Evolution of a story idea

Originally, the character of Lincoln was an attempt at answering the question “What would Doctor Who look like if you rebuilt it with American parts, instead of English parts?” It was completely different than what ended up in the book, and I thought it might be interesting to beginning writers to show the evolution of the ideas behind the final form.

The first Lincoln was a pure science fiction creation. He was born in the far future to a set of natural parents (rare-to-non-existent at the time) who were part of a “LudNat” cult (Luddite/Naturalist). He was raised on a planet where there was working machinery that people actually fixed, and it turned out that he had an uncanny ability to fix and improve anything mechanical that he could get his hands on. When he was old enough to leave (he had no love for the LudNat philosophy), he discovered that humanity didn’t look like humanity any longer.

Genetic engineering meant that you could have any kind of body you wanted, and could just upload your current consciousness into it. For a very small portion of the population though, this didn’t work. They were seen as handicapped. Lincoln, it turned out, was one of these. Also, “people” were only living lives of pure leisure. Automation took care of everything, and was self-repairing. Lincoln, due to his strange birth (LudNat), his ability to actually fix things and build new things, and his inability to upload into new bodies becomes a kind of cultural celebrity.

Due to some really bad things that happened long ago, time travel is banned. It’s one of the only things that people aren’t allowed to do. Lincoln, however, discovers a vehicle that is from the period that resulted in the ban, fixes it up, retrofits it to look like a train, builds himself a gun, and has various adventures.

That was the original concept. It bears almost zero resemblance to the current book.

The other idea I had for a completely different story was an alternate history in which magic was real, and sometime around our industrial revolution, there was a magical-industrial revolution. People figured out how to leverage the power of magic beyond just making love potions and cursing their enemies, into a kind of golden age. The story in this one would take place hundreds of years later, when all of the magical items that have lasted for centuries and made our lives simple and happy begin to fail. No one understands how they actually work, and things look bleak. However, one curious young person starts to reverse engineer how the magical items work.

Along with a band of friends, they scour the country looking for the person apparently responsible for the rapidly failing magical automation. At the end of the story, they realize that the tech was failing because what everyone thought was “magic” was actually just the enslavement of a group of extra-dimensional beings into hundreds of years of servitude. Each spell someone cast to make, say, a broom that swept the floor on its own was actually enthralling some poor creature in another plane of existence to make it happen. The problem is that no one really understood how magic worked up until now, and it turns out that the bindings have a limited shelf life. The beings were set free, destroying the “magic”.

From that story idea, I took the notions of reverse engineering how magic worked, as well as (a little) the idea of using non-human entities to impart intelligence to magic.

I tried writing several iterations of the original Lincoln story, and did a detailed synopsis of the “magical tech” story. Neither really worked. I kept hammering away at the Lincoln story though, each time trying a different point of view, a different voice, but always from that same far future science fiction standpoint. Eventually, I gave up on that. I had him coming back to our present day enough that I finally said screw it, and just made him contemporary. At that point, I wondered what really mattered to me about the character.

It wasn’t the special-ness of his upbringing or the conceptual world-building I’d done. It was the fact that while he was smart, he’d chosen to use those smarts to make a weapon. You don’t talk or trick your way out of everything. Sometimes you have to put holes in those who oppose you. From there, I got started pulling in the “reverse engineering” pieces of the other story and thinking about what kind of background a person would need to have in order to really do something like that.

After that, it’s a series of “what does this story require” questions. Characters. Friends. Enemies. A world.

I looked back through my notes and mis-starts on the older ideas and was shocked to realize I’d been kicking these ideas around for almost six years before they finally came together when I started to write Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog.

Originally published at LFBD.

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