Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Research and World Building

First, an update on my 2013 goals:  I finished the Grandpa Anarchy story DarkFireDragonNinja last Saturday.  So that's one story down.  I need 3 more finished for January (first goal).

(For those keeping score at home, I managed three stories in December;  Two-Fisted Christmas Ghost Story, Oceans of the Void, and Let Sleeping Gods Lie, which was the story that resulted from my working title Gravity of the Matter.)


Despite the  fact that most of my Grandpa Anarchy stories are goofy 1,000 word (or less) short-shorts incorporating villains and sidekicks that I made up on the spot specifically for that story, I've wound up doing an inordinate amount of research and world-building lately.

In the beginning I had to do some documentation and world building because, after 8 stories, I couldn't remember the names of all the sidekicks and villains I'd already made up.  I knew that one or more of my stories would involve The League of Former Sidekicks, made up, appropriately enough, of Grandpa Anarchy's former sidekicks, so I had to create a list of who they were and which of them were likely members of the league.  (The League is slated to appear in a couple of unfinished stories such as Nemesis, but they've already appeared in one finished story, Two-Fisted Christmas Ghost Story.)

"Kid Gloves!" Grandpa exclaimed, leaping up.  He yanked at wires and fumbled to remove the helmet.  "I should have known!"
"Grandpa!"  In the corner of the room, his current sidekick Mighty Tim was handcuffed to a chair.  "Grandpa, it's the League of Former Sidekicks!  You were right!  They were up to something!"

I also wanted to explore Grandpa Anarchy's past and how he gained his powers, which involved some research and world building.  He gains his powers as a result of a World War II super soldier project (ala Captain America) but of course it's not really that simple.  He was previously a sidekick to a heroic vigilante type known as the Gentleman Brawler.  I wanted Grandpa Anarchy to be quite old, but I needed an explanation for why he was still alive and still able to go toe-to-toe with villains.  Eventually I want to write a story about his time as a sidekick, but for now we have one flashback scene in Two-Fisted Christmas Ghost Story and an expose of how he gained his powers in Supper Soldier.

"Yes.  Tell me, Grandpa Anarchy, were you aware that the U.S. government conducted a secret super soldier project in the 1930's?"
Grandpa laughed.  "Look, Son, if I was I wouldn't talk about it would I?  That's what secret means."
"But it was a long time ago, Mr. Anarchy.  Much of it is declassified now.  I've managed to obtain a great many documents on the project through the freedom of information act.  What I don't know, one can assume.  In any case, nobody's trying to hide information on what turned out, at first glance, to be a failed experiment."
"What of it?" asked Grandpa.  "I wasn't directly involved in it, I can tell you that.  If you think that's where I got my 'power' as you put it, then you're barking up the wrong tree."

I had to do more research for Oceans of the Void and Let Sleeping Gods Lie, two stories that borrow from Cthulhu mythos ideas.  I had to come up with creatures that my heroes could encounter in a weird Doctor Strange-like alternate dimension (the story involved Dark Dr. Dark of course), and I had to come up with a seemingly plausible or authentic magic spell for sealing a dark god away.

"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!"
Light shot up to the heavens from all around them -- emanating from the magic circle etched in the mud.  Huameia was trapped in the center.  "NO!" he screamed.  "You cannot do this!  I cannot be bound!"

But more recently my research has become more in-depth, I think.  First there was Planet Earth vs. World Devourer (needs a better title).  For this story, Grandpa Anarchy is in galactic court facing off against Galactican the World Devourer, who was prevented from eating Earth and is now suing Grandpa.  I was inspired during a visit to a Taco Del Mar to add a Silver Surfer-esque ally of Grandpa's called the Bronze Beach Bum, and furthermore, said intergalactic beach bum needed to speak a dialect of space surfer slang that was virtually incomprehensible.  Making up such a slang on the spot is virtually impossible -- you need words and phrases that sound plausibly like real slang.

This sent me down a deep rabbit hole in search of spacer-slang, interstellar-slang, and anything that had previously been created by other authors that I could borrow.  Ultimately I created a vocabulary of nearly 200 words and phrases, borrowing heavily from Tanieth Lee's Biting the Sun aka Don't Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine; William Gibson's Nueromancer and related books; Tad Williams's Otherland books, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and various other made up slang and swear words as noted in the TV Tropes Wiki.

