East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Characters at Large into the Media Landscape

452719337_640I’m taking part in a strange experiment.
As part of my online course on The Future of Storytelling, the 50.000-odd students were asked last week to create a character, give him/her/it a web presence, and let them interact with each other.

So, during this week, some 50.000 imaginary web citizens entered or will enter the net – as Facebook profiles, as blogs, as G+ identities, as tumblrs, as e-mail addresses, as podcasts.
They are out there, or will be soon, interacting with each other, and with… you.
With us.

There will be stories born.
There will be stories, I think, developed across the media landscape – a weird, heady mix of storytelling, multimedia and roleplaying game.

Now, admittedly – setting up a character with a virtual life is no laughing matter.
It takes time, imagination, effort.
Outlining the character was simple and fun – I picked an old character from some stories I wrote 30 years ago.
But then translating it to the web in a believable way… ouch!
It’s a chore – I got bogged down in passwords, nicknames, whistles and bells.
But the results… ah, the results will be fun.
Of that I’m almost certain.

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Last week I hit on a great story opening.
OK, I say so myself and all that, but I was impressed with my skill and elegance.
And a few beta readers agreed – so maybe it’s not just me being overconfident.

A great beginning requires a great development.
What follows is some notes on my mental processes from themoment I realized I had a great hook.
Some insight in themind of a madman, in other words.

A great beginning requires a great development, I said.
A great story requires a great character.
So I looked around in my HD folders, and I summoned back from oblivion the character of Steve Randolini, the narrating voice and hero of Interesting Times, the story that got the second prize in the Hydropunk competition.
I like Steve a lot – he’s cool, witty, elegant.
I’ve been feeling very bad at the idea that the Hydropunk story will be his only outing.

roccodfNow, the original Steve Randolini was inspired by Rocco Vargas – the astronaut-turned-nightclub-owner in the fine, very fine post-modern pulp comics by Daniel Torres.
Incidentally, I love Torres’ work, and will have to write apostabout him, as he’s certainly a major influence for me, and has been for two decades.

Anyway, the Hydropunk story has its own setting and development, but it would be rather easy to recycle the main characters – not only Steve, but also his partner Bonnie Avery – shifting the action from uchronic sci-fi to straight pulp.

Which leads me to my old crush for Indiana Jones.
I’m a notorious Indy fan, and I’d love to write stories about an adventurer dealing with ancient mysteries and lost treasure.

Now, a few years back, I wrote a series of treatments for a hypothetical comic series to be called Huaqueros, about a group of university dropouts working as grave-robbers-for-hire.
Nothing came out of it, but the research I did is still there.
Nothing gets wasted hereabouts.

What attracts me to the role of the huaquero, the grave-robber, is the moral ambiguity.
A moral ambiguity whose loss is, to me, the greatest problem with the Indiana Jones movies.
I mean – in the Raiders movie, Jones is not supposed to be such a good guy.
indymarionC’mon, he recovers artifacts which he then sells to his own museum, bending all the rules… he’s a scoundrel that actually seduced the underage daughter of his best friend and mentor…
And now she’s a tough chick running a disreputable drinking den in the Himalayas, a pretty girl that can drink sherpas under the table…
And isn’t it great, in Raiders Indy has to prove himself better than Belloq, instead of being automatically on a higher moral ground?

Toning down this darkness – as it was done in the later Indy movies – was for me a big let down.

So, if the new Steve Randolini is to become a dealer in lost artifacts and cursed items, I’d like to keep him on the wrong side of the law, and on a debatable moral ground.
Not an anti-hero, but a reluctant hero.
He will have to work hard to do the right thing.

Also, somewhat in line with the original concept for Randolini, I’m giving him a very small, but significant bit of mystical background.
But I always loved about The Shadow was Kent Allard’s backstory – and without going all the way down the “I learned some mystical mumbo jumbo in Tibet” road… why not give my character a push in the weird/supernatural direction from the very start?
Why not give him a good reason to constantly stumble on weird supernatural stuff?

Also, giving him some weird backing and some frankly disquieting allies, could help bring character, background and setting together, and help the stories acquire an original, slightly unusual flavor.

And the mix could be fun enough to keep me interested.
And keep me writing.
And hopefully keep people reading!
It might work.

Now I only have to write the damn thing.
And then find me a publisher – or go the self-pub way.