Friday, October 3, 2014

So I’m Writing This Novel: The Damn Concept

I guess if I’m going to feign sheer honesty here, I’m going to have to confess something first.

So, Father, forgive me, I have sinned; I really should not be starting a new novel right now.

For several reasons. One, I have three that are somewhere between 50,000 and 65,000 words long. Meaning that if I hit my target goal of 80,000-90,000 and met my daily expectations, I could finish each in a week. One of them I have all planned out until the end. The other got a little of track and needs to be reigned back in. The last one I have a 100 page summary in which all I need to do is actually put it in real words rather than the “Then this happens, then that.” (I was experimenting. So sue me.)

Not only that but I have seven other novels of all sorts of sizes. I could be focusing on any of these things.

And finally, I fully plan to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November, which means in the next 30 days I’ll have started something new. But, considering I’m trying to limit myself to 90,000 words for my next few books instead of the 180,000 words that I’ve been prone to do, if I meet my goals—don’t laugh—I’ll be damn near done with this one too. In fact, I’ll only have around 15,000 words, which means if I manage an excess sometime in October (though with my stage managing job and my day job taking up most of my time it seems less likely), I could actually finish it.

In any case, I say screw it, because I’ve never had problems finishing novels before. THE PLANE (Working title, I assure you) will be my thirteen novel, if I don’t get distracted and finish one of the other three first. It’s a time in my life to experiment and screw around, and since I can’t find any willing partners, I’m going to interpret it as freewheeling my writing tactics.

Long story less long, over the next few weeks, I’m going to journal my progress in writing THE PLANE, detailing my process of writing as I go.

Note, I advocate nothing, but do what works for me at the time, depending on my mood. And sometimes my mood has a sick sense of humor prioritized over actual good writing. Bear with me.

I’m not exactly sure where the ignition spark for THE PLANE happened. I know it was vague, the concept itself limited, because usually I remember exactly what made me think of it. I am under the impression it was a dream, which explains why I’ve long forgotten it.

THE PLANE stars a young pilot named Soel. Living in a world of vast oceans and makeshift Stations dotted across them randomly, he is a pilot for hire, like many of the citizens. Unfortunately, he has been bombarded with fees and debts that the legion, the reigning government that tethers the remote islands and stations together, threatens to take it away. Though he tries to make his money, they end up selling the machine to a reclusive business man.

The man is not without his mercy though, and agrees to hire Soel on as his pilot, allowing him to buy back his plane if he earns enough money.

Here, of course, is the problem with the concept, as some of you may have already figured out.

It’s the plot to TaleSpin.

TaleSpin is a fantastically weird Disney television show. Using characters based off The Jungle Book, it tells the story of an irresponsible but talented pilot who fights air pirates with his sidekick, Kit Cloudkicker. Wikipedia describes the show like this:

TaleSpin is set in the fictional city of Cape Suzette in a fictional country called Usland. The city lies in a harbor protected by giant cliffs through which only a small opening exists. The opening in the cliffs is guarded by anti-aircraft artillery, preventing flying rabble-rousers or air pirates from entering the city.
The series centers on the adventures of bush pilot Baloo the bear, whose air cargo freight business, "Baloo's Air Service," is purchased by Rebecca Cunningham upon his default on delinquent bills with the bank and renamed "Higher for Hire." An orphan boy and former air pirate, the ambitious Kit Cloudkicker, attaches to Baloo and becomes his navigator. Together, they are the crew of Higher for Hire's only aircraft named the Sea Duck. From there, the series follows the ups and downs of Higher for Hire and its staff, sometimes in the vein of old action-adventure film serials of the 1930s and 1940s and contemporary variations, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Now that I’m older, I find TaleSpin to be a great deal more clever and involved than I ever realized in my youth. In fact, I remember distinctively hating the show as a very small youngster, then mildly changing my mind later.

I didn’t realize I had stolen the concept until I was about twenty pages in. In fact, I remembered coming up with the stakes very conscientiously. The plane concept was all I had. But I knew the character needed to want something—when the characters want things, the story writes itself. I thought back to an episode of Firefly (A short lived, sci-fi television show) in which every time I watched it with someone, we all had the same response. They got out alive… but did they keep the money?!

Firefly did a fantastic job of making money matter—and that’s what I wanted.

