Friday, August 26, 2016

The Mind Works In Wonderful Ways

As part of my project to update my Anarchy World Background files, I've been rereading old stories in order, and I've come across several problems.

The first one is a story order/continuity problem.  We have the story Solar Sister and the Disco Trolls of Doom, story# 42, in which our sidekick is Fire Maiden.  Then we have story #43, Idiot Ball, in which our sidekick is Most Common Girl.  Then we have story #44, Oceans of the Void, in which our sidekick is once again Fire Maiden.

This is easily fixed, just swap two stories around.  However, this is only the beginning of our continuity problems.  I removed a scene from Oceans of the Void in which Fire Maiden, Lady Lune, and Black Dahlia decide to form their own supergroup, and instead I wrote a new story called Black Moon Rising that covered this subject.  But  this is story #65.  I left it in book 3 because other stories in that volume are concerned with the Black Moon Maidens, but when the story starts, Fire Maiden is Grandpa's sidekick.  That's a continuity problem I can't overlook.

Then we have the story Two-Fisted Christmas Ghost Story, which is story #32.  In this story the Black Moon Maidens have already formed their group.  This is less of a problem for me because I've always known that this story was out of order, and that I placed it in book 1 so that I could end with a Christmas ghost story, and not because it made any chronological sense.  I'm okay with that.  But it does make the other continuity problems even more confusing, and the story also references events in World of Hero (multi-part story that takes place in volume 2) that may or may not actually happen in the way they're mentioned/described in Two-Fisted Christmas Ghost Story.  World of Hero is a story I've rewritten three times and it's still a jumbled mess, and I've decided that I need to rewrite it for the final time before I really try and resolve these other continuity problems.  I even started doing that this week, but then I stopped.  It's a big project and I'm not quite ready to tackle it.

I did rewrite Oceans of the Void this week to remove the scene mentioned above and try to tighten it up a bit.  Hopefully it works better now -- that's a rewrite I had been planning to do for a couple of years.

While rereading the stories in book 3 I came across two very big problems.  The first was a story called Gutbucket Magic.  This was, hands down, one of the weakest stories I've written.  It starts off with a nice little premise, Grandpa Anarchy and his sidekick are fighting a magical storm depression that actually makes people feel bad.  Grandpa's sidekick is a magical girl named Mahou Shoujo Blues Summoner Stella, and Grandpa is complaining about having a magical girl sidekick and how it results in enemies you have to fight with feelings instead of just punching them in the face.

So far so good.  Then Stella casts her magical girl summon spell -- a nifty little chant that calls upon the spirits of various blues musicians like Charlie Patton, Son House, Blind Willie Johnson, Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson -- and the spirit of the blues asks Grandpa to sing the blues.  At first he refuses, but then the spirit of a black companion from world war II appears, and Grandpa is ready.

And that's the end.  It's not surprising, you can see it coming from a mile away -- how else would a magical girl named Blues Summoner Stella fight a depressive storm except with the blues?  It's not interesting -- you don't even get to see what Grandpa sings.  And even the companion summoned is less than interesting and, to boot, kind of a stereotype.  He was a driver for Grandpa during the war.  I know I based that on the information that a lot of African-American soldiers were assigned as drivers and freight handlers and did a lot of the dirty work during the war, but that doesn't make it less disappointing that the one black guy who knows the blues and knows Grandpa was just his driver.  That's not a stereotype I want to convey.

So the story had several problems, but the first two I knew how to solve.  We needed to hear the song that Grandpa -- or perhaps his companion -- sings.  I needed the lyrics, and a description, because that was one of the more interesting parts and I'd completely left it out.  Second, Grandpa's black friend from the war needs to be more of an equal instead of the guy that ferried him around.  He needs to be another hero -- one that perhaps died in the war, but a full-fledged member of Grandpa's Roaring Rangers.  Because that was another thing -- elsewhere I'd established a list of people who were companions of Sgt. Anarchy during the war (mostly names I made up on the spot, I don't know much about them), and they were called Sgt. Anarchy's Roaring Rangers.  That information needed to be in this story, and this friend Larry Paige needed to be one of them.

