City of Heroes

Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas?

This is one of the more common questions I’ve gotten from people over the years, so I thought I’d address it, here.

Story ideas, of course, can come from just about anywhere. Writers pretty much play the “what if” game all the time. It’s just how we think. And it doesn’t have to be anything as grandiose as, “What if Germany had won WWII?” It can be something as simple as, “I found a shoe at the side of the road. What if there had been a foot in it?”

Er… okay. That works, too.

We find inspiration for story ideas in our own lives, of course, and that’s been a treasure trove for me. For example, One Nation Under God was directly a result of where I happened to be living at the time, which was Utah. I’ve long been an activist for freethought causes, especially the separation of church and state. And Utah… well… there’s not much separation, there, to put it lightly. I also began writing it around the time when George W. Bush was elected, and I saw a lot of writing on the walls, so to speak. My book was written essentially as a warning against the dangers of mixing government and religion. I’m not happy that some of the things I wrote about actually came to pass.

Story ideas can come not only from life events, but also from our hobbies. For example, people today know George R. R. Martin primarily for his book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and the HBO Series based on it, Game of Thrones. But I first heard of the man many years ago when he was editing a series of books called Wild Cards. This series of books was inspired by, among other influences, a super-hero role-playing game that Martin and several other writers played together. And I can totally relate to this.

My first novel, Wish You Were Here, was inspired by my college days playing Dungeons & Dragons. At some point in our playing, one of the guys in our group decided it would be fun to create characters based on ourselves. Granted, they were idealized and exaggerated versions of ourselves, but in this way, “we” became adventurers in our games.

It didn’t take long for me to see the potential for a story, here. I’d always been a big fan of the “fish out of water” concept of stories, and one of my favorites was the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. John Carter was a Civil War captain who found himself mystically transported to Barsoom, the planet we call Mars, where he had all sorts of awesome adventures. So, with our D&D characters, I simply wondered what would happen if a teenage boy from Earth was somehow transported to a world of magic and monsters, with no idea how he got there or how to get back. The rest came pretty easily.

But Wish You Were Here isn’t my only game-inspired book. Many years later, I discovered an online MMORPG called City of Heroes. Creating my own hero and play-acting them with a bunch of others doing the same thing was an absolute blast. And the character I first created for the game, Dynamistress, was always my favorite. I played her for six years before the game was canceled. And now, she lives on in a series called The Many Deaths of Dynamistress.

I figure George R. R. Martin would probably dig it.

Posted by vmwales in Inspiration, Other Writers, Writing Process, 0 comments

Leaving the City

It’s spring of 2006. I’m living on my own for the first time in two decades, a divorce pending, struggling to remember how to be single and live alone. I have a job, but lots of bills, and virtually no social outlets. My depression is kicking into high gear.

I need an escape… an outlet… something in which I can invest my time to take my mind off things.

Seriously? Who picks these pics?

I know what you’re thinking. I should be working on that next novel. And that’s true. I should be. But I’m just not inspired. I know that inspiration isn’t particularly necessary, but it would be nice, I think. I do try to write. I work a little bit on the sequel to Wish You Were Here, but my heart isn’t in it. I try, once again, to pull my first novel back from the dead… but it keeps falling back into the same ruts that doomed it before. I have other pieces of books in the works, but none are speaking to me.

No, my escape needs to be something different. Something social. But I have few friends here. And it should be something I can do at all hours, not dependent upon others. And it should be fun. Lots of fun. So that meant…

I said SOCIAL!

Video games.

The ex (fittingly) kept the Xbox. That’s fine, since she also kept the TV. But I had a computer. We don’t need no stinking console.

World of Warcraft? Highly recommended by some friends. Everquest 2? Highly recommended by other friends. But no… My brain reminded me of one I’d seen on a shelf some time ago. A superhero game. What was it called?

City of Heroes.

See… it’s a city… of… Oh, you get the idea.

Yeah, gimme superheroes over sword and sorcery any day. I bought the game. I created a character. Just one, to start, though many more would follow over the next six years. And none of those would ever come close to matching that first character.

For six years, I developed her, with the help of plenty of great (and some not-so-great) role-players online, many of whom I have since met in person and consider dear friends. This character… easily the most complex character I’ve ever created… has a life of her own. She’s on Facebook. She has a Twitter account. Her MySpace page is probably still there, too. For a while, she had a personal website, but I took it down recently in preparation for a major remodel.

Why? Because this character is the protagonist of my next novel.

Oh, I removed her from the game world and planted her firmly in “our” universe. I wasn’t about to steal any intellectual property of the game company. Not that I had any inclination to stop playing the character in the game. In fact, I looked forward to the book becoming popular and readers coming to City of Heroes to “meet” her.

Sadly, that will now never happen.

Today, it was announced that City of Heroes will be defunct by the end of November.

I learned this perhaps two hours ago. And it’s a surreal feeling. Yes, it’s a game. But it’s far more than that. It’s a community in which I made some great friends. It’s a creative milieu in which I created an amazing character. And even after six years, it was still a welcome relief from the daily grind. In fact, ninety percent of my time in the game for the past few years has been role-playing, not really playing “the game” part of it.

And in three months, that will all be history.

Of course, it already is, really. The past six years are history for this character. The book is her memoir, you see. And while it will not be about the world of that game, the stories I came up with for her on the screen certainly served as inspiration for her story on the page.

The next three months will be bittersweet. They will hold the final days of her life in the game, but usher in the first days of her life in a new form. I expect the final chapters to be done by the end of the year, with the book making its appearance almost exactly seven years after its protagonist first took form on my computer.

I’m excited as heck about that. But today, my heart is heavy.

Posted by vmwales in Inspiration, 0 comments