Hi, thanks for coming back and reading the second installment of "SUPER TOMAGO", the newsletter where I get into the nitty gritty, behind-the-scenes stuff for the projects I'm working on. Last installment I covered some false starts with my new sci-fi mech project "Lancer", this week I'll try to show you how I steered the project into (what I think) is the right direction.
Let's get started!
Kind Environments vs Wicked Environments.
The other day I read about about "wicked environments" vs "kind environments". Kind environments occur in a constrained situation, often with recurring patterns, and feedback regarding success or failure regarding one's decisions are quick and accurate. An activity like chess or tennis would be an example of a "kind environment".
Conversely, a "wicked environment" is one in which information is convoluted or hidden and feedback regarding the "correctness" of one's actions are delayed, inaccurate and infrequent. To continue the sports analogy, imagine a game of Martian Tennis where you don't know the rules while you're playing it.
As far as I can tell, storytelling probably occurs in a wicked environment. The objective is clear, tell a good story (duh), but the process for how to do so is often an opaque and chaotic mess where there's no indication if you're going in the right direction until much later on.
I often find I'm just chasing a vague feeling in the beginning and trying to relay this feeling to someone else can be an exercise in frustration for both parties. The genesis of a new story is usually a solitary time where only you can tell if it "feels" right.
Hopping Genres But Not Storylines.
When I switched from "Kaiju Wrestling" (is that an actual genre?) to "Sci-Fi Mech Action", I was swapping genres but not the story. The genre is just a vehicle for which you want to deliver the story you want tell. It's the slick coat of paint that's most obvious to the reader but it's not the engine that drives your story.
Despite the switch in genre, I was still primarily interested in exploring a couple ideas:
- A dramatic and pivotal event and how the ripples of that event still affects our main characters twenty years later (despite some of them not even born at the time).
- The idea of destiny arriving but not in the manner or time of your choosing.
- Playing with the notion of scale. Something very big vs something very small.
These are rather abstract concepts that needed to become more specific before I could find a story but they did give me an anchor point to begin my search.
The Inciting Incident.
Most stories (if not all) begin with an event which disrupts our characters from the routine of their lives and thrusts them into their personal journey for the story, whether they like it or not.
I'm going to tread on thin ice here and try to speak vaguely enough to not spoil the story, but in the case of "Lancer", I began with a pretty simple premise:
Sergeant Gordon kade, a grizzled soldier and his platoon of mech pilots were tasked with defending the evacuation of a civilian space port. They failed.
Enh... not the greatest but it was something to build on.
Sergeant Gordon Kade, a grizzled soldier and his platoon of mech pilots were tasked with defending the evacuation of a civilian space port. But Kade's world is turned upside down when a mysterious red mech (the titular "Lancer") appears and destroys the civilian transport, killing Gordon's family on board.
We have some more personal stakes in it, but it's still a rather rote premise. It seems like it would be a story about revenge but what if we subvert that premise and make it more about the aftermath of trauma by adding a component of time?
Twenty years ago, Sergeant Gordon Kade lost his family during the evacuation of <insert name of space port> when a mysterious red "Lancer" appeared and indiscriminately attacked the civilian port then disappeared without a trace.
Ever since then, he's been a man obsessed with finding the pilot of the red Lancer.
Now we're getting somewhere. I don't really know this character yet, but we have a character who experienced a massive personal tragedy and for twenty years he was never given closure (or never gave himself closure). Gordon probably thinks he's after revenge, it's definitely what he wants but what does he actually need?
Let's add another layer to this premise.
Rudy Way was supposed to be the next big thing in <insert future sports league> but it never happened for her. Instead, she and her friends are drafted into the <insert space army> and seem doomed to fight in the <insert space war>. That is until they accidentally unearth a mysterious red Lancer and try to sell it on the black market in exchange for them to be safely smuggled away from the war.
Unfortunately for them, the smuggler they try to sell it is Gordon Kade, a man who has been on the hunt for red Lancer for twenty years.
This is basically the premise I'm still working with to this day. It's far more fleshed out now but the bones of the story have remained more or less intact since this early pass. At this stage, I don't have a villain, a world, or even a plot but I have a pair of main characters that I'm beginning to understand and a concept that I find interesting enough to keep exploring.
The Lancer was an instrument in Gordon's destruction but is also Rudy's salvation. Are either of them right about the Lancer? Probably not. My sense about it is that the Lancer has an unfathomable importance to the human race, and only this unlikely duo can uncover that purpose but only if they can put aside their own personal tragedies and grievances.
That's it for this installment! I'll be making these behind-the-scenes posts free for a little while but if you're enjoying what you are reading please consider subscribing to the SUPER TOMAGO tier of this newsletter. These weekly posts take quite a bit of time and effort going and your support will really help the development of my stories and keep the website running!