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Writing Excuses 6.21: Brainstorming Random Ideas

Writing Excuses 6.21: Brainstorming Random Ideas


Key points: Who took Dan's dollar? Look for conflict, character, and premise. Find or make distinctive characters with quirks. Is there an antagonist? What can you do distinctive? Insert technobabble. Beware the Lizards of Leipzig! If you go last, someone may steal your pun.

[Brandon] Episode 21, Brainstorming Random Ideas.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And. We're. Not.
[Howard] Oh, man, we're...
[Dan] That smart.
[Howard] Pick it up. Come on, pick it up.
[Brandon] We're just all making fun of Howard who's in the corner like curled up in a blanket because he's so tired. We have drowsy Howard this week, so...
[Dan] [garbled]
[Howard] Drowsy Howard actually refuses to phone it in, so pick up your game, people.
[Brandon] Okay. Good.
[Mary] Sorry. I was still writing.

[Brandon] The blanket is on your head. This is... Anyway, okay. This week we're going to do something fun. What we did is, a couple of months ago, I guess more like six months ago, Jordo pitched us random crazy ideas that he found on news stories. We built stories around them. We decided this time, instead of just doing that live improv, we would get the ideas ahead of time and spend a little bit of time actually building a story, so that when we came to the podcast we'd be ready to show you the different styles of story building that we used. We don't know if this is going to work, but we hope that each of us will have used these ideas in different ways to build a different type of story.
[Dan] I bet we have four identical stories.
[Howard] This will be very funny.
[Brandon] That would be ironic.
[Dan] In fact, I will lay down money right now that we have at least two incredibly similar stories.
[Brandon] Well, let's see.
[Dan] We'll see.
[Howard] If we get four, then it's Yahtzee.
[Dan] In fact, here we go. Here's my dollar on the table.
[Brandon] Oh wow. There is actually... This is a very bizarre...
[Howard] That's one dollar more than I actually have in my wallet.

[Brandon] Episode. Dan is throwing money around, and Howard is curled up and whimpering. All right. So, here are the four ideas. I'm going to read them off as they were given to me by Jordo from his wacky news story repository.
[Howard] Why don't you read the first and we'll each read one?
[Brandon] Oh, okay.
[Howard] You start with the first one.
[Brandon] Wary of iguanas, bored Germans finally venture out.
[Howard] Heroic mailman saves three lives while on the job.
[Dan] Dolphin charged with battery against girlfriend.
[Mary] Austrian power company tells customer she is dead.

[Brandon] So, here we go. We had to take these four ideas and come up with something. Who are we going to make go first? Who wants to go first?
[Dan] Mary wrote stuff down.
[Brandon] Okay. Mary. We'll just go... We'll go from you to me, then to Howard and Dan.
[Mary] Okay. Wet tech is the new rage. It's cheaper to modify animals than to make robots, and you can just transfer the software patch to a new animal chassis when the old one wears out. It's therefore possible for a person to ride an animal. Iguanas often serve as ways to check power lines, but double as surveillance. Gerta, my German, is a wet technician. She's a civilian contractor for the German military and has a large stable of modified animals. Her boyfriend was one of her interns, and though she feels like a cougar, she loves having him around and how eager he is to learn. At work, she's hooking up a dolphin to check the wave generator power station for damage when she realizes that someone is already riding it. The patch has been hacked. Through the signature, she realizes that it is her boyfriend joyriding. She tries to talk him out of it, and he attacks her. They are within sight of a marina, and a mailman tries to pull her out of the water. Once she's safe, she taps her e-mail to alert the authorities and discovers that the power company has turned off her power, because they think she's dead. In the process of trying to get that straightened out, Gerta realizes that she's been listed as dead everywhere. What's more, her boyfriend has cleared out her accounts, claiming to be next of kin. That gives him access to all of her passwords and to the entire network. She has to alert the authorities, but her boyfriend hops from animal body to animal body to stop her. After an epic battle, where their animals avatars face-off, she defeats him using an actual cougar.
[Brandon] Okay.
[Dan] I'm kind of embarrassed to say mine, now.
[Howard] This has been Writing Excuses. The rest of us are just going to go home.
[Mary] You want to hear my first line?
[Brandon] Okay. Go for your first line.
[Mary] The iguana was staring at her. Probably some teenager jacked in for a joy ride.
[Brandon] Mmm. Awesome. Okay. This turned out really well. What you're going to see, listeners, if you analyze this... What Mary did is she... I'm just going to armchair it. She took these concepts, and she tried to find character out of it, and she tried to make the characters distinctive, and did a good job of that. With the... You'll notice that Gerta is a cougar. We know some things about her. She has some quirks. So she worries she's a cougar, she's not... She's got some quirks about her. You actually tried to build an antagonist into it. Ended up having the boyfriend... You used that kind of sign of tension, dolphin charged with battery against girlfriend. I guess the boyfriend jacking into the dolphin, attacking the girlfriend. Anyway, this is... You're looking for conflict, character, and premise, and combining them all together. It worked very well.
[Mary] Thank you.

