I recently finished reading a book called Wool, by American author Hugh Howey. To call it a novel would be disingenuous; it’s actually 5 e-novellas compiled into one dead tree’s worth of paper. Actually, might’ve been two dead trees – I’m not certain how the tree-to-paper economic ratio works these days.
Apparently Howey self-published the novellas before getting picked up by Simon & Schuster for the traditional print version. At 99c a pop, the novellas sold well and seemed like a great way to break into the publishing world. I’m guessing, given he’s now got three Wool-verse novels and the first book of a new setting out, that the print copies aren’t doing badly either.
In the end, Wool itself was disappointing. I attribute that partly to the hype surrounding it (with some incorrectly touting it as the next Hunger Games, despite nothing linking them but strong female characters and somewhat wimpy male love interests), but also because as a novel it wasn’t particularly entertaining. The flow was choppy, POVs jumped around characters at the drop of a hat, and the end of the book felt rushed. Not saying every literary work needs the fantastic pacing and flow of the Mistborn series, but Wool still left me feeling cold. I’d try to insert a joke about needing more wool to feel warmer, but I got nothing really funny for that.
Point is, Howey’s publishing model intrigued me. I’ve been writing for a long time and only ever put things on blogs and tumblr, with the closest to traditional print being my Year 12 creative writing project getting turned into a slim printed story with a skeleton on the front cover. The writing project did not feature a skeleton within its pages, but the cover was awesome anyway.
Whatever Wool‘s shortcomings as a story, you can’t deny its success through the e-publishing method. So that’s what I’m going to try. I’m going to write up a novella, edit it, give it a pretty cover that I’ll probably knock together with Microsoft Paint and a lunch break, and release it online. 99c is an ok price for the coherent ramble of a 24-year-old Australian wannabe sci-fi author, right?
But what do I go with?
I have a lot of story ideas that float round my cerebellum like untethered helium balloons. Most of these ideas are, undoubtedly, complete rubbish. I’m not being self-deprecating here; I once had an idea I wrote that turned out to be an almost shot-for-shot ripoff of Battlestar Galactica. Another was about a group of people coming together to save the universe, but none of them had memorable characterisations. Not all the ideas are winners.
So I turn to my readers, whether few or legion, to help me out. I’m gonna put down five ideas I’ve been thinking/writing/dreaming/interpretive dancing about for the past little while, and I reckon each could be the setting or character for an e-novella or self-published short story. The aim here is for you guys (for all intents and purposes, my alpha team) to tell me what you think would make the more awesome, eye-catching, collar-clutching, ball-busting debut for the online market. Just think of it this way: if Michael Bay were to take any of these ideas to make into a terrible movie, what’d be the one you’d least want to see come to fruition?
1 – Tales from the Interverse
War isn’t just inevitable, it’s law.
The galaxy endured the longest peace process known to mankind, and it wasn’t pretty. Without an enemy to fight, the population of the Metegaran Empire fell into anarchy, revolt, civil war and domestic terrorism. Man’s idle hands became terror’s playthings.
The Empire, in secret, instituted a new policy: to instigate war every so often to keep the aggressive, adversarial mankind in check. Every few years a new war is declared against an enemy made up of volunteers (some unknowing, some fully clued in) to give the people something to target their violent instincts at. The enemy is eventually defeated, the Empire suffers casualties, and unity is strengthened through uniting against a common foe.
Until, one day, the volunteers won and the Empire was shaken to its roots. Thus began a longer, much more devastating war that touched on every facet of the Empire’s existence. This is the First War of Reclamation.
This is something I’ve worked on since I was sixteen, and was originally a rather long and unwieldy novel called Intersections. I put each chapter up at FictionPress.com for schoolmates to read, but it never went past the first draft. Too much of it was samey, characters were interchangeable, the plot went in a million different directions at the drop of a hat, and the writing language was very simple. I think there were more instances of the word ‘said’ in that draft than there are land mines in the DMZ.
