When I go about my day, things I see will remind me of “The Story.” This ranges from seeing a dog’s smiling face to seeing pictures of characters that I save into a folder for later reference. When I wrote my first novel, I wasn’t directly inspired by any fiction in that I transposed a pre-established character into my fiction, [and I cited any examples,] but still, it’s interesting to think of the subtler nuances.
Spoilers?: Minor [use references sparingly]
Most recently, some pictures from K-On! reminded me of Sammohini.
When I last tried, I couldn’t find a way to easily watch it, so I let the whims of my distractions lead me into different media to meander through. How much of pre-existing fiction influences future fiction? If anything, I think the influence is minimal. A writer might “quote” an anime character’s outfit, but how is that any different than seeing that outfit in person, in a fashion magazine, or in their own imagination? It’s pure exposition when we write these details, so if we say “Sammohini looks a little like Yui from K-On!,” that’s poor writing because it places the onus on the reader to imagine a specific situation that might be completely esoteric.
Who is Yui? What is K-On!? What picture should I reference?
What I imagine is closer to normal is quoting certain thoughts, perhaps with less credit, so I might write that Sammohini has short, chaotic hair with wide eyes a wider smile. I’ve read descriptions like that frequently in fiction and though much of it was part of that formative literature I read throughout school, and it does suffice as good descriptive and psychological information – her hair is chaotic, so maybe her mind is chaotic? She smiles widely with open eyes so maybe she’s either crazy or happy or both?
But just off-the-cuff, I don’t feel great “quoting” characters like that.
How I tend to imagine this going is that I imagine the scenes as they might happen, where maybe Sammohini gets into a situation where she meets someone new that assesses how she looks, and it’s up for me to fill in the blanks. I might get the flash of inspiration but then it’s a matter of spending the time fleshing out the details.
This can apply to nonfiction as well.
What inspired me to write “TERBIE-01’s Slimeoid Hat” was a positive encounter I had in ENDLESS WAR, a PvP Discord MUD, where the scene just popped back into my head. It wasn’t an incredible, life-changing experience, but it was just a nice glimpse into what I like about the game. So there were the nonfictional events that happened in “#the-dojo,” where I could take screenshots of the dialogue or avatars, but directly quoting lines and such didn’t feel right. This short story was from a slimeoid creature’s perspective, so while it was imbued with narratively-convenient intelligence, it still couldn’t understand human language.
This is where the fiction imagination kicked in.
I was inspired by photos of my childhood dog Patrick to give Terbie a dog-like quality to it/him, where Terbie’s in-game personality is “skittish and jumpy” and his creation in the Slimecorp Lab was particularly messy and violent for him, but Terbie sure does likes treats. [Even if they’re the same slime he’s made out of, so maybe it’s making him a little bigger?] This gave me enough narrative glue to give Terbie the motivation to follow RFCK-Zombiepaper around. Since this is a pre-existing world I was writing within, I couldn’t just take things in my own direction unnecessarily, but when Terbie goes inside the Dojo to see what RFCK-Zombiepaper and K.C Hatman are talking about, I figured that would be a good time to build on the weapons racks lining the dojo.
I imagined that there’d be weapons for Juvies, Killers, and Rowdys.
They’re color-coded green, purple, and pink respectively and this moment of brainstorming a solution to a narrative challenge is by far the most entertaining and engaging aspect of fiction. What does the dojo look like inside? The wiki provided reference pictures for the outside, but not so much for the inside. I imagined Terbie would be able to enter, as I imagined that many people would spar there, so it would have to be large enough to fit a 6′ slug slimeoid comfortably.
This is where iterative worldbuilding can succeed best.
I can look at a visual of what the dojo looks like and filter out what is irrelevant in the situation. There’s the all-important question to ask yourself in writing: “So what?” Does adding an extensive description of the outside of the dojo help the narrative? A few words about what it looks like might be sufficient. I would say that even my descriptions of the weapons racks might be superfluous, except maybe as part of a notion that Terbie was so impressed by a member of a different faction that he formed a hat for himself based on K.C Hatman’s signature hat.
That might be where the beauty of superfluous exposition plays a note.
When we go through life, we see many details that we filter out, whether because we’re too busy doing something else or just lack the patience or perspective to soak it in. When I get skittish or lacking in self-confidence, I might soak in my scenery more as a way to get my senses back in order. It’s not always good to draw inspiration from your own experiences or the experiences of others, whether in reference pictures of characters or nonfiction dialogue in a game, but it can be a helpful starting point.
A more concrete answer would be: 20% should be based on reference material.
The remaining 80% should be inspired by your own interpretations. Yui might give some inspiration for Sammohini but she shouldn’t be a Yui clone. That’s the same as using the in-game descriptions for Terbie as a jumping point.
Minor practices like Sammohini’s novels or Terbie’s stories helps build “The Story.”
|Sources: The Story’s Imaginarium, tangentially, but more of my first novel and ENDLESS WAR.|
|Inspirations: Originally, this was going to be a Pokémon LeafGreen essay with the note “Pokémon and The Story – Vulpix’s move-set after being named Linda was an interesting contrast. – Fairydust attracting all the male Pokemon was interesting, too.” Since I wrote this essay, however, I’ll have to think of a different essay to write for my LeafGreen series.|
|Related: Essays building “The Story.”|
|Picture: I was going to use the Pokémon screenshot here, but I didn’t feel like including it.|
|Written On: 2020 April 30 [7:22am to 8:12am]|
|Last Edited: 2020 April 30 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]|