Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tell me your thoughts, that I might steal them (NaNoWriMo)

[Previously discussed at some length, with entirely different words, at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings. Also contains how it is and isn't like Megamind]

I'm going to try to do the whole write a novel in a month thing this year. My last two attempts to do something similar ended in abject failure and given that I've been somewhat out of it lately I probably shouldn't have very high hopes for this time.

Anyway, I have an idea, I'd like thoughts, so I am calling on you my eight[1] commenters, to tell me what you think so that I might steal your ideas for a hastily written book that I will then publish and make millions.

Which is a completely reasonable plan in all possible ways.

The only possible problem with the plan is that I meant to post something like this late last month, and here I am doing it late this month. Other than that it is completely and utterly reasonable. Private island here I come, I just need to steal your ideas.


Ok, so the idea is perhaps less worked out than it should be. There's a city. And there's a hero with a fairly generic Supermanesque power set. He's not the protagonist. There's a villain who has no powers and mostly gets by on technology and explosives. He'd be the protagonist.

The villain, who I haven't thought up a name for yet. How about Ryan? Does Ryan sound good? I think it came from, “'I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts,' he said. 'My name is Ryan.'” Anyway, Ryan here is all in favor of taking boatloads of money he didn't earn, but his conscience is an ongoing hindrance.

He has no problem blowing up buildings left and right, but he doesn't want to kill or maim anyone. He has no problem stealing, but he doesn't want it to mean little Suzy won't be able to go to college when she gets older or that little Michael can't get the dental work he needs.

He's greedy, he wants things he never bothered to earn, but he wants to be able to sleep at night as well. Which he considers an appropriately selfish goal. He wants to lie and cheat and steal, but he doesn't want to feel bad about it afterward.

To this end he has created the world's first 100% reliable non-lethal weapon[2], he's installed thermal sensors in every building in the city so he can tell whether or not they're vacant[3], he has detailed information on the materials used in the creation of every building so that he knows about the potential health threats should he blow them up, he has detailed information on the financial connections of anyone or anything he tries to steal from so he can track the potential fallout, he never bankrupts an insurance company he isn't convinced deserves it, and so on.

Probably the bulk of the work he does is not put into the crimes or getting away with the crimes, but instead figuring out how to prevent collateral damage.

That this point I should probably point out, if it isn't already clear, that I'm not going for realistic so much as vaguely plausible if you're willing to suspend your disbelief. It's not really plausible that you can have supervillain vs. superhero and have it be safe for people of the city, even if the villain does refuse to go into the bunkers[4] and everyone has memorized the run for cover plans. But if I offer seven handwaves and implore you not to examine things too closely, maybe it can work.

Ok, so that's the protagavillain[5]. At some point Erin is going to show up here. Erin being the female lead. The whole idea for this basically sprang from Erin and protagavillain saving each other.

Protagavillain, being not an alien from another world, has an actual life that he actually lives when not out menacing the people of [as yet unnamed city] at some point somehow in the course of being himself he meets Erin who was originally going to be a reporter but is now tending towards a civil engineer. They date. The fall in love.

And then protagavillain decides that he can't in good conscience continue the relationship without telling her that he's a supervillain, but he's convinced that she'll leave him if he does, and so (after what should be an incredibly awkward and unpleasant scene that completely fails to go as he expected) she learns he is the resident supervillain and they break up.

At this point I think I'm going to be drawing on experiences with depression to characterize protagavillain because I sort of see him as always on the edge of depression anyway and it makes sense that the breakup could push him into it.

Anyway, at some point something happens, I'm thinking he robs a bank and then runs like hell, that puts him in a position to somehow show that he cares about her in a way the superhero can see. After he gets away the superhero has the brilliant plan to kidnap Erin to draw out protagavillain. The antagahero has no problem with this because unlike the villain he has no struggles with his conscience, he knows that he is good and therefore everything he does must likewise be good. Law and order are good, thus things done to maintain them must be good.

Plus Erin has been cavorting with the villain, he's (correctly) sure of it.

At this point protagavillain is left to try to figure out a way to save her which eventually ends up being, “I'll just give her a raygun, she's probably got a better plan than I do by now.” He gets her loose, gives her a raygun, and gets beat up in the process, she rescues him.