I haven't finished this story yet, but I really like how the Bronze Beach Bum's dialogue turned out:

The slug's eye stalks spun.  "Very good.  Bronze Beach Bum, please explain to the court what happened on the unit in question?"
"Mag, my drook.  Me and Captain Fedora were drinking the cold dark, grok,  soaking in sonic void, when Planet Breath drops from zero and zarks Deepbore Sawbeetle Beast on us...."
The prosecutor glanced to the interpreter.  "We were on patrol when Galactican attacked us," she said.
"Primal," said the Beach Bum.  "We spun back but Spacemelon jooched our photons, zarking legal spacedrift and lawyer rift.  I zeezee'd him, Black Hole, flip back the how's your Nelly, what's all the lens grit?  Can't we drift together?  Grok?"
 Then I had some inspiration for another half-plotted story, Jungle Opera.  I heard on an NPR show (To The Best of Our Knowledge, I believe) about Ciudad Blanca -- the White City, a legendary lost city of gold supposedly in Honduras.  This lead to an evening's reading about the entire legend and gave me the opening dialogue for my own story, in which good Doctor Whitney (who previously appeared in Stone Temple Space Raiders, another "Jungle Opera" style story) is convinced that Ciudad Blanca is really in Africa, and that's why nobody has found it.

In the meantime, another idea I'd jotted down a month or so before was percolating, and I started working on a story called Veteran of the Bone Wars.  You can Google this one easily, there's a Wikipedia entry for "Bone Wars":  also known as "The Great Dinosaur Rush", refers to a period of intense fossil speculation and discovery during the Golden Age of American history, marked by a heated rivalry between Edward Drinker Cope... and Othniel Charles Marsh...."

Personally I just liked the title (originally I'd written Survivor of the Bone Wars).  I didn't have a story.  But I spent an evening researching the whole Bone Wars saga.  I knew I wanted to include the Brontosaurus somehow, because everyone's heard of a Brontosaurus but it doesn't really exist (which was the point of the NPR story).  I wanted, in some way, to bring the rivalry between the two paleontologists forward in time to where it could involve Grandpa Anarchy, and I found my way in when I read that Dr. Cope donated his skull to science (he wanted to prove his brain was bigger than Marsh's), and that it is still apparently in storage at the University of Philadelphia today.

That gave me my opening.  Sadly I haven't finished this story yet either.  One reason is that I've been doing world building the last two days -- after watching several Spiderman movies in a row, I decided that my Grandpa Anarchy universe needs its own OmniCorp -- a cutting-edge genetics company that churns out superpowered villains for Grandpa Anarchy to fight.  Thus, OmniGen was born -- Omnipotent Genetics and Robotics Corporation, founded in 1887 by Dr. Jebediah Judas as Jebediah Incorporated.  Jebediah Judas sold Jebediah's Miracle Elixer, a cure-all that had the unfortunate side-effect of turning people into lawbreaking madmen.  I'm pretty sure the Gentleman Brawler fought some of them, including Jebediah, who was also known by his alter-ego name, Madman Judas. 

I've created a history of Jebediah's descendents and the various name changes the company went through before it became OmniGen.  I've also created a list of goofy villains who were former scientists at the company.  Every single one of their bios begins with "scientific genius at OmniGen who experimented on himself".  ^_^

And this, of course, led to the beginning of yet another story, OmniGen Again, which is also unfinished.  But I hope to feature OminGen villains in several stories, eventually.  And my plan is to finish two or three of these current stories in the next week or two.

"Yep.  I've fought every OmniGen mad scientific genius who ever experimented on himself and became a dangerous villain.  And trust me, that's a lot of people.  There's Star-Nosed Moleman, Frill-Necked Lizardman, Doctor Unipus, Sucker-Footed Batman, the Octarine Orc, the Beast of Burbon -- oh, but he wasn't a genius, he was just a janitor.  But anyway, I fought 'em all."
 To sum up:  it strikes me as a odd that I'm spending entire evenings researching a given topics just for a few tossed-off lines of dialogue in a one-scene story, that most people will gloss right over without realizing the significance of the words.  But I guess that's what writing is about, after all.  If it makes my stories better, then that's good.  If it charms the few readers that recognize the references or appreciate that the details given of Ciudad Blanca are true to the actual legend, then I've really done my job.  Personally I think that even when the reader gets none of these references, the story will still have a greater depth to it that shines through -- or as much depth as you can manage in a thousand words.

"There, gentlemen!" the man exclaimed.  "Feast your eyes upon the ruins of Tenuzco, capital city of the ancient Pazteca empire!"
Grandpa frowned, staring at the vine-choked ruins.  "I dunno, Doctor Whitney," he said.  "Still looks like a bunch of rocks in a jungle to me."
"Technically correct, Mr. Anarchy," said the doctor.  "But what rocks indeed!  There is much we can learn from studying them.  Oh, I must thank you for coming to San Theodoros and accompanying me on this expedition.  Some of the locals still worship the ancient Pazteca cult of the feathered serpent gods, and are quite hostile to anyone approaching this site."
They were interrupted by more barking.  "Sooty's found something!" Adventure Boy exclaimed, rushing forward. 

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