It's Aug 27th and for over a week I've been stuck trying to finish a story called (at the moment) Ghosts and Shadows. I composed this little rundown of my problems with this story as a series of tweets, but then I decided to rewrite it as a journal entry. I don't do enough journal entries -- I've even tweeted at least a couple of times about my recent writing successes and struggles, but I haven't updated this journal in 18 days.
This is my 10th story of the month, part of a series of connected stories where Grandpa Anarchy sets off on an adventure with a new team of magical girls (well, former magical girls, they're all in their twenties now). They were supposed to be introduced to other magical girl teams and superhero teams around the world, but the story quickly turned into a rescue mission to the moon of Titan orbiting Saturn, because things happening is more interesting.
Part of what I've done over the last 18 days is to rewrite these stories, add dialog, set up future plots, develop character a bit, change story titles, and even insert one story before several other stories I'd already written. I tweeted about some of this. As of now, here's what I have:
345 Goodwill Ambassador
346 Totally Like Sailor Moon
348 Dark Kingdom
349 Vlog Slog
350 Trapped on Titan
351 Out of Phaeton
353 Incident on Titan
354 Ghosts and Shadows
Girls Will Be Girls
Goodwill Tour Fairyland
So! I managed to write nine stories that culminated with them landing on Titan. None of these stories really has a great punchline, I think, but all of them are passable I guess. The next step was to detail how they enter the evil queen's castle/lair.
That's what happens next, but that's not necessarily a story itself. A straightforward break-in and confront the villain doesn't sound like a Grandpa Anarchy story. So, what's my angle?
I'd also been trying to work on the various characters, and when I'd come to Girlbot 9000, I'd written a long dialog about whether she was a robot or a cyborg. I called this Ghost in the Machine, because that's literally what she is -- a ghost inhabiting a robot.
The ghost is an old hero named Freem Beam. He had his body "confiscated" or taken away by aliens, and existed for several years as a disembodied personality. So he's a ghost or spirit, right? Isn't that what a ghost or a spirit is? Well... maybe. He wasn't a ghost because he'd died -- it was something highly advanced aliens had done to him. The question is, is she a robot or a cyborg? And really I don't know. I'd say she's not a cyborg, there's no physical part of her that is human. But she's more than just a robot.
For the opposing view, I picked Magical Girl Kin Katy, who I decided did not believe in the existence of souls. She was a particularly good choice for this point of view because of her own background. She was created when someone interfaced with an online game that was also an emerging alternate reality -- so she's a mental clone of the person who was playing the game, in a body designed by the game. She's an MMO avatar come to life. But the original person still exists. So, does she have a soul? How does an MMO game create a soul? It's not programmed to do that.
In her mind, there's no such thing as a soul.
I wanted to spin this dialog into a story and decided to marry it to the actions of the group breaking into the evil queen's castle on Titan. I even used Girlbot 9000's unique circumstances to help them get in. Freem Beam exits the robot body, passes through the walls, and is able to trigger the opening of the airlock.
I liked that, but that itself didn't resolve the argument over man vs. machine or ghost vs. no ghost. So I came up with a giant stone golem creature for them to fight, and had Freem Beam inhabit that.
And... that wasn't really an ending either, and also didn't seem very suspenseful.
I've been stuck at that point ever since.
I keep trying to imagine what about this would lead to a good ending. Working from the angle of what they're doing -- breaking into the castle -- I came up with very little. I could make the confrontation with the golem more interesting and suspenseful, I could have them battle other creatures, but none of that is driving any story narrative.
The central conceit of the story as constructed is the argument is over whether souls exist or not. I hadn't really resolved the argument -- so, how could I do that in an interesting or funny or surprising way?
One idea I had early on, that I initially dismissed, was to have Magical Girl Kin Katy die. She's the person who insists she doesn't have a soul, so if she exist as a ghost for a while and STILL refuse to believe she has a soul, that could be funny. (And to be honest, I think that's the direction I need to go -- just writing this down has convinced me.)
I also had this idea for a random different villain to show up. In two of the previous stories I'd detailed how Grandpa had raised, or how people he knew had raised, several different "super babies" from destroyed home worlds. Two or three of them had left earth to become interstellar heroes, so it suddenly occurred to me that, having mentioned these people, I could now have them show up randomly. Why not?
My idea was to have an interstellar superhero team lead by Super Joe (one of the kids Grandpa sort of raised) show up chasing an interstellar villain, who shows up randomly in the hallway of this castle on the moon of Titan where Grandpa Anarchy is because, why not? And I imagined it being some kind of Edritch horror from outer space, which lead to me spending a couple of days rereading The Colour Out of Space, which gave me all sorts of ideas for a completely unrelated story that I could write, but didn't really lead to any kind of breakthrough on this particular story I was working on.
I also had dropped a reference in the previous story to an alien robot that Grandpa Anarchy had once fought on a moon around Neptune, with the idea that he'd show up later. So what if he showed up almost immediately? This spun off in my head into a series of random villain encounters that could happen one right after the other -- such as the mother of Tia Anne showing up to try and kidnap her daughter (she'd have to be a pretty bad person for them to resist returning a daughter to her mother, of course). Anyway, all of this I wrote up as a possible separate story because it was far too much to append to the story I was working on.
I considered for a couple of days, trying to think about what funny or surprising thing could happen that would lead to a good ending. Maybe I needed to scrap most of what I'd written and go back to the point where they're trying to figure out how to get into the castle. They're stranded on a distant ice moon with no breathable atmosphere, hundreds of millions of miles from earth. What funny or outrageous thing could happen?
I thought, what if a door to door salesman showed up? You know, maybe he's a demonic door to door salesman. Or maybe there's a demonic or inter-dimensional pizza delivery guy. I like those ideas, they're weird, but they didn't immediately suggest a way to end the story.
Anyway, as I already noted, just writing this out has convinced me of how the story should actually end. ^_^