And at this point things get significantly less clear, because that was basically where I originally planned to have things end. They get back together after she suggests it and he makes a joke about not being the sort of guy who starts dating someone just because she saved him. Or something like that.

The trouble is I realized I was thinking of things that could only happen afterward. For example the thing about failing to make a cent off his non-lethal weapon (which is two months away from its debut on the global market, where someone else will get full credit for its invention) is a conversation that occurs in the villain's secret bunker[6]. Also Benjamin, the rat, lives in the secret bunker and it would be a shame if Erin never got a chance to meet him. He's protagavillain's best friend.

So I'm thinking that maybe the story doesn't end with Erin saving protagavillain who just sort of but not quite saved her. (Untie a civil engineer and you've saved her for one day, give her a raygun and she'll never be kidnapped again? Probably not accurate. Also lacks the humor of the “Set a man on fire” version.)

Maybe instead of that being the end that's them getting into hiding where they can work together to form a plan. But the problem is that I haven't figured out exactly what would be going on while this is happening. What does antagahero do if he is still active but robbed of his prize? Part of me wants to say that he starts demolishing buildings systematically to see if Erin or maybe-Ryan are hiding in them, starting with Erin's apartment building and extending outwards to those of everyone she's ever interacted with.

But then he's leaning more towards the straightforward villain part of the spectrum, and I'm not sure if that's where he should go. No matter how far overboard he goes he's doing it in the name of protecting the city and it's laws and while kidnapping might be justified in his mind, demolishing the city probably wouldn't be. Though it might.

Another reason that I'm not sure I want to go there is that I don't see the protagavillain ever becoming a hero. He wants break laws and manipulate stocks (when the stupid hero is always getting back whatever you stole, you need to find other means of financing your SCIENCE!.) He may save people, and probably has to do it more often than you'd expect from a villain given that resident hero doesn't get too concerned about collateral damage, but he's not looking at that for a full time job.

Though he might be willing to consider going in a more Leverage direction with his criminality. That's about as far towards hero as he'd be willing to go.


Ok, so, problems:

1 As of the moment before I wrote “As” there were 1901 words, including footnotes, here. They cover pretty much everything I've managed to come up with for this thinking about it for a little bit less than a month. I need to write 26.3 times that much over the course of a month.

2 Romance. Totally unqualified to write that, but the whole idea sort of revolves around the his-name-might-be-Ryan/Erin relationship. He's been actively trying to avoid attachment to people because even without knowing their names he's worried about the possibility he might harm random kid's college fund. He'd like to care less about people rather than more, yet the opposite happens and thus: plot.

A possible solution might be to grab a book[7] and look to it for inspiration, but November is coming quickly so that's unlikely to happen.

3 Erin herself. The story is going to be first person from the protagavillain's perspective so to a certain extent I don't need to know exactly why Erin is doing what she does, I just need to know what she does. The problem is that the why is pretty important for the story even if it need not be called out explicitly on the page.

The big thing is, Erin starts off opposed to the villain. He's good for business but you can't just go around blowing up buildings (he would beg to differ) and the knowledge that a given building will likely be blown up well before it reaches its intended lifespan has led to increasingly lax building standards. She's in the stop the madness camp.

When they break up she's sufficiently conflicted to not immediately call the cops and tell them villain's real name and where he's living, but there's a sizable gap between that and deciding that 1) she's on his side and 2) she wants to be dating him again.

Other than antagahero shifting frame of reference in the direction of her being an outlaw by default I'm not totally sure what's going on in her head to make that work. Part of it might be simply reevaluating her position in light of getting to know protagavillain's character in a way that was previously impossible.

That's one side of the problem of Erin being not developed enough. This is the other: I'm not sure if she has a life.

I can write characters who have no life, it's probably what I'm best at because write what you know and all that. But if she has no life then there's a question of why. And if she's closed off to the world enough to have no life, and protagavillain is too, how the hell did they end up together? Neither of them would be likely to strike up a conversation. Did their subway stall and they have to work together to get everyone out before random bad thing happened? What?

If she does have a life, then I don't know what that life is. Does she have friends? No idea. Does she have family in the city? No idea. Does she own an iguana? No idea. Protagavillain has Benjamin the rat, who does Erin have? I really don't know.