I christened him the American Screech Owl.  Nice name for a blues musician, I thought.

I still didn't know how to fix the story though.  There was no surprise/twist ending.  I figured I'd think on it and a solution would come to me.

Most of the other stories seemed just fine.  A few of them I was really happy with -- they seemed to work really well, or had bits in them that made me smile or laugh.  Then I came across the story called Time of Your Life.  This one was another mess, and worse than being boring and unfunny, with no joke or twist ending, it instead had an ending that I found incomprehensible and bizarre.

Grandpa and Wayback Lad are trying to stop Hitler from winning World War II.  It's a time travel story in which they've messed up time and have to fix it.  A sort of self-styled time cop named Time's Swift Arrow shows up, and they travel through time in her time Travelall to fix the problem.  I have to say, I really like this character and her time Travelall, and she shows up again later so it helps to establish who she is in this story.  But  the way the story moves from a cafe in Germany to travelling through a time tunnel in the Travelall, to the encounter at the end, maybe doesn't serve the story so well.  I may need to skip the opening portion of the story.

But my real problem is the big reveal.  When they realize that the thing in time that's changed is something that it should never have been possible to change, Grandpa immediately says it's alien space bats.  Then they arrive at their destination, and there the space bats are, and Grandpa prepares to fight them.  End of story.  There's a rather lame Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reference, "This is alien bat country",  but on the whole I couldn't figure out the joke.  Alien space bats, who go around changing time?  That seemed to come completely out of left field.  If the joke was that some random weirdness was responsible for everything, and that was supposed to be funny in and of itself -- well, it just wasn't.

I didn't know how to fix this one either, but I knew it needed a rewrite.  Again I figured I'd think on it and eventually a solution would come to me.

I guess I know my mind pretty well, because as I was trying to go to sleep I thought about this story, and it occurred to me to Google the phrase "Alien Space Bats" because surely I didn't just pull that out of nowhere and expect it to be funny.  And I was right:  it's a reference to time travel stories and alternate histories.  When the thing that created  the alternate history -- the one thing in time that went different -- is so implausible that it defies belief, then it's said that Alien Space Bats were to blame, because what else could have caused such a strange outcome?  It's a literary joke.  So actually, my story really was kind of funny if you understood the underlying concept -- something I'd completely forgotten in the meantime.  The joke is that, in Grandpa's universe, Alien Space Bats are a real thing and they really do go around messing up timelines.

The real problem with the story is that I just assumed everyone would get my very obscure reference.  Even I didn't get it when I reread the story two years later.  The solution, obviously, is to explain the reference ahead of time, and even emphasize that it's just a literary device, that Alien Space Bats don't really exist, before Grandpa proves that they do.  A rather easy fix, actually, and the story should work pretty well at that point.

My mind was just getting started.  I woke up later that night, and I thought about the story Gutbucket Magic.  When I read the story, and Stella's little summoning spell, I thought, oh, that's a neat little bit, but where's Skip James?  Skip James is my favorite bluesman, but maybe not quite as famous as the ones in the spell.  So I shrugged and went on.  But at 3 AM I realized that this is precisely something Grandpa should comment on:  Skip James is one of those bluesman who really sounded like he was in pain and despair.  A lot of blues is about pain and depression, but the music is often kind of happy or bouncy.  It was often a music for celebrations and dancing after all.  Skip James is one of the few blues artists who really does sound like he's at the end of his rope, and Grandpa Anarchy needed to say just that.  And because Skip James was a virtual unknown in the 40's and 50's, it needs to be something he learned from his friend the American Screech Owl -- and Grandpa needs to sing the blues in his best Skip James approximation.

As soon as that thought occurred to me, I had an ending in mind.  It may not be the best ending, but it's a fun little twist for a story that had no kind of surprise or twist ending at all before.  I think it will work.  ^_^

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