[Brandon] Here's what I came up with. Mine is... I actually don't have like... Just telling you the story straight out like that. I wrote down my process. I looked at these four things and I said okay, the first... Where am I going to go? Well, I thought, if I'm going to try and make something distinctive that these other three won't, I'll try and focus on what I do. So I tried to build a magic system out of this. So the thing that was most interesting to me out of this was the idea of the mailman connecting with the woman being informed by a letter that she's dead. I'm like, "Okay, we've got a tie there, a connection." So we're looking at some sort of letter based magic system. I wanted to tie together this whole idea of the power company. So what I came up with was an idea of... I thought, well, what if we have some letters that... The mailman is carrying a batch of letters that have magical effects when they're read. So something happened that this power company that when they shipped out their bills, each of these bills actually became a magic spell. Something about the bill...
[Howard] I am a winner!
[Brandon] Has magic spells. And so... What did you just say?
[Howard] I said I am a winner.
[Brandon] Oh, right. You are a winner.
[Howard] Yeah. You open up the letter, and now you are a permanent winner.
[Brandon] Right. Something happens from the power company's bills. I, from there, decided okay we've got the mailman who's got these letters. He knows what's happening. I had to tie him in too. So I made my mailman a theoretical physicist... Failed theoretical physicist, who'd worked with the power company with some sort of grant where he was trying to do something weird with theoretical physics, and he therefore had science... SCIENCE! It's science. Or magic of some sort. Quantum things. I'm not a science fiction writer, I'm a fantasist.
[Dan] Insert technobabble here.
[Brandon] Insert technobabble, and there was some sort of alternate portal dimension thingy and it changed the letters with these random effects.
[Howard] Brandon's got the science fiction saltshaker.
[Brandon] Yes. Right. So from there, I actually wrote into it a woman working for the power company, an old lady that they hired to send out their billing, because I wanted some more individuality to it. The reason this is happening is she just couldn't send out these blank letters, these form letters. She had to add a personalized note to each of them. It's actually the personalized note that she wrote that determines the spell's affects. So that we can have why these generic form letters are all doing something different. Some interaction between what she wrote and the numbers on the bill generate the effects. Our hero, the mailman, is trying to figure out what these letters do. They have brought all dolphins in the world to sentience, and the dolphins of the world are now trying to take over. I need to dig deeper into that. I need to dig deeper into the protagonist, who I decided got fired because he was too much of a daredevil. He was too much of a risk taker. I'm not sure even how I got to that... Oh, heroic. Heroic mailman. That word said risk taker. They're like, "You're off the charts. You're doing wacky weird things. You're not..."
[Dan] Give me your badge and your mailbag.
[Brandon] Give me your badge. Not your mail... He's working as a mailman now. He lost his theoretical physicist license because he was too...
[Dan] Give me your badge and your calculator.
[Howard] We're worried that you're going to go postal, so just go postal.
[Brandon] He went and got the only job he could, which was mailman. Then all these letters started coming through him. So he is using these letters himself, trying to harness the power of them to cast the spells with the various letters while he stops the goblin... Er, the dolphin and iguana revolution who are trying to take over the world.
[Dan] Nice. I'm impressed that we had a dolphin and iguana revolution.

[Brandon] Yes. Let's do our book of the week.
[Howard] Well, after that story, let's do our book of the week.
[Dan] Time for the book of the week. Because we are doing... We are building stories around very weird outlining process, the book of the week this week is The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. This is one of his first novels. It's a historical fiction... Well, it's an alternate history. It's Earth, post-World War II, when the US lost and everything is run by Japan. What's really interesting about this is that Dick wrote it using the Book of Changes, the Tao Te Ching, and the lettersticks. He would actually, whenever he came to a new point in the story where something would have to change, he would consult that and then do whatever it told him. He reportedly was very pleased with some of those, and very displeased with some of the other choices, but he followed through with it anyway. The book is very interesting, and very unpredictable because of that. So again, that's The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. Howard, where can they find that?
[Howard] Ah. You can take off a 14 day trial membership for free, and download some Philip K Dick or some of just about anything else.