4 I am casting random explody thief in the role of protagonist. There's not a redemption arc here, if anything there's a realizing that maybe being criminal who blows up empty buildings and steals from well insured banks isn't all that bad arc. If there's any message to be taken from the story it's a distinctly not-good one.

5 Remember what I said about being written in first person? I've figured out the protagavillain enough to know that he starts his story with a lengthy rant about how hard it is to be evil. That might not be the best beginning, but it's absolutely how the character would begin his book.

In fact, he might very well be a character prone to getting ranty, which could mean that fidelity to the character would require massively screwing up pacing, whereas trying to keep the plot on track would require silencing the character.

6 New thing that only just occurs to me. Originally I wasn't thinking of writing the protagavillain as depressed, which meant that this wasn't a problem. Now that I am it could be. If he is coping with depression, and he meets a girl and gets a happy ending then I could be pulling a Twilight: all you need to do to treat depression is to date the right person. That would be bad.

7 Civil Engineering. I know nothing of it. I like the idea that she's a civil engineer, that's why I intend to go with it, but I think it would have been much easier to bullshit her job when I was seeing her as a reporter. I can imagine, perhaps not correctly, what goes into being a reporter. I can't really say the same for being a civil engineer. As far as I know they do some sort of magic and then a building is made as a result. I presume math and computers are involved, but math is a mystery religion (don't believe me? Read about Pythagoras) and computers are modeled off of sand divination (I'm not making this up [8]), so we're back to some form of magic.


[1] I'm almost into double digits. If I count myself then it's at nine, which means that I'm very close.

[2]And got screwed out of his cut when he tried to bring it to market. Which he uses as his justification for why he never tries to make a legitimate living off of anything else he makes. The real reason is that from his point of view doing things legitimately is a lot more difficult and that if he didn't have the frenetic activity of breaking this law or that and then running away he doesn't know what he'd do with himself.

If he stops moving he risks a breakdown because outside of villainy he really doesn't have anything else, and outside of running for his life or planning his next crime he doesn't really feel alive.

[3] The privacy invasion doesn't bother him for two reasons. The first is that he's perfectly happy to think of himself as the bad guy. The second is that he only turns the sensors on when checking to see if it's safe to blow up the building and he tells himself that people would rather have their privacy invaded than be killed.

[4] Superhero vs. Supervillain fights are dangerous and scary. Collapsing buildings present a real threat to the safety of the population. As such it was decided to build a complex of underground bunkers. These bunkers are easily accessible from many, many access points on every single street as well as stairwells and elevator shafts that extend into every building above them. They are not designed for permanent residence but instead intended to be used for shorter periods of time (long enough that they include restrooms, not so long as to require cots.)

While the quality of the frequently collapsed building above ground has gone down as people assumed their work wouldn't need to last, the workmanship in the bunkers is superb. Lives depend on them, after all.

[5] Why “protaga” when it should be “protago”? The o just doesn't look or feel right to me in improperly created compounds. For whatever reason protagovillain feels wrong in a way that protagavillain does not. The same for antagohero as opposed to antagahero.

[6] Created via a complex con that involved convincing those in charge of bunker construction to order that a secret command bunker be built for the city leaders, then shuffling orders and invoices such that they ended up creating three, making every reference to his point back to one of those two, and then quietly installing his own elevator to access the now forgotten bunker.

When your every heist is foiled by a damned superhero, you have to get creative in order to actually live in the lap of underground luxury.

[7] For some reason my strong temptation is to add the words, “by Izzy,” here, but I'm not totally sure why my brain would be so adamant that what I need for a point of reference is something set in a boarding school. Maybe it's just the assumption that whatever Izzy writes must be a good point of reference period.

[Added]Oh, ok, there we go. I was sure there was another book. Terminator meets My Fair Lady. I think that's probably where my brain was going.[/Added]

[8] TED is awesome, by the way. As is math.


  1. >>>If he is coping with depression, and he meets a girl and gets a happy ending then I could be pulling a Twilight: all you need to do to treat depression is to date the right person. That would be bad.

    He meets a girl, geta a happy ending, and *doesn't* gets magically cured from depression. He's still ill. They're dealing with it. Together.

    P.S. I'm all for an iguana.

