I’ve known for a more-than-reasonable amount of time now that I want to be a writer. Writing is something that I’m pretty good at, and it’s something I can see myself working on for the rest of my life, thanklessly, for minimal reward and recognition. So that much is settled in my head. I’ve written over 600,000 words on this project alone, and I’d do it over and over again for the rest of my life for its own sake. I have clarity on this.
But now, moving forward. I know that I need to start writing works, rather than just verbalising my thoughts. This is an amusingly difficult transition for me, because I’ve spent so much time in my headvoice. It’s actually quite exhausting, and I have a feeling that once I’m able to make the switch, I will feel incredibly relieved.
Okay – so what I’m going to try to do moving forward – at least with this vomit and the next few, as far as I can tell – is to start sketching out characters, settings, contexts, plots. I need to remind myself strongly that none of this needs to be coherent, none of this needs to make sense. It can be everything all at once in all directions . I just need to keep going until I catch something. So… this is it. This is where we dive in, like Ark in Terranigma jumping through the portal from the Underworld. This project transforms here, at 640.
There once was a girl. A lady. A woman. All and none of the above. Let’s call her Calliope.
Calliope was born to a boring family in a boring city on a boring planet.
This is a world that is most ways similar to Earth, but is presumably different in some ways that we don’t know yet. For one thing, the continents are different, and the nations and religions are different. If you’ve got myopia and you’re not wearing your glasses, it roughly looks the same.
I’m not quite sure if it’s a modern-technology world or if it’s a fantasy world yet. But either way – if it’s fantasy, the elements of magic are effectively a ‘metaphor’ for technology. The point is, the reader lives in a world with all sorts of cool technology, and I want to explore that. I want Calliope to grapple with making sense of her reality in its fragmentation, all the ways in which it trips through time. So I don’t think it’s going to be a Western, Wild West, frontier type situation. Calliope is going to have to deal with the fact that she basically lives in this world that claims it has a ton of freedom, but in reality it doesn’t really. There are glimpses of both Orwell and Huxley in this world, but it’s not quite as simple as either. Humanity has been domesticating itself in fits and starts.
What do I know about Calliope’s world? I know that it has a slightly grungy, cyberpunk element to it. But it can’t literally be cyberpunk, that would be boring. What would a cyberpunk fantasy world be like? Or rather, if something that was fundamentally cyberpunk in nature was written in fantasy, what would it be like? This is an interesting thing to explore perhaps in a separate vomit. What if we took some popular stories and then put them in very different settings? Star Wars is effectively The Hero’s Journey in Space. What would Game of Thrones be like if it were set in space? What would Ender’s Game be like if it were set in Magic?
Media – what’s the media like?
Food, eating habits, rituals
Education / child-rearing – what sort of childhood experience did Calliope have? Have we reformed schools yet? No, not quite. Standardised testing is still a thing. But by this point, most kids know that school is pretty much daycare. We can have a conversation about this. Lots of kids are running side-businesses, lots of girls are Instagram starlets.
Power – what does the world run on? Are we in the driverless electric car future yet? I think we can incorporate that, yeah. It’ll be nice to force people to read a world that’s slightly in the future. Something like 2050s future. Mostly clean power? Or is there some sort of underlying energy conspiracy? I think Calliope doesn’t need to worry about this…. but I should figure it out for the context of the story.
There will be messaging between people – texting. I don’t think we’ll have the neural interfaces yet. I don’t want this to get all Black-Mirror-y – the tech isn’t meant to be super noticeable. It’s got to be just slightly more futuristic than we’re used to. Will I use phrases like Uber, Google, etc? Maybe, but preferably not.
Let’s figure out what makes her interesting.
What is it that makes a character interesting? The same thing that makes all things interesting: conflict.
I haven’t yet decided if she’s going to be The Protagonist. I think I’m just using this character as a starting point here to start building out a setting, a set of characters.
What is Calliope’s conflict?
She has desire in a world that doesn’t quite accept it. For a life of her own choosing. But she can’t have it.
Why not? Well obviously she lives in a man’s world, with men’s expectations and men’s desires. And what are those? Most simply- they want to fuck her. To possess her. To control her. To use her.
What are the not-so-obvious things about her conflict?
Calliope has an idiot father. An idiot brother. She went to idiot school and is expected to work for Idiots Inc. Yawn. A boring life.
To have an interesting life Calliope needs power. Primarily over herself and her immediate surroundings. This is a tremendous challenge.
What about Calliope’s personal curiosities and impulses? How would she live if she had absolute freedom?
What does Calliope want?
I think the main thing is that she feels listless and disconnected, like she was born in the wrong place or the wrong time, like she fell off some wagon she didn’t know about. This is a classic Ugly Duckling type trope, and the starting point of every angsty teen / YA thing. I’m not averse to starting with the trope, I just want to go somewhere differently.
The “Ordinary Day”
What is the thing that Calliope really wants, before the world smashed into her? (How does it smash into her?)
I can work with what I’m familiar with. Music, arts. But I think her wanting to be an artist might be a little too predictable. I think I’ll have her wanting to be a technologist. I had a glimpse of that myself when I was a child and I’d like to explore that through Calliope.
