This reflection refers mostly to my 2014 novel, Garamoush. Follow the hyperlink to the full page about the book itself.
Well, somewhere on this blog I promised all of nobody that I’d be making more reflections about fiction soon enough and here I am, fulfilling the obligation that I made to air. So, after publishing my first book, Garamoush, through Amazon, I figured it would be an absolutely prime subject for new blogging material. In fact, aside from general impatience and a lingering feeling of immobility, I mostly published Garamoush now in my totally-unknown state for the sake of having something to base my incoherent ramblings off of. The book itself is less incoherent than this, I swear.
So, I decided that with this first entry into this new series of reflections, a new beginning of sorts, I figured I should start from the beginning of the creative process as well. That is to say, I want to talk about brainstorming and the very early stages of a creative work.
- As an aside: I really want this post in particular to be a conversation-starter. I’m quite fascinated with how other people’s brains work. I am also extremely squeamish, so becoming a neurologist and poking at physicals is out of the question! So, I’ll just take everybody’s words for how they get their creative juices running. So please, offer your insights below about this whole odd process!
As I reflect, I’d like to rewind the clock to early March 2014. So, about four months ago nearly to the day, in fact. I was sitting in my dark dorm room at Illinois Wesleyan University in my swivel chair (named Winston) at about 12-1 AM on a weekend night with music playing (the wonderful Jo Blankenburg’s Elysium, if you were wondering), all with my eyes closed. I was just letting the music wash over me, as Jo’s creations are wont to do, when my mind started to wander and I found myself cresting a large grassy hill by the seaside. Below me, I noticed an utterly enormous shell of a creature that I had never seen before- it looked like a tortoise’s shell, but the shell of a tortoise isn’t bigger than most mid-sized towns. Silver veins ran along its black exterior and a mixture of wildlife, from seagulls to young children, congregated around the vast shape. The creature that wore the shell was just as odd- it had four enormous arms, two legs, and a massive beaver-like tail. Its head was partially hidden by the shell, but this was a daydream, so I already knew what it looked like. If somebody spliced together the appearance of a man’s head and a turtle’s, it would get this creature’s head. It was bizarre, but gentle-looking.
- Aside: To keep a running tally, my first “glimpse” into this idea was inspired by midnight daydreaming with music playing.
Naturally, I immersed myself further into what I was seeing. The midday sun was warm, the grass was tickling at my ankles, and the wind was cool against my face. Whatever the creature was, it wasn’t anything malicious. It was also immobile, which I took to meant that it was either dead or asleep. Given the beautiful day that was all around me, I suggested (and decided to keep) the latter.
- Aside: Now that I have seen this incredibly arbitrary image playing in my mind, I have decided to try to immerse myself into it and decode it. What is this creature? Why is it here? What is its name? Where did it come from?
With that in mind, I continued on in my musings. Now, there is a Youtuber that I watch pretty avidly by the of Markiplier. I recently watched his video called Murder at Masquerade Manor. It’s a murder mystery game featuring a character named Scaramouche, benefiting his chosen masquerade that he wears in-game. I thought that name was a bit strange and interesting sounding, but I couldn’t remember Scaramouche’s name correctly.
Given the name of the novel itself, I think you can all assume where this is going. I was trying to figure out this creature’s name when “Garamoush” showed up in my head. I knew that “Garamoush” wasn’t Scaramouche’s name, so I just said “I guess that’s this thing’s name now!”
- Final Aside: Garamoush’s name came from a misunderstanding and a mishearing my part. Therefore, the name was largely arbitrary and accidental.
I didn’t start composing the deeper “why?” questions about what I saw until later, after I wrote everything else down that I had already seen. When I started writing all of that stuff down, I was a bit more conscious of what I was doing, so I had an eye turned more towards understandability.
So, to sum everything up: An entire novel was constructed out of random, arbitrary images and words that came into my head in about the space of ten minutes. What I find particularly interesting about this process (if it can even be called one) is that nearly all of my biggest ideas for fiction come from the same humble/awkward roots.
Here’s a list, for consistencies sake. None of these titles will really make sense since they’re never really been talked about before, but I’m mostly just proving a point with these.
- Fancy Lads (2009, science fiction novel series): Born from the mishearing of the sentence, “If I don’t turn in my homework, Miss Saubur will give me a frown face.” Sauburn is the name of the main character and Frown Face was a comic I drew that grew into Fancy Lads as it is now.
- Sewn Together (2010, science fiction graphic novel): Born from an improv conversation I had with Death while I walked to the school bus, asking him about the various nature of things. The main character’s name is Michael, because the theoretical conversation was between Death and myself at the time.
- Garamoush (2014, fantasy novel series): See above, naturally.
- Barely Divine (2013, short film series): I mused at the nature of divinity (again) and wondered what if gods/goddesses were given their powers based on points they gained from the greatness of deeds they did in their lives.