  2. This is a set of answers to your points. It comes off as quite glib, and sounds worryingly like standard writing advice. You don't know who I am; I have had published book-length role-playing works, but my fiction has not been published so I may well be talking complete rubbish.

    1. Writing is easy. You just don't allow yourself to do anything else once you start, until you've done your 3,000 words for the day.

    (You WILL hate this book at some point.)

    2. Key thing is to remember that both people are people, who have things they want and things they don't mind compromising. As opposed to the standard mass-market fiction, in which one of the people is a cipher whose principal job is to be a reward for the other. I don't think you'll have a problem with this.

    3. See above. And perhaps Pv is an interesting person, which let's face it is a much better reason to be involved with someone that "he's got a cool job". So he's still an interesting person, albeit one who does bad things...

    Does she have friends/etc.? Flip a coin, roll a die. If you find yourself saying "best of three", that's your decision.

    4. "If you want to send a message, use Western Union."

    5. If you go tight third person you don't need to worry about the character's preferred structure. Some people are put off by first person anyway (though not as many as are put off by second).

    6. What Redcrow said, absolutely!

    7. Find one and talk to him/her.

  3. In no particular order!

    8) You may find the Reference Desk on the NaNoWriMo forums is useful - make a thread asking civil engineers (and related jobs) about their day and see if you can get a bite.

    3) Make stuff up. Write down a bunch of questions and then decide how she would answer them. Give her an iguana and a sister she rarely sees and late-divorced parents. Decide what the last guy she dated before Ryan was like. (If you feel like you might be making odd choices because she's a woman or something, use the Ripley technique; write a bare-bones personality sketch of a dude and then give it to her.) Pick a place in the world that she's always wanted to travel but never gets around to. These things will start to interact with each other when you reach critical mass.

    4) I saw part of a bad movie a couple of weeks ago, Haunting of Molly Hartley or something, which (spoilers!) ends with Molly embracing her fate as the disciple of Satan on Earth. We never actually find out what their evil plans are or see her do anything supernatural. Aside from her parents getting murdered, it's a relatively happy ending - she's cheerful, she has clear goals in life, she has a nice boyfriend who shares her Satanic interests. I think it was supposed to be dissonant, but it just came across as esoterically pleasant.

    Maybe this is like that, only well-written? Maybe it's a cheerful corruption arc, in that Erin is disillusioned with the world and bit by bit realises that she would rather be a conscientious villain?

    As far as their first meeting, possibly Ryan has just pulled a heist and is escaping in civvies when Uberman arrives and starts tearing up the building, and the damage causes them to get stuck in the same area. There may be others present, but Erin and Ryan lead the escape and that's how they form their first impressions?

    5/2) Possibly rotating first and third person would be a good idea? If he's a supervillain, he may well like to unwind by pacing around his lair ranting at the computer, and such recorded rants could be inserted wherever you like between scenes/chapters. Third person prevents you from having to get too far into anyone's head, which might make it easier to write romantic sequences as well. (Ryan and Erin both strike me as the type of people who would snark at romantic comedies anyway, yes? Possibly literally, as in they rent one and then give it their personal MST3K treatment. Best third date ever.)

  4. First off, thanks for responses. I shall think on them and already appreciate them greatly.

    Second, I forgot to bring up something that is annoying the hell out of me. I'm trying to figure out how a non-masked villain can remain unidentified in his civilian life without having it come across like Clark Kent. I want him to be able to quickly show, "I'm not joking, I am resident supervillain," without it coming off like, "Glasses off and I'm villain, glasses on and I'm a mild mannered citizen."

    I was originally thinking of some sort of push a button instant disguise thing but both of the ways I can think of to do that (either changing the way he looks without changing him via, say, some form of sneaky hologram or actually physically changing his body) seem like they should be able to extended so that their functionality isn't limited to, "I don't look like me," but instead reaches all the way to, "I can look like someone else if I want to." Protagavillain definitely does not have, "I can look like you," technology.

    Which has the potential to leave me right back at switching eye wear changes everything.

  5. Hmm. Perhaps the villain has some sort of distinctive catch-phrase (said to the cameras when he's just done something showy), which he can deliver in the exact same way when he's not in disguise?

    Or perhaps he can describe some detail of one of his operations that Erin, having worked on the cleanup, recognises, but that nobody bothered to make public?

