99 (Seeds for) Stories
I’ve had a twitter account now for about a year. Mostly I’ve been using it to let folks know when I update my sketchblog. Storythinking, this blog you’re reading at the moment has been sitting fallow for far, far longer than that. I’d been intending to use this space to write essays about the process of fiction writing and storytelling. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make the time to write any long form essays. This last Thursday I finally figured out a use for both accounts.
I know there are folks who claim that a good story idea is gold. Once in a great while it is. Once in a great while someone comes up with a story idea that is both original, unique and compelling enough that the resulting story/novel/comic/movie/tv series makes the originator of the idea a good chunk of change.
But that’s rare. Most story ideas are just that. Ideas. Seeds for stories. Whether or not they become stories is less the result of the idea than the execution of it. Dracula is a good example. The basic idea is “A vampire appears in modern day England and begins preying upon the populace”. But that’s not the first time the idea was used. It was the basis of The Vampyre and Varney the Vampire as well. Chances are, however, unless you’re a fan of vampire stories, you’re never heard of those earlier tales. Neither of them have made the ultimate transition to public awareness – there are no film or television adaptations of those works. Heck, neither has been translated into comics.
My point is that it wasn’t the idea behind Dracula that worked. It was how Bram Stoker executed the idea and told the tale. 78 years later Stephen King took the same idea, changed “England” to “America” and wrote ‘Salem’s Lot.
How many Coming of Age stories get told? How many Alien Invasion stories? Boy meets Girl, Girl hates Boy, Boy gets Girl anyway stories? Show me a storyteller with only one idea and I’ll show you a very, very unlucky storyteller who needs to practice his art more. Because ideas are easy. I’ve had more story ideas in my life than I’ll ever make use of. I’m not saying that because I think I’m special. Or brilliant. I’m also not saying that all (or even most) of my ideas are good ones. I’m saying I have a use for my twitter account.
I used to write my story ideas down and put them in a box. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the box somewhere. Probably in another box. The ideas were simple, one sentence story seeds. I rarely included any plot details. Plot and story get written together. I just wrote down the ideas to get them out of my head. And that’s what I’ll be using twitter for, for a while at least.
I’ll be tweeting 99 story ideas. They may be good. They may be stupid. They may already be the basis of a story or five somewhere in the world. With Twitter’s 140 character limit I’ll be keeping the ideas as streamlined as possible. I’ll just be tweeting the ones I’ve never run in to anywhere else. I’m using the hash tag #99stories to track all the entries. I’ll be posting the tweets (occasionally with comments) here at Storythinking for those who avoid Twitter.
If you’re a writer or an artist and want to use one of the ideas, be my guest. You have my blessings. You may have noticed that I spend a lot more time drawing than I do writing. I’d love it if you let me know and showed me whatever you came up with. If I post an idea that sounds like the basis of a story you’re read please let me know.
This should be fun!
Story Seed #1
21st Century astronaut lands on Mars, finds a pulp fiction world of red warriors, savage beasts and evil overlords.
One of the greatest things about the 21st Century is how much we’ve learned about our world and the universe. Unfortunately, in the process of unraveling all those mysteries we’ve removed the some of the possibilities for adventure. But what if, despite all evidence against it, a modern person (could be a man, woman or team) landed on one of our solar neighbors and found an Edgar Rice Burroughs world?
Story Seed #2
The zombie apocalypse is over in 3 weeks. The living win. Now what does daily life look like when the dead must be feared?
Even if the dead could come back to life as ravenous flesh eaters it’s hard for me to be worried about it. There just aren’t that many corpses lying around. Even if every bite turns the victim into another zombie it’s still unlikely that the undead would gain enough numbers to take out living society. We humans are ruthless creatures and we’re very good at killing other members of our species. In this case there’d be no need to dehumanize the enemy – the enemy is no longer human and wants to eat us. We’d have them chopped up and tossed into the bonfires in no time.
The question then is, what would society look like when a corpse becomes a threat? How would we treat the old and the sick? That homeless guy passed out on the street – no one is going to ignore that body. How would murder investigations be conducted? What kind of funerals would we have?
Story Seed #3
Another, bigger, zombie apocalypse. ALL dead creatures revive to eat the living. I don’t see any happy endings here.
The zombie apocalypse has, as far as I know, mostly been confined to human corpses reviving. I’ve heard of one novel, and a video game or two, that had zombie dogs. But why should revival occur in just man and pooch? Why not all animals with a central nervous system? Zombie dogs, zombie cats, zombie cows, zombie salmon, zombie sharks, zombie sparrows, zombie hawks, zombie rats, zombie alligators, zombie snakes, zombie bats. Humanity would be so screwed.