- Terminus (2012, fantasy novel series): While listening to Jo Blankenburg’s Elysium, I saw what looked like a gargantuan phoenix getting reborn. It breathed new life into the world, but killed a woman’s dragon as a catalyst. The woman was unaware there would be such a cost.
- Regalia (2013, Console RPG): While playing Dark Souls, I misread multiple descriptions for equipment, so I just started making up my own personae for item sets I was wearing- a murderous anarchist peasant, a golem with its face in the shape of the sun, and a witch-hunting assassin.
To clarify, this recent story should be a prime example of my “chronic writing.” When I create ideas like those you see above, I go all-out. They’re not just short stories or quaint proof-of-concept ideas, they’re fully-fledged ambitious rides into writing development hell. I write and create without imposing barriers on myself, so long as clarity and pacing isn’t threatened. I turn random flickers of thoughts into huge epics and enormous projects. Even Garamoush was supposed to be a 30-page short story assignment for my 300-level fiction-writing class. I turned in 124 pages (the reason for why will be in a different reflection post) instead.
I find this all very funny to think about, I suppose I do because when I think of the big high-fiction authors (George R.R. Martin, Stephen King, Douglas Adams, etc. etc.) sitting down to write, I feel like they’re much more methodical in setting down the entire story from the beginning.
They say, “Okay, I’m in a mystical-horror kind of mood. Let’s see here… well, I’ll put the story in colonial England around the time of the East India Company and… well, I read a book on the tea trade once and the trade of Chinese to English culture, so let’s say that an English dockworker named Oliver thinks he sees a Chinese spirit getting off the ship. That night, a fellow dockworker named Charles is murdered…” and so on and so forth until it becomes a bestseller.
See, I simply can’t think that way. Character’s names are thought up on the fly and edited later in retrospect, if need be. I don’t lay out character’s personalities or a full plot arch or central themes I want to follow- they all just sort of appear over time. My ideas stem from the proverbial “miracle seed,” a little seed that, before planting seems inconspicuous and fleeting but then grows into a great tree before I know it.
Looking at the kinds of genres I generally enjoy reading, watching, playing, and writing, I can only assume that my interest in the “high fictions” to be what gives strength to my janky form of brainstorming. Because of my interest in the fantastic and the strange, letting my unconscious mind run wild with doing whatever it wants and then tasking my conscious mind with picking up the pieces really only makes sense. As I’ll talk about in a different post, nothing kills “high fiction” like generic stories/characters/worlds and boring plots/world history. So, perhaps my mind is looking for those special, imaginative worlds within itself- partially stemming from my own imagination and my desire to create something that I have never seen before.
I think that my creation of Garamoush, the novel and its title character, was fueled by both of those things I just mentioned: My unconscious mind created something strange and fantastical, which is typical of an imaginative, highly-active mind. My conscious mind took what was created by the unconsciousness and molded it to form something that separated itself from everything else I had seen before.
This is the same with all of my other works. The humble seeds of the unconsciousness grew, with conscious tending, into a plant large enough to bear fruit. However, my tending of the plant never really followed any kind of strict path. Fancy Lads, for instance, though it is now my favourite and most-tended-too idea, did not even have a central plot or realized world for about two-three months. Granted, I was younger than and had less of an idea about what to do when actually writing, but I don’t think my methods have changed very much. I always just let the story develop naturally, adding characters, pieces of plot, and world information sometimes totally at random.
Looking at it now, it certainly seems as though that method of creation is a bit… well, random. It appears as though I have little to no control over the actual flow of information. However, that’s perfectly alright by me. By letting things develop on their own, I feel like not only do they stay truthful to the original idea that spawned the creation, but I think they also reflect myself as a person.
For instance, if I were to add an extremely lawful character who sought to revive a respect in justice and equality into a story, I can reflect later and see that the character might have been born out of my lack of faith in the justice system at that time. I think it was Aristotle that said that art is really just a reflection of real life and I am inclined to agree with him.
Now, certainly, I don’t think that this is the best or only way to brainstorm and get ideas for writing fiction, which is why I mentioned early on in this post that I would love to hear everybody’s take on how they brainstorm and start creating their larger ideas. I want to devote another reflection to the writing process and how things grow that way, but if that process of growing whilst writing is important to your brainstorming, feel free to talk about it.
Hmm. This is about the time in a blog post that I have official run out of things to say and I have run down my whole mental list of to-talk-about things. So, I think that means that this blog post is just about over!
Huzzah, throw some confetti into the air, you brave folk who survived reading all the way down to here. You’ve earned it after braving those depths.
So yes, talk amongst yourselves below! I’m really interested in hearing how you other writer folk get your ideas and how you run with them.
Good luck, you brave writer folk!