Making Magic from the Mundane, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Pokémon.
You know those days when it seems like the entire universe is colluding to give you the worst day ever? Today was one of those days for me. The Windows 10 update had my computer locked down and frozen for hours (and is currently messing with me as I type this). I have a dreaded summer cold that has limited my brain to semi-functionality, so all of my words are coming out dumb. People are moving in and out of the apartments in my complex, so the commercial cleaners are bringing out their huge, noisy vacuums, and the new tenants are clumsy in their haste. On top of all that, my blog article for this week is late, which I cannot apologize to you all enough for, my 12 dear dedicated readers. Please forgive me. Now that all that is said and done: Positive Attitude! Let’s do this!
I’ve been avoiding talking about Pokémon GO for the past few weeks, because, regardless of how much I enjoyed the game when it first came out and I could actually play it (even though I was so paranoid about turning on my phone’s GPS tracking), there isn’t a whole lot I can say about the Pokémon franchise that can help new writers. I didn’t play the original games. I didn’t play the card game. I didn’t watch the television show. (Such is growing up poor. I have downloaded Pokémon Blue for my 3DS, so I should be coming up with some new insights on the games soon. Since it is a Nintendo game, though, it will probably not be included in my YouTube series of video essays on building video game narratives, but I will still try to share what I find.) However, the origin of Pokémon has come to my attention, and it is the one of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard for creating an entire world that deviates so massively from our own. For those of you who don’t know, the creator of Pokémon was an avid bug collector in his youth; He enjoyed finding and capturing little creatures in nature. When he got older, he saw children playing on their Game Boys with a link cable and was excited by the idea of children trading bugs like the ones he collected when he was a child. Thus, Kanto came into existence and 90’s culture was forever changed. (This is a bit of a hyperbole, but the release of the Pokémon games was a cultural event in the 90’s similarly to how the release of Pokémon GO was a cultural event this year.)
“But, Nev, I’m not so interesting. My hobbies are simple and silly, and couldn’t possibly fuel a fantasy world similar to that of the Pokémon world. I’m just not that creative.”
Good news! You don’t have to be! Science fiction and fantasy authors already have an unconscious process that you can emulate with a little bit of work:
First, take a close look at your hobby. Figure out what makes it enjoyable to either do or watch. Compare and contrast it with similar activities. What do people innately enjoy about that kind of hobby or activity? What makes it challenging? What makes it fun? What made bug collecting so fun for Mr. Tajiri was the challenge of finding and capturing insects.
Second, add magic and/or technology to the elements that make your hobby enjoyable, fun, challenging, frustrating, etc.. If you enjoy gardening, then make the ability to garden a divine blessing. If you enjoy watching movies, then make watching movies a truly interactive activity where you are actually the star. If you enjoy playing or watching a sport, then make those sports played by aliens or require an elemental attunement. The magic and technology that was added to finding and capturing insects was the ability to carry huge specimens with you in portable capture pods that kept the monsters alive, and the ability to store and transfer those specimens via computer.
Third, make that activity important to everyone in your world in some way. If real plants were an oddity, then most people would be fascinated by them and the people who could grow them, in addition to all the people who cultivate plants in order to feed themselves or make a living off of them. If interactive movies were the norm, then most people would have time set aside in their schedules to participate in one on a regular basis. If everyone was obsessed with watching a specific sport, then, in order to even be a functioning member of society, you would at least have to know the basics of that sport and the highlights of who plays it. The capture and training of Pokémon was all important, because they effectively replace every living creature in the Pokémon universe, and, thus, had to fulfill all of the ways people interact with fauna in the real world (such as being pets, being subjects of study, being raised as livestock, assisting disabled people, fighting for entertainment and money, acting as vehicles, etc.).
