X Because Y

The other day I realised that I’ve never shared one of my favourite narrative games with you all. I didn’t come up with it the idea and I’m probably not the first person to call it this. I might be the first person to call it a game though.

I first put a name to it when I was trying to explain the plot of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to my brother and I said, “Abraham Lincoln because Vampires.” By which I meant “The real, known events of Abraham Lincoln’s life with the gaps filled in with Vampires and the Vampires used to explain the events.”

It’s closely related to the much better known X meets Y technique. You all know how that works. Noir meets androids gives you Blade Runner kind of thing. Note that the two techniques do not give the same results. Abraham Lincoln meets Vampires could still be an interesting story but not nearly as powerful. Noir because androids could be something but it ain’t Blade Runner and androids because noir sounds like a Westworld spin off.

You can use both techniques with any combination of fictional tropes, plots, people, stories and historical events. You can use it to generate your own ideas or break down existing ones.  They usually won’t give you a whole plot but it’s a good place to start and it’s great for settings and world building.

Why not play at home? Pick up any two DVDs, comics or books and combine. For added credit pick three. Make the first one the plot then create the background, setting or premise using the other two.

I got Crimson Peak, The Conan Chronicles by R.E. Howard, and The Night Watch by Terry Pratchett. So that gives me a tortured gothic romance for the plot. From Conan I could take the hero himself or the idea of a slave who becomes a king. From The Night Watch I could take time travel, or becoming one own’s mentor or the cynical commander of a police force. So one version would be Conan the Barbarian because time travel in which a barbarian king travels back in time to mentor his youthful enslaved self through his rise to power. The whole thing is horribly derailed by a romance plot when the old king and the young slave fall for the same person who plays them off against each other.

Do tell me how you get on.


Storybuilder’s Toolbox: Leah Chiasson’s Marked For The Hunt

Welcome to our very first guest post. Let me introduce you to Leah Chiasson.

Leah has been dreaming stories for as long as she can remember. It started with a cute parable written in the back of a school note book and now she’s the author of MARKED FOR THE HUNT, available on Amazon.com as well as a ghostwriter on Upwork.com.

More importantly, she is small town born and raised. She grew up on the bank of the St. Lawrence River, the place where you can find castles with tragic love stories and pirate treasure coves. Where else would a fantasy author want to live? Since then, married life has taken her across more than 17 states, but now she’s mostly settled upon the shores of snowy Lake Ontario where she’s sure there are more fantastic stories to be dug up.

Diana Warren left her Clan behind when one of their own betrayed her and killed her father. She vowed to live her life as a Faoladh, a wolf, apart from those who betrayed her, even if it means a dangerous, solitary life. But, there are those who have other ideas about her life.

When her grandfather, the Clan’s most recent Alpha, passes away, Diana reluctantly agrees to pay her respects in person. Upon arriving in her childhood home of Wolf’s Head she finds herself in the middle of a civil war.

On one side is the man who killed her father and on the other side is his son, a man she cannot trust anymore. Counting down the days until she can leave, the body of an old friend spurs not only Diana into action.

Their Goddess has returned and he has chosen to mark Diana with her favor. All Diana has to do is put her faith in a man who broke her heart years ago and try not to die in the process.

CD: I’m interested in how you went about creating the werewolves. There’s so many different werewolves and other shape-changers in fiction and folklore and they all have different rules. How did you choose which features to use in yours? How did you build your werewolves?

LC: In my book, I wanted a magical creature that most certainly wasn’t a vampire. Of course, this led me right to werewolves. Looking back now I realize that I am really attracted to shape shifter stories, especially werewolves. It was no wonder why I went with that route. Knowing that there are a plethora of werewolf books out there, I wanted to make them at least a little different. I didn’t know in the beginning exactly where I would end up going with them, but I’m happy with the result.

Instead of the half man/half wolf trope, I wanted a creature that was more natural and wild. I went with the transformation from human to wolf, doing away with the painful shifting process that many other books have used. Instead, I imagine that nerves would be out of commission during a process in which the body entirely changes. The body would be a mess of the tingling sensation you get when your foot falls asleep with the added feeling of joints popping. Loving magic as much as I do, I figured that the more magic in a shifter’s body, the faster the change could take place.

It wasn’t until much later in the drafting process that I came across the myth of the Faoladh (FOW-LUH, because I understand that’s one weird word). In Irish mythology, a Faoladh was a type of werewolf similar to the berserker of Nordic mythology, except for one key change. The Faoladh was seen as a protector. The Irish werewolf wasn’t a senseless killer or something to be afraid of. It protected children and the weak. I liked that idea for my werewolves, especially while I play with a theme that questions what makes a monster. It helped me steer away from calling their group a Pack. Instead, I use the term Clan to denote a sense of family among the wolves.

CD: Once you found the Faoladh did you stop there and just decide to go with your own interpretation of the myth or did you do more research?

LC: There was little out there to easily find on the Faoladh myth. Instead of devoting too much time to the research, I figured that it’s myth and therefore malleable. I took the premise that I loved and molded it into what I wanted it to be for my story, subsequently adding more features to the myth. There are many things that Diana will come across in the book that I’ve added myself! The idea that there are few female Faoladh is one of them.

And there you have it. Just one way to build a werewolf. I know a couple of other writers with their own take on werewolves. Perhaps I’ll be able to persuade them to tell us how they built them. For the next few posts I expect I shall be back to complaining about stuff but keep an eye out for future opportunities to rummage in the toolbox.

Coming Soon: Storybuilder’s toolbox

I’m trying out a new thing. Guest posts on the subject of building stories and story worlds and the tools needed to do that.

Any story needs a world to happen in and that world has to be built. Even if the world of the story looks just like the real world it still has to be conjured on a page. It has to be mapped out in some way. It has to be edited. When the story world is the past or the future or a place that doesn’t look like the real world there’s a lot more work to be done.

Every story is built on millions of decisions made by storytellers. Most of those decisions are invisible to the people reading or watching or listening to the finished thing. But they don’t just happen. Dracula is a vampire because Bram Stoker decided he should be. Had he been some other kind of monster it would have been a different novel. In a Batman film the director can make the Joker a thief in make-up and a colourful suit, or he can be a permanently disfigured anarchist, or a tattooed psychopath. Those choices result in radically different films.

Anyway. Enough waffling from me. Later this week I’ll post the first Storybuilder’s Toolbox. I’ll be talking to Leah Chiasson about her novel Marked For The Hunt and how she built her werewolves.