God help us if ALL animals came back from the dead. How do you rekill a zombie cockroach?
(Suggested by Daniel Peace)
Story Seed #4
Jekyll’s formula is reinvented; it quickly becomes the most popular recreational drug on the market.
Not much to elaborate on here. There’s a lot of people in the world who would pay a lot of money to be someone else. Even if (perhaps especially if) that other person were an Edward Hyde.
Story Seed #5
An offshore oil well opens a hole in a vast empty cavern and the world’s oceans begin to drain away.
I did say that some of these ideas would be kind of (really, really) stupid, didn’t I?
Could be a funny kids’ book. Could be the latest blockbuster from Roland Emmerich.
Story Seed #6
A wendigo is killing people in the Pacific Northwest. A detective teams up with a Sasquatch to hunt it down.
The wendigo is a hunger spirit. It is said to possess a man who eats the flesh of another human being. The wendigo comes from Algonquin mythology so it’s a little out of place in the Pacific Northwest but … Bigfoot vs. Wendigo? It’s a natural.
Story Seed #7
A supersoldier formula is invented. It’s only effective on women. It drives men mad when it doesn’t kill them outright.
Women are the weaker sex. That’s not a moral judgment. That’s if we just compare the average man to the average woman on a physical level. Let’s leave aside any questions of spiritual or emotional strength or the long term ability to endure pain. Or just to endure. The average man is bigger and stronger than the average woman.
Now, what if there were a way to make women faster and stronger than men? What if the process only worked on women? How many women would take advantage of it? What kind of people would they become when a big man is no longer something to be afraid of?
Story Seed #8
Fictional characters, tired of being trapped by extended copyright, escape into the general media.
For many of us, characters in stories can be almost as real as the people we know in life. We enjoy spending time with them. When the story ends we wish for a sequel or ten so we can spend more time with the characters. When we don’t like how the story turned out many of us want to create our own version of the story. If the story is old enough, if it’s in the public domain, we can do that. If a story is still under copyright we are limited by what we can do with that story and the characters within it.
In recent years, media corporations have fought to extend the copyrights of the works they own in order to continue to profit from those works. Fictional people are keeping other fictional people as indentured servants. The creators of the stories that featured the characters are all dead. They can no longer profit from those stories.
What happens when the fictionals get tired of living in their corporate prisons and decide to romp in the greater imagination?
Story Seed #9
Group of foreign exchange (Asian? French?) students studying (and partying) in major US city are targeted by Masked Killer
What’s the basic plot of a slasher movie? A bunch of horny teenagers or twentysomethings go out to the woods to party and get horribly murdered by some psycho in a mask? A slight variation is having the kids vacationing in some foreign (not USA) country and getting targeted by psychos there.
Let’s change things up a little okay? The urban environment is way creepier than the forest and it’s filled with hundreds, thousands, millions of examples of the deadliest creatures on the planet. Human beings.
Story Seed #10
During the Mormon Migration, in desolate Nebraska, a party of Saints are hunted by a misplaced Aztec sorcerer.
It’s a little surprising to me that there aren’t more horror westerns. The Old West seems like the perfect environment for stories of monsters and madman, terror and desperation. The Mormon Migration happened between 1846 to about 1869. A lot of those Saints, as the Mormons called themselves, traveled, not on horseback accompanying covered wagons, but on foot, pushing and pulling handcarts. That’s pretty crazy all by itself.
Story Seed #11
Farmer settlers on a distant world are threatened, when after 40 safe years, the native wildlife evolves a taste for human flesh.
I love Alien, Pitch Black and other movies with malevolent extraterrestrial life. But, for the most part, I have to watch them with part of my brain off. Any alien lifeforms that we encounter out there are unlikely to think of us as food. A few critters might try eating a person or two but it’s highly unlikely that any species will decide human beings will be a staple of their diet. Earth life is just not going to be that compatible with the life of other worlds. We’re likely to be unappetizing, indigestible or just plain poisonous.
The great thing about life is that it evolves. It adapts to changing circumstances. If the native ecology started being slashed and burned and replaced by some other biosphere the native wildlife wouldn’t have a lot of choice. (Not that evolution is a conscious thing. That we know of.) Adapt or die.
Story Seed #12
One fine Tuesday every human being on earth develops the ability to fly. No wings. No machines. Just up, up and away.
