The first installment of this experiment in literary construction is here.
So I've gone through the cards. I've gone through my initial thoughts. I've missed the original deadline. What next?
Based on my first few tries at Talecraft, I figure that the best way to start brainstorming is to take the cards in singles or combinations, and then try to build a possible plot from there. Once I have something put together on the backs of three or four cards, then I can usually work the others into the picture. For every plotline that manages to meld all of the given elements together, I can set it aside for possible future work.
In this instance, I know that I need to work with the Science Fiction genre, so I'll be approaching each of the keywords below from a background of machines, technology and morbid philosophical questions. I suppose that it's also possible for me to conceptualize the base story first and add the sci-fi later, but I'd like to make sure that I start integrating the genre requirement from the very beginning.
Tomb // Escape - This was the most obvious "plot-driver" that I could see: Protagonist seeks to escape from a tomb of some sort, antagonist attempts to stop him, wacky hijinks ensue, roll credits. Adding to the feasibility of this idea was the fact that tombs are natural places to escape from; They can be portrayed as dark and foreboding places of doom, or as prisons that conceal or restrict the characters from the outside world. The fact that something's got to be buried in the place gives the story some good motivation -- it wouldn't be a tomb unless it was deliberately withholding something from the light of day.
From a sci-fi perspective, we wouldn't even be limited to using some sort of mausoleum or burial chamber. We could use, say, a scrapyard of some sort (where old machines go to die), a smelting plant (same thing), a vacuum-sealed chamber (for the preservation of relics), even a funeral craft floating through the depths of space (like some future Viking-type ritual).
This raises more than a few ideas. What is the protagonist running away from, for instance -- the ghosts of the tomb's dwellers? A bunch of ancient machines who have become sentient? Perhaps the protagonist is the tomb's inhabitant himself, seeking to escape a clerical error that literally "buried" him alive.
The problem with this scenario is that the other keywords make for such an odd fit. I find it difficult to work a Dandy archetype into the mix, much less a Haunted Hero (whose story seems to go in a completely different direction than this one). I am particularly stymied by the inclusion of a Grandfather Clock among the keywords -- how would this go into an "escape from tomb" situation? For that matter, how could it possibly go into a story of the Science Fiction genre?
Finally, a tomb-escape combination just strikes me as a little obvious. If I had only five minutes to put the story together, then I'd definitely approach it from this angle... but I've got a lot more time on my hands than that. It makes for a good default plotline, but let me first see what else I can think of...
Grandfather Clock // Science Fiction - These are probably the two cards that have the worst synergy with each other. A grandfather clock usually belongs in a far more traditional setting; It implies a sort of rustic wealth, or a Victorian-style grace, or a gothic background. As a result, this granddad of formal timepieces would look completely out of place in a setting of polished metal and tangled wires.
What that means, however, is that you could hypothetically build an entire story around the two of them. I mean, what would a grandfather clock be doing in a Science Fiction setting? Perhaps it's an antique that somehow got stored in a hermetically-sealed mausoleum. Perhaps it's been modified to run on atomic time -- an analog face with a modified cesium isotope underneath. Perhaps it's a relic of the past, built to house a terrible secret for the people of tomorrow.
So now the question is... how do you tie this into a tomb? The first thing that comes to mind is that the grandfather clock has a specific purpose for being placed there (no matter how out-of-place it might be). What purpose is that?
Now I consider that maybe it's a guardian of some sort... something to guard a sealed tomb against fortune-seekers and treasure-hunters. Maybe it's not a grandfather clock at all... perhaps it's really a mechanical shapeshifter that merely prefers the form of its master's favorite antique...
You don't want to know what it does to intruders, I suppose; An encounter between this shapeshifter and a couple of unwelcome visitors would tie into the "escape" theme nicely. And your two characters would have to be a Dandy (i.e. a reckless person with rich tastes), and a Haunted Hero (who's perpetually suspicious at moldering old tombs).
That leaves three keywords: A Diamond (which implies why people would raid the tomb in the first place), Blindness (which could be expressed as darkness, or even a simple "I can't see!" exclamation), and Blood (which would come in significant quantities for such a plotline).
The result: A possible Science Fiction Thriller involving two explorers/tomb raiders who run afoul of a technologically advanced shapeshifter. If this sounds as though it's little more than a bad slasher story, then you're right -- it is. It needs a lot more work -- maybe a few twists in the telling, maybe a constant underlying theme, maybe an utter miracle -- before it becomes palatable.
The Dandy // The Haunted Hero - The last possible plot reference that I can try out here involves an interplay between the two character types. So far, I've assumed that the Dandy and the Haunted Hero would be working together for the duration of the story. I haven't yet considered a scenario where they would be protagonist and antagonist.
So... let's assume that there's some form of animosity between the two characters. This could mean anything, I think -- a competition, a rivalry, a sense of murderous hostility. I think that it would be best to introduce a third keyword at this point, just to get a better idea of what their conflict would be about.
I'll use "Blood" as a figurative possibility here: The characters are professional hitmen whose rivalry goes beyond that of friendly competition. In fact, let's assume that they absolutely can't stand each other, and that each of them is just waiting for the opportunity to blow the other one away. This doesn't just introduce the physical element of blood into the story; It can also be taken as a metaphorical representation, i.e. "bad blood".
Heck, let's take it a step further -- the two characters are brothers who have been molded by circumstance. One gorges himself on the fineries of life and delights in tormenting his sibling; The other lives in constant depression, regretting the day he sold his morals for the promise of money.
And because I like turning things on their ear, I'll adjust the premise a little bit: The two characters aren't brothers; They're sisters in the final moments of their mutual hatred. By the end of the story, only one of them will survive.
The catch with this setup is that all the other keywords will inevitably have to come in as background dressing; It's the rivalry and the action that draws the attention of the readers, after all. If we could make the base story crunchy enough, though, then I suppose that this superficial use of the other keywords might be justified.
Using the Science Fiction genre gives us license to use things like high-powered firearms, cybernetic enhancements, and powers beyond mortal ken; I can imagine arm cannons, reinforced body armor, enhanced senses, and movement inhibitors. Heck, I can even imagine full-suit mecha, if it weren't for the fact that I don't want this to go as far as modern animé.
A diamond and a grandfather clock would probably come in as part of the little details: Maybe an opening scene where the sisters begin their last fateful night... an auction over a centuries-old antique? A confrontation in a rustic manor? A chance meeting in a warehouse full of random knicknacks?
Maybe our "Dandy"-type sister wears a diamond ring for show. It would fit the personality, I suppose. Maybe our "Haunted" sister seeks nothing more than to lie low and live a normal life; That might fill out the requirements for "Escape". Or better yet... maybe the former sister has been assigned to seek out and eliminate her hidden sibling, and the latter has no choice but to flee.
Then there's the Tomb (a final confrontation that takes place in the local cemetery), and Blindness (a critical plot point where the assailant's sensors are violently disabled, just to even the odds). Blood could be used as an everpresent theme at this point: Aside from the original premise of "bad blood", you have the premise of sister against sister (which implies "blood against blood", or "one's own blood").
This story sounds like it needs a lot of exposition, though... which implies that a short story isn't the best venue for it. If I do end up using it for a short story, it'll have to cover the end of their tragic relationship -- the last night of their existence, a time when only one of them walks away.
In the last installment of this post, I'll try writing out at least one of these potential plotlines. Because my only intent here is to go over my literary thinking process, I may or may not end up writing an entire story. I'll most likely bring up an outline, however, and perhaps try out a few sample passages.
Want to read on? The last installment will be up soon...