Kids These Days" and "The Magic Knight were all written by 2009.

I didn't write anything new after that for a couple of years.  I'm a member of a once-a-month writer's group and I'd read all of these stories for my friends and they generally liked them, and I intended to write more, but it wasn't until September of 2012 that I wrote "Precisely" and "The Silver Coin".  I was spurred in part because City of Heroes was about to close, that convinced me that it was time to get off my butt and write some of those stories that I had intended to write for several years.  I read both of those at our October writer's night I think, or maybe one in September and one in October, I forget.  People liked them.

When November came around I wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writer's Month.  I've done so before, and I never follow the rules completely, I never write a brand new novel, but I strive to write 50,000 words and in the past I've mostly written large sections of a very long and complicated Ranma 1/2 fan fiction story called Girls School.  I've struggled for several years to link some of these huge sections of story together so that I can publish all of it -- that was my goal for NaNoWriMo 2011, and I failed that year, I only wrote some 16,000 words.

This year I wanted to do something different.  This year I wanted to write more Grandpa Anarchy stories.  My friends have self-published fanzines and books and had asked why I had never done that with my Grandpa Anarchy stories, but I only had 8 very short stories.  I had more planned, and I wanted to increase the Grandpa Anarchy cannon a great deal.  So, for NaNoWriMo November 2012, I attempted to write a brand new Grandpa Anarchy story each day of the month.

I succeeded in writing 50,000 words for the month (I cheated a bit to reach that number).  I more than succeeded in writing a bunch of new Grandpa Anarchy stories.  Some of them may not be so good -- I was under pressure to finish each one so I could start on another.  But I can go back later and fix them, now that November is over.

Here's what I came up with:

Nov 1st:  Supper Soldier  (complete)
Nov 2nd:  What You Should Know (complete)
Nov 3rd:  Dancepocalypse (complete)
Nov 4th:  Double Trouble (complete)
Nov 5th:  Contract (complete)
Nov 6th:  Amethyst Road (complete)
Nov 7th:  Princess Kiss  (complete)
Nov 8th:  Who Do Voodoo  (complete)
Nov 9th:  Assassin  (complete)
Nov 10th:  World of Hero (complete)
Nov 11th:  Roasted  (complete)
Nov 12th:  There Be Whales  (complete)
Nov 13th:  Shadow over Scranton  (complete)
Nov 14th:  Sex Slaves of Sirix Alpha Six (complete)
Nov 15th:  Stone Temple Space Raiders  (complete)s
Nov 16th:  Soldiers Men  (complete)
Nov 17th:  Mostless in Capertown  (complete)
Nov 18th:  Dig My Grave  (complete)
Nov 19th:  My Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal (complete)
Nov 20th:  Two-Fisted Christmas Ghost Story  (in progress)
Nov 21st:  Trouble Focusing (in progress)
Nov 22nd:  Fryer Out of Time  (complete)
Nov 23rd:  Solar Sister and the Disco Trolls of Doom (complete)
Nov 24th:  Idiot Ball  (complete)
Nov 25th:  Oceans of the Void (in progress)
Nov 26th:  Jungle Opera  (in progress)
Nov 27th:  Justice Hangs In The Balance (complete)
Nov 28th:  Love and Justice (complete)
Nov 29th:  Planet Earth vs. World Devourer (just an idea at present)
Nov 30th:  Gravity of the Matter (just an idea atm)

So for better or worse, I managed to start 30 stories and complete 24 of them.  I've been working on Oceans of the Void yesterday and today, but I spent most of the weekend writing in my blog (at about City of Heroes and my characters, so I didn't get too much done.  But I want to complete all of the remaining stories.  I think after that I'll try and finish Trouble Focusing and Two-Fisted Christmas Ghost Story (our December writer's night is always a "Christmas Ghost Story" writer's night and combination Christmas party).

The really important stories are the ones that directly deal with Grandpa Anarchy and his history and back story.  Supper Soldier is one of those that I had plotted out previously -- it gives a lot of his back story and explains how he gained his powers.  What You Should Know is another, because it shows him introducing a new sidekick and showing him around the Anarchy mansion/estate and the "Anarchy cave" (a very alrge basement garage, actually).  Two-Fisted Ghost Story will of course reveal more about his past, and Trouble Focusing is a story that deals with the Society of Former Sidekicks, a villain group made up of former sidekicks to Grandpa Anarchy.  Many of the other stories are silly one-shot fluff stories, although "World of Hero" introduces you to the whole League of Two-Fisted Justice for the first time.

So far I've read one of the November stories -- Shadows Over Scranton -- at November's writer's night.  People seemed to like it, I didn't get any major critiques, but it's one of the simpler stories.  I posted "World of Hero" to my blog and to the City of Heroes message boards right after I wrote it, it involves the closing of a game like City of Heroes, but I got no comments back from that at all, which makes me think that it doesn't read especially well.  It's the longest Grandpa Anarchy story I've written, and probably it's just too long an needs to be trimmed.  Also, "Amethyst Road", "Princess Kiss" and "Who Do Voodoo" form a sort of trilogy, all part of the same adventure in an Oz-like fairy land.  I'm not sure how those will read.

But many of these stories work pretty well, I think.  ^_^  Once I've completed them and edited them, I think I'll start work on layout and format for a web-published book.