I can easily see what my subconscious did. Pilot needs money. Why would a pilot need money? Let’s just grab everything you have experienced in this area—one cartoon from your childhood—and use that.

Made sense to it. And I didn’t question it.

So, now that I realized this, now that I am fully aware of my own plagiarism, am I going to stop writing it?


Several reasons why. Feel free to judge.

For starters, this happens all the time. Sometimes it’s not even the issue of you actually stealing anything. It can simply be you coming up with an idea simultaneously as someone else, but they get a big movie contract long before you even finish the damn thing. I am not kidding. When they say there is no new idea under the sun, they mean it. Not only do you take inspiration from things that already exist, get ideas from any sort of stimuli—including other people’s fiction—but the same idea will exist out there without your knowledge. You can accuse any book of plagiarism and unoriginality, and sometimes fixating on doing something novel will just overshadow doing what you want to be, and, more importantly, doing something good.

I have one rule of thumb when it comes to originality and defining the difference between “being inspired by,” “referencing,” “spoofing,” and “stealing,” is to always assume the reader has seen both works—and can enjoy both even knowing about the other’s existence.

The truth is I’m excited about this story. More so than I have been in a while. Even if I never let it see light because it was too close to the “original” for me to ever pass it off as my own, I’d still want to write it.

Secondly, it is only one idea, one concept, that may very well change over time. Setting, characters, tone, voice, and even the actual plot differs greatly from TaleSpin. The original set up I directly took from the show, but the real story is very different. At least the way I see it now.

Time will tell if I’m wrong. I know that this is the most blatantly comparative concept I’ve ever used. Anyone who’s seen the cartoon will make the connection. And normally that would horrify me. But I know how I work, how inspiration works, and how little other aspects of the book will play out, and I am confident that—while it will be criticized for this—it still can be something I love.

And for good measure, I’ll leave you with the first page:


            He only needed 125 more drakmas.
            The rat-a-tat-tat of his opponent’s gun sounded pathetically through the fog, blending with the whir of his engine. But his little plane could take a hit—Soel was sure some of the parts of his machine were excess, dead limbs that did nothing. At times he’d find bullet holes splattered throughout the metal that he’d never even felt.
            He’d be getting twenty drakmas for this fight.
            The fog had come in deep over the ocean, blocking Soel’s sight of the outlaws. This was fine by him. He was out numbered, and he was statistically more apt to hit one of them by randomly firing than they were to him.
            Six planes, five drakmas each.
            He’d already taken out half by just arbitrarily blasting into the sky.
            They had followed him down as he scaled the water, chasing him from their outpost on the cliffs. The outlaws had been reported to sit there waiting for any plane to happen by. They’d shoot it down into the water instead of smashing to bits everything inside. With a simple shotgun blast to the pilot’s head, they’d then pillage it and let it sink.
            These six had been the reason why people had stopped taking the route, preventing travelers from coming to the station floating in the ocean after the canyon. The residents there made their living by being the only place to refuel on the quickest route from the city to the small spotting of villages out on the other side of the mountains. The canyon was not the only way though, and when some outlaw got a big idea about cornering them, people would just take the long path around, which would make them bypass the little station all together.
            And once about every year, some outlaw sprouted up.
            Usually though, the singular fiend was taken out quickly. Out near the stations, most bandits worked solo. Anyone wishing to make a quick buck and willing to work with others tended to join the large blimps that sailed the far reaches of the oceans, taking out the bigger bounties from the treasure hunters. It was less risk—those who sought the fortunes of the forgotten world were expected not to return. The pirates of the blimps were rarely tried for murder. Out in the recesses of the ocean, how could anyone prove if a plane had been shot down at all, let alone by who? Having six together, however—smart enough to be at the prime location—proved a problem, and even the Legion’s men couldn’t remove them easily. If they ever bothered to care about the outlying villagers and sent more than two, this might be different. But after a cursory failure, they determined the risks too high for the reward, and told the station there was nothing to be done.
            Soel knew he was hired for his low prices. He’d not been shot down yet—not in any way permanent at least—but his exploits were unknown and unbelievable. He was the lowest of the low, coming from the community of Green Shore: a mercantile station that produced simple nature-based materials to fuel the greater cities’ growth, like wood and stone, and some wild fruits and vegetables.
            No one thought much of them.