[Brandon] All right. So, Howard, let's go on with yours.
[Dan] Whoosh!
[Howard] Okay. We open on the mailman. The opening line is, "The letter in his hand meant the people in the house were dead." So the mailman is delivering hard copy to a residence, and this is in a world in which hard copy is pretty unusual. He's delivering hard copy because electronic medications, pretty much everything else to this residence has been severed. It's a termination notice saying, "We're done. You haven't been paying the bills. Everything is cut off." The people in the house are all robots, so they are effectively dead with this declaration. Well, he looks at this letter and recognizes what's happened and decides to go in and see if he can help. The next character we're going to go to is the dolphin... Uplifted dolphin whose robotic girlfriend has been having trouble paying her bills. He is involved, or able to connect to some black market power, and he charges her battery. That's how I...
[Dan] You stole my pun, you jerk.
[Mary] Oh, my.
[Howard] I'm so sorry. There's...
[Brandon] I looked at that pun, and said Howard and Dan have these in front of them... So...
[Howard] There is a piece of our Yahtzee. So the robotic girlfriend is being kept alive by black market power from the dolphin. Well, the mailman ends up saving the lives of the robots in the house. I'm not quite sure exactly how. The dolphin, the mailman, the residents of the house who include obviously a female who meets the qualifications of woman informed by power company that she's dead, the robotic girlfriend... All end up in essentially power company court in front of the power company up on charges, as it were. That is the point at which the iguana men land in Leipzig. This is an epic tale of man and machine, of femme fatale and finned friend, as they are pitted against the invading Lizards of Leipzig.
[Mary] Is that the book title? The Lizards of Leipzig?
[Howard] Lizards of Leipzig.
[Brandon] Oh, great.
[Dan] I like it.
[Howard] I don't. So, fair listener, don't make me write it. Please.
[Brandon] Now we need to start a petition.
[Mary, Dan] Yeah.
[Howard] No, we don't.
[Brandon] You shouldn't have said that.
[Dan] Start a Kickstarter campaign.
[Howard] A Kickstarter campaign? Okay, you know what? If I can come up with $15,000 to write this book, that's a decent advance for a stupid sci-fi comedy, I'll totally write it for that.

[Dan] Okay. All right. Are we on to me, now?
[Howard] I think we are.
[Dan] Okay. Mine is a post apocalyptic world. The nature of this apocalypse has basically destroyed all animal life. So the only things left are robots. Various humanoids, androids, robotic animals, all of these different things. There are no actual humans left, although the robots are constantly searching for them. Because legends tell that there's still a group of actual humans somewhere on the planet. Part of the problem also is that the ability to generate power has been drastically reduced. Since that is basically the food that keeps this population alive, it is very tightly controlled. So our story begins with a woman essentially being shut off. The power company sends her a letter, and says, "You have failed to pay your power bill. We are cutting you off at the end of the day." She has one day to live. So she is struggling desperately during the day to solve this mystery of where the humans are. She of course has to resort to a mailman. The subterranean communities that managed to survive can only communicate with each other by sending these mailman androids from one to another. They have to be very wary because the robot animals that are left over are able to actually gain power by stealing it from other creatures that they find, all of whom of course are robotic. So the androids don't venture onto the surface very often. Of course, at one point is a dolphin who actually charged with a battery... But that's not funny anymore. Thank you, Howard.
[Brandon] [garbled]
[Howard] Do androids run from electric sheep?

[Brandon] Okay. On that note. So the whole point of this was to... We did actually come up with fairly different stories. The story seeds that we used were so kind of bizarre that our stories did take a bizarre turn. All of them in kind of the same way. I do like that Mary's incorporated the animals in probably what I think is the best way with the whole wetware, ride the animals sort of thing.
[Mary] I have to say that I looked at uplift and discarded it because I felt like it was going to give relationships that were too strange, and that was going to overpower the rest of the...
[Brandon] Yeah, that's a worry.
[Howard] The dolphin and his robotic dolphin girlfriend are really out there. Really out there.
[Brandon] Yeah. That was a problem.
[Dan] Not as out there as the dolphin and the robotic human girlfriend, which is totally what I thought you were talking about.
[Brandon] Anyway, what we' going to do... I'm going to do... I thought that too.
[Dan] Good.

[Brandon] I'll send mine to Howard so he can post them in the liner notes. Just... Mine are bullet points. You can see kind of how I outline a book by looking at my bullet points. Any of the others, if they want to send them along, will do it too. Hopefully, this was useful to you. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.
Tags: antagonist, character, conflict, distinctive, lizards of leipzig, premise, pun, random ideas, technobabble
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