On toddlers and the spontaneous generation of novel vocabulary

Toddlers are an author’s best friend. If you’re ever stuck in a rut and need some help, pay close attention to a kid trying to grapple with the intricacies of learning a spoken language. They will inevitably toss in extra vowels and consonants, clip words short, duplicate sections, or improvise sounds that are more manageable for their developing mind-lip interface.

I think every parent has had the pleasure of being called “Mapa” or “Pama” at some point or other. My boy is fascinated by crocodiles thanks to Dora the Explorer. He trundles around the living room yelling “Crokoli, crokoli!” and roaring his head off. Today, my kid invented a novel mashup of ketchup and mustard. “Kestard, moustchup!” I’m not quite certain why he was going on about condiments, since it wasn’t mealtime, but his little mind was bubbling away trying to figure things out. I keep my ear trained to his vocal experiments, and from time to time can come away with a wonderful nugget that will serve as the setting, character, or event for a future story.

This may not be too useful a feature for non-fiction authors. In fact, such re-interpretations of any language is probably going to lead to deleterious effects on your writing by osmotic transference so having kids is probably not a great career move. Thankfully, mine will doubtless continue to enhance my efforts to produce engaging works of fantasy and science-fiction.

Thanks kiddo!

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Sketching – Nasty Grunt

A nasty grunt.

A nasty grunt.

This charming chap tumbled onto my electronic sketchbook a while ago. The sketch arose as part of a stream of consciousness exercise I was running on a page to help me come up with some ideas for a story. As I doodled on, the concept for my upcoming book took form in my mind. A little cross-disciplinary creativity can work wonders for generating ideas.

Meet Atom Bot

Atom Bot. Likes long walks on the beach, a romantic tuneup, and bashing evildoers.

Atom Bot. Likes long walks on the beach, a romantic tuneup, and bashing evildoers.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to focus my wandering mind by doodling during meetings or other events that need my mind to be focused for a prolonged period. These doodles usually end up in a notebook, but tonight they are on my computer thanks to a good phone call, and a conveniently handy graphics tablet.

Atom Bot spilled out on the page with a variety of other nonsense, but the basic shape eventually caught my eye, so I quickly refined it and added some colour to make him pop. Not too shabby. I guess I should make more calls.

Fusion drives – interplanetary science fiction takes one step closer to reality

NASA is developing revolutionary fusion drive

NASA is working on a fusion engine that has the potential to revolutionize interplanetary travel. For decades, science fiction has imagined the possibility of humanity reaching for the stars, propelled by the power released by mashing together atomic nuclei. As with so many other technological developments, I have little doubt that many of the scientists and engineers involved on this project had their the seed for this work planted in their youth while consuming mountains of stories about space pirates and green aliens hailing from unpronounceable planets.

This highlights two key issues:

1. Youth literacy is essential. There are so many great ideas out there that simply cannot be adequately covered in a movie, TV show, or computer game, that if kids don’t read, they will have a high likelihood of not being exposed to new ideas to pursue; and

2. Science fiction authors are going to have to stay on their toes. So many ideas that seemed to be possibilities only in the dim future are rapidly coming upon us. Authors will need to stay abreast a wide field of rapidly-evolving science so that they can come up with the next wave of weird and wonderful ideas with which to capture the next generation of scientists and engineers, providing them the drive to try to bring to reality whatever mind blowing concept they read about (or yes, even saw in a movie) when they were a kid.

On sharing inspiration – Ripples in the pond

Rise of the Redshirts

Rise of the Redshirts

I illustrated the image above back in 2009 as an entry to the “Be the Hero!” Game Career Guide challenge . I did it rather quickly, but am still quite pleased with the image, as I used it as an opportunity to try some new techniques with a Wacom stylus and Photoshop. The entry didn’t get picked up, so I may re-post it later for reference’s sake, but I did end up posting the picture on conceptart.org. I forgot about the image up until recently, when I was cleaning some files up in my computer in an attempt to speed my aging beast up.

I smiled as I remembered that in 2012, John Scalzi published Redshirts, a novel where one of a starship’s intrepid security staff decides that dying for the captain isn’t for him. As I sat there and thought about it, there certainly is some similarity in the concepts between the story and my image above. I started looking around the internet to see whether anyone else had caught on to the idea. I found that in 2011, a youtube channel called Star Trek Online: Rise of the Redshirts saw the light of day. The similarity between the titles does catch the eye. There is now a very cool game in development called Redshirt by the Tiniest Shark. There are certainly some similarities in the general layout and theme between the two images.

Redshirts game image

I am certainly not arrogant enough to believe that I am solely responsible for the ideas these highly creative people have developed. After all, if I had an idea, there is a high likelihood that someone else may have had the same idea before or after me with no external help whatsoever. In fact, I drew on inspiration from other short stories about the Redshirts always getting whacked to come up with my game pitch and illustration. There are only so many ways to illustrate a game cover, and there are some narrative illustration short hand techniques and tips of the hat that tend to ensure that there will be some similarity in imagery for science fiction posters. However, I do like to believe that the picture I tossed out without a second thought on the internet kicked off some spark in imaginations I’ve never met and ultimately served to enrich each of us. Like a stone cast in the pond, the ripples of inspiration can travel far and wide, touching distant and unseen shores.

So share your ideas. You never know how or who they’ll help.

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

Any author worth her or his salt has probably laid eyes on Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and is familiar with the concepts relating to the The Hero’s Journey, which one should incidentally avoid using as an excuse for writing a poor story, or risk the wrath of Autotelic.

The CMA (http://www.the-cma.com/images/openmagazine/201210/seven-steps.png) has distilled the work into a brilliant infographic and tossed a few more tidbits in to optimize helfulness:

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

I love it! I just wish my printer could cleanly pump this graphic out so I could pin it up on my wall.

Keep your eyes peeled, thar blows inspiration!

Fantasy horror toy shop.

Fantasy horror toy shop.

It’s funny how staying aware of the small things can be a boon to inspiration. Forget sweeping story arcs that need to be fed by globetrotting travels of self-discovery, forget life-changing trauma. Those can without a doubt be opportunities to find something to write about, illustrate, or simply share as an anecdote with friends, but they can be few and far between. When you’re in a bind, butting up against a particularly vicious bout of writer’s block, go for a walk. Forget the big things. Keep your eyes open for little things, things that would make a child wonder and giggle in amazement.

I took this particular picture a few years ago while strolling through an arts and crafts shop looking for some good illustration paper. There was a bin full of fantasy toys with an unusual assortment of models in promising positions. A quick shuffle of a dragon over to the princess’ corner and voilà! Ready-made damsel in distress to talk about. My inner child hooted and hollered, slapped his knee and wanted to make loud munching sounds. Since I made it out of the shop without being arrested, I assume I kept the unfolding drama securely under wraps for an external observer.

I keep the picture on my desktop for those moments where I feel like I’m running out of steam. It makes me laugh a bit, and reminds me to take things a little more lightly.