Finally, find the conflicts that such a world would create between people, within people, between people and nature, etc. If everyone in your world has never seen a plant before, then people who can grow them will probably be celebrities who have to deal with the hazards of fame. If everyone in your world wants to take part in interactive movies, then organized crime could be built back up with bootleg versions that run on sketchy equipment that puts its users in danger. If everyone in your world was invested in one particular sport, then scandals within the sport would be multiplied exponentially. In Kanto, the major conflict is that everyone wants to be the very best like no one ever was. (Some are even willing to pursue this goal underhandedly, like Team Rocket, and some are willing to work together like Ash, Brock, and Misty.)
Just to reiterate a simplified version of this process:
1. Figure out what makes your hobby fun.
2. Add magic and/or technology.
3. Make everyone in your world care about it.
4. Write the stories about the resulting conflicts.
Now, I’ve gotten some feedback on previous articles about the difficulty of coming up with conflicts, so I’d like to take a moment to go over types of conflicts and some observational exercises that will help you identify them in the real world. The major types of conflicts are:
· Person versus Self :
Person vs. self conflicts usually involve self-doubt, fear, laziness, shyness, skepticism, naivety, etc. preventing the person from getting or achieving what they want. Hamlet is the standard example for this type of conflict, because he allows his doubts to prevent him from taking action and getting revenge for his father’s murder, but a more recent examples are Fight Club (in both the literal and figurative sense) and I, Robot. Most modern literature that focuses on this type of conflict involves lost opportunity because of character flaws.
· Person versus Person:
Most conflicts in literature and real life can be categorized as person vs. person. It is the result of people wanting things that other people want, or don’t want, or just don’t want the other person to have. Captain America: Civil War, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Devil Wears Prada, The SpongeBob Movie, Ready Player One, Game of Thrones, and King Leer are all decent examples of person vs. person conflict driven plots.
· Person versus Society:
Person vs. society conflicts in literature are very common and usually manifest in protests by the main characters. They involve the characters fighting against institutions, laws, culture, traditions, and the people who enforce and endorse those things within their societies. Resolutions for these types of conflicts usually involve the characters failing, succeeding, selling out, or falling into an inescapable existential quandary. Great examples of person versus society stories are The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, The Running Man, Brave, Frozen, A Winter’s Tale (Paulina specifically), The Giver, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
· Person versus Nature:
Person vs. nature conflicts in literature usually involve the survival of a character on a deserted island or in a dangerous environment, but can also extend to people dealing with their own unconscious nature or their physical limitations. Great examples of this type of conflict can be found in Robinson Crusoe, Cast Away, Moby Dick, Tarzan, Inside Out, Animal’s People, Firefly (specifically the episode “Out of Gas”), and Heart of Darkness.
· Person versus Technology
Person vs. Technology conflicts are few and far between, and usually involve person vs. society narratives (Kids these days not looking up from their cell phones… watching internet porn all day… never going outside… raggle fraggle…), but can occasionally contain narratives about the obsolescence of humans in a technologically advancing world (The robots are taking our jobs!). Examples of this type of narrative are Robocop, The Matrix, Almost Human, Surrogates, Captain America: Winter Soldier, War Games, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, and Small Soldiers.
As you get some practice reading, writing, and identifying conflicts, you will probably notice that many of these overlap and occur concurrently with the main plot conflict — which is usually how stories get their depth. In order to get better at seeing conflicts and, therefore, getting better at placing your own within the stories you create, I strongly suggest that you always carry a notebook with you in which you can record conflicts you come across in the wild and conflicts that you find in what you read or watch. Think of it as your book of Poké Balls and the examples as your Pokémon. Collect them, trade them, and pit them against each other to see which is best for your plot.
While you are all out being the very best, I’m going to make myself some chicken noodle soup and get some much needed rest. Happy writing, everyone!
Did it work for you? Do you have questions for me? Is there another topic you would like me to write about? Let me know in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you! I post new articles on Wednesdays. Please remember to upvote, like, subscribe, and follow me on other social media if you find these articles useful and want to see more!