I suspect that only someone who is afraid of heights wouldn’t want the ability to fly. And that person, after they actually flew once, might start to get over that fear.
I’d certainly love to fly. I’d love to rise up with the birds and look out at a larger view of the world.
And what would happen to the world if suddenly borders meant nothing? If the starving could fly to where there was food? If the cold and sick could fly to where there was warmth and comfort? If the oppressed and the imprisoned could simply leave? What would we do with that kind of freedom?
Story Seed #13
A family of cannibals roams the freeways in an 18 wheel truck and trailer. They hunt their victims at rest stops and motels all across America.
For some reason the cannibal families in horror movies live on the outskirts of society. Physically as well as socially. They live off in the woods or the desert and wait for their food to come to them.
They must not be committed to their life style. If you want a steady supply of human meat you’re more likely to find it where there’s a lot of it. In cities. There are an unfortunate number of real life examples of people who managed to live in the city and eat a few fellow citizens before their neighbors finally noticed.
A better way to keep up the life style would be to stay on the move. Harvest your victims and sell their stuff in the next town down the road. Or, for greater anonymity, sell it on ebay.
Story Seed #14
Helen Vaughn, Wilbur Whateley and the Frankenstein Monster hunt a team of Nazi vampires during the Blitz in WW2
There’s a sub-genre of fiction that involves throwing various public domain characters (and/or historic figures) together and sending them on an adventure. If you’ve read my sketchblog much you’re probably aware of my fondness for Frankenstein’s Monster. He’ll definitely show up in few more story seeds.
Helen Vaughn was the unfortunate child resulting from an encounter with The Great God Pan in the story by Arthur Machen. Wilbur Whately is another unfortunate result of a mating between a human and Something From Beyond. He’s from HP Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror.
All three characters were the spawn of experiments by men who were messing in the realms of Things Men Were Not Meant to Know. (Yeah, whatever.) They seem like they’d make a good team of grumpy misanthropes.
Story Seed #15
Helen Vaughn, Wilber Whateley and the Frankenstein Monster protect a defector from Soviet werewolves in 1947 East Berlin
Sequels are often inevitable. I’d first considered teaming up this trio a couple of months ago and mentioned it then in a Facebook post. The post actually said, essentially, “Helen Vaughn, Wilbur Whateley and the Frankenstein Monster team up to solve crimes or plot to destroy the world. I’m not sure which.”
Neither of this story suggestion nor the previous one need the characters to be acting altruistically. I tend to imagine they are because I like good hearted heroes. Or at least protagonists who are attempting to achieve positive results. But the trio could be acting villainously. It’s all a matter of who writes the story.
Story Seed #16
Lab creates bio-engineered horrors to use as weapons. SEAL team assigned to train them. Training effective. Time for a mission.
How many stories have been written about some secret government experiment or Evil Corporation that creates a monster with intention of using it as a weapon? I’m fairly certain that in every one of those stories the monster turns on its creator(s) and must be destroyed. So, been there, done that.
Are scientists really as careless as that? If you’re going to build a monster (and make a profit in the process) aren’t you going to build in enough safeguards that the thing won’t kill you in the test phase?
Story Seed #17
Huge starships enter solar system, consume Pluto, begin harvesting Uranus, at current rate will reach Earth in 100 years
Most stories of alien invasions have the aliens making a beeline for Earth. Sometimes they want to help humanity, sometimes they are just explorers, often they want to take off. But an alien civilization might not be especially interested in either Earth or humanity. If they’ve adapted to life in space a habitable planet (for us) could be just another curiosity. Planets could simply be sources of resources.
And what would humanity do if we knew a technologically superior “enemy” was coming? Band together? Fight more? Invest in defense? Try to contact the invaders?
Story Seed #18
10 years after a housing development is abandoned in midbuild, a mailman finds himself picking up & delivering mail to the empty(?) homes.
You know what I find creepier than old abandoned houses? New abandoned houses. That is, houses that were mostly built and then never finished. Old houses tend to be singular things that have come to the end of their lives. The new houses that come up as part of a housing development represent dreams stillborn.
I know, I know. Maybe someone just wanted to build them because they thought they’d make a lot of money and they paid as little as possible and the construction is shoddy and anyone living in them would have been miserable. Maybe. I’m one of those sentimentalists who feels bad when someones dream fails, even if it’s just the dream of making some extra dough.
I’m also a bit of an animist so, to me, places have spirits. And a place that was meant to be a home, yet never became one, seems like a very sad place indeed.