Things I know about Calliope
She’s experienced sexism, as all women invariably do.
She hasn’t experienced outright sexual assault – that would be a bit of a cliché for me to work with, and it’s not something I’m super good at. Rather, she has witnessed assault. She has had friends and peers that she enjoyed who suffered tremendously.
She’s funny. I don’t want her to be this brooding quiet type, like Bella or Anastasia. And she can’t be awfully serious. I think she has a sense of humour and gets in trouble for it. I’m thinking there’s a little bit of Fred/George in her.
At some point she’s going to comment about The Cool Girl, and the meta-problem to that.
She needs people to have conversations with, that’s how she thinks and figures stuff out.
She can’t understand people who feel strongly about things one way or another. This means that I’m going to have to introduce a character who feels very strongly about something, and they’re going to become some sort of interest / foil to her.
Friendship – Calliope was bored and frustrated for most of her young life without quite having the vocabulary to articulate it. At some point she encountered someone else that she really admired. An older girl who seemed very much womanly. Brash, vulgar, cigarettes and alcohol. No tattoos though, because that would be too much of a stereotype. Crazy hair maybe. Some sort of Razorgirl. It would be interesting to contrast how Calliope’s friend gets portrayed compared to how Razorgirls are typically portrayed (Trinity from the Matrix, the silver-eyed girl from Neuromancer…).
For the time being maybe let’s use the name Thalia. Thalia was the goddess of festivity. I could spend a lot of time exploring the relationship between Calliope and Thalia. And I think my position here is that… the reader won’t know a lot about Thalia except through Calliope’s eyes. And through Calliope’s eyes, Thalia seemed like this wonderfully seductive escape from the drudgery of everyday life. Thalia was expressive, fun, larger than life. Bold. Confident. Aggressive. She seemed to know who she was, and she was probably the first person who treated Calliope like someone worthy of respect.
So Calliope would grow to idolize Thalia – not in a ridiculous, overblown, hero-worship way, but she’d just tag along. She was smart enough to know that she shouldn’t simply try to be like Thalia, but to be herself.
But eventually they ended up in conflict. There were times where Calliope would get on Thalia’s bad side, and Thalia could get really angry, really venomous. Maybe later on we’ll learn that Thalia had had a hard life, that she was some sort of oppressed minority maybe, subject to some sort of persecution – and so she became this slightly manic-depressive sort of person – very severe, very larger than life, capable of both incredibly kindness, softness, gentleness, and incredible cruelty. I really want the reader to appreciate that Thalia does things for Calliope that nobody else does, that Thalia does seem to provide care for Calliope that nobody else seems able to provide – at least in the Sector 7 Slum that Calliope lives in…
Huh. So that just introduced something about the setting. The sectors, of course, are from Final Fantasy 7. The city’s name was Midgard. If I’m going to be using names like Calliope and Thalia, then the Midgard equivalent should be Greek. Anyway I can figure out names later, I just need to move faster to kick up all the things that I want to kick up. It would be interesting to try and figure out why I thought about Sector 7. The point is that Calliope doesn’t have the support system that she needs in order to live her full life, to be her full person. I’m trying to think about what I’m trying to squeeze in here. I haven’t actually lived the street kid life, so I’m not sure if I can really do justice to Calliope being a street kid. Maybe Thalia is the street kid, and Calliope sort of comes from somewhere a little bit relatively sheltered but not too sheltered.
Ok I have to get to bed so let’s start listing out some questions that we’ll need to answer…
How is Calliope’s community organised? What role does race play in all of this? Because I think race is almost definitely going to come up. The fact that I’ve picked Greek names… I’m probably going to introduce characters of other races and religions. I might call it something else. The Greek name kids are the weirdos, the outcasts, at least slightly maybe. I’m just running with it here. There will be kids with Muslim-sounding names, there will be kids with Indian sounding names… I’ll try to avoid giving anybody traditional white names.
What is the world order? What is the maximum scale of everything? I probably shouldn’t try to force a limit… I won’t go beyond galactic, that’s for sure. Whatever happens, it happens within a single galaxy. Or does it? Lol. Let’s start with a human story on one planet, and if we want to get bigger and beyond that, we can later on, but not yet. This is like, say, Shepard’s backstory. I suppose I could do a “Calliope Shepard” fan fiction piece just to fiddle around and figure stuff out. But I don’t think Calliope is going to be a military figure. I don’t think she’s going to be working with guns or swords or things like that… is she? Is violence going to feature in this story? Yes, obviously. But what’s the law and order situation? How safe are people?
It’ll be impossible not to at least comment tangentially about the current state of Earth in 2017 – international relations, people being sheep and so on. I want my characters to be smart, like the characters in Ender’s Game. They have to make the best decisions they can, or at least try to.
 I specifically want to avoid a Star Wars type situation, where it’s obviously a Hero’s Journey, and it can’t be called ‘true sci-fi’ because the science doesn’t actually make much of a difference. Perhaps I should list out my intended influences? Nope – that would be forcing it. I should just do what I’ve been doing – I wasn’t expecting Midgar to show up, but it did. So I should just keep going.