Monday, April 30, 2012

Misplaced Hero: Introduction

(NOTE: Find a shorter, more up-to-date version of this introduction here.)

Next Monday I will begin a blog serial.  It's an experiment.  I want to play, and have fun, but not distract myself too deeply from my other writing.  But the ultimate goal is to become a stronger writer.

I want to try something: I don't just want to do a serialized story (that is, a formal story which is broken up into bits). I want to make use of the medium: blogging.

We read blogs like a newspaper column or a comic strip, as we come across it.  We may follow it closely or not.  And we expect something high-impact for low effort, even when there is a plot arc or interconnected posts.

So I'm going to give it a try, and see what comes of it: short episodes of 500-600 words or so. (I'll adjust that length as I see how it goes)  Twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.  (I'll talk about the how and why of things on other days, for writers and others who are curious about the process and the decisions.)

I don't know if I'll be good at it, and I don't know how well I can keep it up.  I do know that I have the skills to finish the story -- just in the traditional way, if serialization isn't working out for me.  But I"m starting with an open ended story, and we'll see where it goes.

(Note, I will also be working on a logo or art for the story -- I'll post this in whatever evolving state it's in at the time of an episode -- even if it's just a sketch.)

About The Story

Story Title: The Case of the Misplaced Hero
Series Title: undecided (probably The Beeton Dispatches)

The story takes place in an alternate world, which was inspired by silent movie serials, and adventure fiction and melodramas of the golden age of silent movies (i.e. 1915-1927 or so).  But it blends and bleeds in with other time periods.

You could say this story is built on the images and tropes of that kind of fiction, and from that era, just as high fantasy is built on the images and tropes from folklore, myth and fairy tales.

I sometimes think of it as "Flicker-punk" or "Jazz-punk".  But it is not dystopian, nor is the story driven by technology, so I suppose the "-punk" name doesn't fit.  All I can say it takes place in another world, but it's not fantasy.  There is actually only one magical element -- the means of getting some characters from the real world to that world.  I do reserve the right to use pseudo-scientific and magic-ish tropes from mainstream of the period -- possible monsters, inventions or ghosts.

But for the most part, the genre is a combination of "Cloak and Sword" Swashbuckler, and old fashioned Mystery.  (The mystery elements will probably come later.)

Cloak and Sword is a take on the term "cloak and dagger" and generally means lurking, spies and skullduggery, but also people swinging ropes and swashing bucklers.  Zorro, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Prisoner of Zenda are all examples of "cloak and sword" swashbucklers.  The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Black Pirate and Captain Blood, on the other hand, are just plain old regular swashbucklers.

The great thing about cloak and sword is that you can set it in a modern era: if there are secrets to be kept, the hero will still want to use swords because they are (theoretically) quieter than guns.

The Plot

Plot?  There's supposed to be a plot?

But seriously folks, this first story will be about Alex, a young man who was born in the wrong world.  He's a misplaced hero cooling his heels as a perennial student at Michigan State University, until one day, he takes an accidental trip to somewhere else -- somewhere heroes are needed.

The story will be narrated by another character who doesn't enter the first story (although I'm looking for a way to get her into it in a minor way) -- Lily Beeton, the anarchist lady journalist whose life is nothing if not ironic.

The World of the Story


I refer to the overall world as Awarshawa sometimes, but Awarshawa itself is only one country in a larger world -- a country where all the trouble happens.

Awarshawa is the place the spies are from or are going to, and the ambassadors are always getting assassinated. It's where the border guards stop the train and hassle you about your papers. It's where the exiled nobles who endlessly plot against one another are from. And it's a place where refugees flee through the forest primeval, only slightly less afraid of the local bandits and armies of partisan soldiers than they are of legendary monsters.  It's a place where they are constantly at war with someone, usually themselves.

And most of my Awarshi characters, so far, are kind of like Bolsheviks with the souls of cartoon Frenchmen. (They seem to spend much of their time smoking, shrugging, accepting bribes and arguing over the meaninglessness of existence.) At least that describes the more sophisticated urban Awarshis. The wild partisans of the mountains and forest have a much more Cossack style.

Imperia and Freedonia

The main characters are largely English or American (as they are in the old stories which inspired it) -- which left me with a problem.  Is this a "Ruritanian" story?  Where it's the real world, but we make up an exotic country where all the action happens?  No.  It can't be.  Awarshawa simply does not fit into this world's history.

And besides, the reality of old serials isn't consistent with, well ... reality.

So, in order to prevent anyone from being confused as to whether there is any pretense of reality or historicity here at all, I decided to call these two other countries Imperia and Freedonia.  One rules the waves and has lots of civilized murders in country houses, the other has cowboys and square-jawed capitalists.

Freedonia, of course, is a name already in use, but honestly I cannot think of a better name to suit the tone and reality level of the story. (But no, it's not going to be as funny as the Marx Brothers.)  Besides, Freedonia doesn't play a big part in the story as imagined so far.  (It's just that Alex is mistaken as being from Freedonia.)  So for now, for the blog version of this story, Freedonia is a place sort of like America.  If I feel the need to change the name, I will.

There will be other countries, which will be named as necessary.  Don't expect them to conform to reality, but do expect them to borrow from cliches and tropes and prejudices freely.

I retain the right to utterly change this story if I decide to turn it into a book.  Or to utterly change it here.  (I'll let you know if I do.)

Next week, in Episode 1,  Lily will introduce herself and start to tell the story of Alex, the Misplaced Hero.

See you in the funny papers.

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