  6. I want him to be able to quickly show, "I'm not joking, I am resident supervillain," without it coming off like, "Glasses off and I'm villain, glasses on and I'm a mild mannered citizen."

    You said he's the inventor of the world's only 100% foolproof nonfatal weapon, right? I'm assuming this is some kind of stun ray, so if I'm way off, let me know, but if I were a sufficiently brilliant gadgeteer to create that, I wouldn't stop there, I'd keep refining and tweaking it. So even if all the police have been issued mass-market versions of the same thing (which would be a wonderful shout-out to 90s cartoons, I think), he might at any moment be able to say "Hey, check out what my watch can do if I snap this extra casing onto it."

    Which would, of course, be an implicitly threatening thing to use to prove your identity ("You don't believe me? What if I'm holding a weapon; then do you believe me?") so if he's thinking and trusts her, his technique should definitely be "I am totally a supervillain, here is my signature blaster, hold it for yourself" and then put it on the table between them or something.

    If he has any other signature gadgetry that is less inherently threatening, that's even better.

  7. He does have a distinctive signature ray gun. One that is needlessly flashy even. (It glows blue because he wants it to glow blue. No, the glowing doesn't serve a purpose.) But the thing is that the only way you'd know it's really the gun would be to fire it. Which would be very disturbing.

    I'm not seeing him as having much beyond the raygun and explosives. He has two tricks*, but he uses them very well. Though some kind of robot might be nice.

    Though I am tempted to give him a one size fits all no touch screwdriver for no other reason than to have him explain that it's whatever (I'm thinking, for some reason, magnetic) because no matter how hard he tried he couldn't make sound drive screws.


    * Well, more. But in terms of tools, mostly I see him having a highly customized raygun and a level of planning and improvisation that should probably be on a Michael Weston level if he's going to take on supermanish person with naught but a raygun and explosives. Which, now that I've put it that way, sounds like a truly daunting thing to write. Impossible perhaps.

  8. Wow I'm was gonna stop by and tell you that I love your stuff.And that you should do nanowrimo.Now i feel both unhelpful and late to the party :/ Sooo imma try to help

    5-Read the first few books of a series of unfortunate events.I think the narrator pulls off rambles/rantings very well without giving up the plot.

    Now that I think about it if the entire book is first-person maybe create it in a way in which "Ryan" is writing the book.Then put little endnotes for when he gets ranty and have him say how his editors made him edit out all the ramblings.

    See also:johnathan strange and mr.norrell,house of leaves,good omens.

  9. I'd suggest picking up GURPS Basic Set: Characters and maybe GURPS Powers and/or GURPS Supers. In particular, the Advantage/Disadvantage lists can be useful for characterization shorthand even if you don't do a full character write up.

    Also, Erin being a civ E may give you an excuse to get them together. They could meet while he's researching some public works project that he needs to know about for planning his next big heist. Of course, he doesn't tell her why he's interested in it at first, but it might be important for the big Reveal later.

  10. I'm always in favour of GURPS 4th edition (and GURPS Lite, while not particularly good for gaming, has many of the ads/disads listed and is free -

  11. Don't people with no lives often meet on the internet? And plenty of people with lives, too. He could be an avid reader or her blog, or vice versa.

  12. I do like the idea of them meeting while doing something incidentally useful or heroic. (Like, dealing with a natural disaster? I have floods on the brain lately, climate gone mad!) If he has shell companies or something he could give her a job...but then that's weird power stuff, I dunno... I am just always, always for sexy, heroic engineers. Especially female engineers.

    Also I feel like you need to know Erin's character, then you can decide how Pv acts, and how Uberman and other people in her life act to bring about a change in her feelings and life goals. I think other people in her life could be key. You could always use contrasting ex-boyfriends or rebound guys, but I think family and acquaintances/co-workers often work well. If she ends up realizing that other people in her life aren't as interesting as Pv, or don't share her values or goals as much as he does, or don't care about her as much...and/or that The System, as personified by Ultraman or her old boss or whatever, is at least as bad as Pv's alternative.

    And I totally agree with what Redcrow said on the Depression front. Life can get better for people with mental illnesses, without that meaning there's any magical cure. If he was using villainy as a coping strategy, and he leans on it less later on, I don't find that implausible.