Story Seed #19
I did say I’d be posting some really dumb ideas didn’t I?
Just about every member of the animal kingdom has been featured as the KILLER in some story or other. The Birds. Frogs. Grizzly (to pick one). Willard (and his rats). Worms (Squirm). Slugs. Crabs. Piranha. All sorts of killer bees in movies and books. Lots of killer spiders.
Story Seed #20
We’ve seen plenty of Zombie Apocalypses and even a few Vampire Apocalypses. With the exception of a few stories set on the Moon I don’t think we’ve had an account of a Werewolf Apocalypse. Depending on the type of werewolf plague that gets unleashed I’d find that scarier than either Zombies or Vampires. Zombies, even the fast kind, aren’t very bright and aren’t terribly strong. Vampires are worse than Zombies but I’ve less disturbed by something that kills me by sucking my blood than I am by something that will eat me alive.
Werewolves? Even the full-moon-only variety are:
And they eat you alive.
Story Seed #21
Public Domain Rewrite Challenge – The Call of Cthulhu
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with redoing a favorite story if you can bring something new to it. Shakespeare? The Greatest Writer in the English Language? None of his stories are original. They are all based on previous works or historic events. I’m not a great fan of his writing, in large part because the version of English in which he wrote is not the language that I speak, but even his admirers wouldn’t try to pass him off as an original plotter.
I think most of HP Lovecraft’s writings are fine as they are. A rewrite or a modernization is unlikely to improve on them. I think Call of Cthulhu, however, has more potential than most of his other stories. The narrator isn’t actually involved in any of the events of the story. He’s the guy who puts all the pieces together but he didn’t witness any of the incidents. Cthulhu’s cult is a world wide organization (kinda sorta). The rising of R’Lyeh has world wide repercussions. So there’s potential for a few different accounts of the same events.
And yes, I know that Lovecraft’s stories have sparked their own sub-genre of horror and fantasy. I’ve read and enjoyed quite a bit of it. I’ve read revisions and sequels to a lot of his other stories but Call is one that I’ve seen any new versions of.
Story Seed #22
Public Domain Rewrite Challenge – The Monster Men
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote The Monster Men in 1913. The basic plot is “Scientist, trying to create a mate for his daughter, creates 13 monsters instead. The 13th monster, fortunately, looks like a handsome, giant man. Pirates attack and kidnap the daughter. Number 13 rallies the other monsters to rescue her. Much running around in the jungle ensues.”
With a plot like that you might expect the story to be all kinds of awesome, right?
Not so much. Burroughs wrote a LOT of stories. This is one that could have used another draft. Or two.
Story Seed #23
Kidnappers hole up with victims at cabin by remote Canadian lake. All must band together when stalked by remnant prehistoric giant killer otters.
Yeah, otters are cute. Unless you’re something they want to eat. Then they’re just like any other toothy instrument of death and disembowelment.
Story Seed #24
Kong survives the fall because he really is the GOD of Skull Island.
Here’s the story of King Kong – A bunch of White Men and a Blonde find an island where dinosaurs still survive. The natives give the Blonde to their God, a giant ape. The White Men try to rescue the Blonde, mostly get killed by dinosaurs but eventually succeed and capture the giant ape at the same time. The White Men exhibit the giant ape in the City. The giant ape escapes and, carrying the Blonde, climbs the tallest building around. Airplanes come, shoot him full of bullets and falls and DIES. End of story.
I’ve spent a stupid amount of time trying to come up with a sequel to King Kong that doesn’t either require a second ape (who is therefore not Kong) or change the ending of the original movie. I don’t usually waste time thinking about how to continue a story when the original author is still around or the story is held by a corporation. It’s unsatisfying to come up with an idea I’d never be able to use. King Kong is a weird example of a story that’s partly in public domain. I’d need to do more research to see how far I could go with an idea but it’s not outside the realm of possibility to do a sequel. Universal would probably sue over a big budget movie but might ignore a novel or a comic book. If one were careful.
Recently I watched the original movie and She within a week of each other and an idea occurred to me. When Denham introduces Kong to the audience in New York he says that Kong had been a king, a GOD, in his world. Denham, being a White Man, was speaking metaphorically. Only White Men had a real god.
But what if Kong were a God – the immortal protector of Skull Island? The sort of Lost World that Skull Island is, is pretty much impossible. An ape the size of Kong is pretty much impossible. So there must be Other Forces at work.
Won’t New York be surprised when the ape gets up again? The Blonde will really scream then.
More to come …