Over the past year, I’ve come back to it in drips and drabs. I figured it’d work better as an anthology kind of run, with short stories focusing on different characters within the setting. While not all would meet each other, they’d sometimes have invisible knock-on effects on other plotlines; one character, a filmmaker, creates a documentary about the war that a young, idealistic man sees, galvanising him to join the army. That kind of thing.
I’ve got plots for five short stories concretely laid out, and a bunch more are scribbled onto post-it notes with vague ideas of character and story. Sound interesting?
2 – Andrew Thorne
In the wake of a prolonged battle with terrorism, the world reshaped itself – literally.
In 2066, an organisation exists behind closed doors. It is called Obsidian, and it is the home of a man named Andrew Thorne. Thorne is a Black Agent, a fixer for corporate, martial, international and assassination contracts. If a job needs doing, Thorne gets paid an awful lot of money to do it.
Though good at what we does, Thorne is constantly plagued by questions about purpose; is he merely a weapon, a tool to be used by the highest bidder, because it’s what he’s good at? Is he forever mired in this one purpose? Or is he able to break the mold and become something else?
Originally pitched to my friends as ‘cyberpunk James Bond’, the Andrew Thorne stuff I’ve written came out more like ‘cyberpunk Hitman‘. Make of that what you will.
I’ve written the first draft of a novel-length story for Thorne called Smoke the Hog, and started on a few subsequent installments. My idea here is to write a short story about a particular contract Thorne accepts, one that confronts a couple of those aforementioned questions and takes a look at the idea of absolutist security.
Sound any good?
3 – The Five Lords: Over Here
The Five Lords watched over the world from above. As man grew in its hubris, the Lords sought to punish. So they ended the world.
The survivors, left intentionally alive, came together to rebuild. As they did, a thought occurred – what if they were supposed to remain disparate? What if the Lords were angry because man was allowed to become tall and prideful?
So most of the survivor camps aimed to stay nomadic, uncentered and wandering. Not all accepted this idea, taking sword and sorcery to defend the ruins of man they festered in. Should the wanderers keep wandering, or can man get it right with this second chance by building a new, grounded empire?
Something I started writing just after NaNoWriMo last year, and one half of a fantasy story that has cowboys in its other half (which I’ll detail below).
It’s kind of like if The Walking Dead had no zombies, was set in a medieval fantasy setting, and featured characters wanting to not settle down and rebuild. Also there’d be a dude who can turn himself into a frost dragon.
If fantasy westerns are more your thing, though, you might like…
4 – The Five Lords: Over There
The Five Lords watched over the world, then made it barren. Man went from great, sprawling cities to a handful of outlaw settlements.
One of these settlements is the home of Edwyrd, gunslinging cowboy and guilty former member of the Rangers. Starting out as a peacekeeping effort, the Rangers outgrew their authority and became worse than the scum they hunted. So, as you might imagine, Edwyrd feels pretty shitty for some of the stuff he did with them.
Wishing to absolve himself and punish the Rangers, Edwyrd returns to the town of Red Dagger. The site of one of the Rangers’ greatest atrocities, Edwyrd begins a one-man campaign with guns, magic and intellect to make pay the men who led him astray.
Yes, this is part of the same world as the story I pitched before it. There’s a reason there’s sword-and-sorcery on one side of the world and cowboys on the other, but it’d be spoiling to tell you why.
While Over Here has a few different characters I’ve written in that setting, Over There just has Edwyrd. I could write others, but he’s the one I’ve spent the most time with. He has a gun called Viola and is nicknamed “the Bloody Man”. So he’s kinda cool.
This is magic and cowboys. What else could you want?
5 – PALE
Ever since the world’s religions united in one incorporated franchise, it’s been hard to follow the rules. Any deities not wishing to comply with the new unilateral doctrine have the option of going PALE: Permanently Abandoning Life’s Entanglements. They lose their godhood and become human, insinuating themselves into the world they’ve spent an eternity watching over.
During a particularly nasty blow-up, three gods from different pantheons decide to go PALE. Grappling with their newfound mortal responsibilities and annoying things like love, taxes and lumberjacking, the three learn it’s not easy for anyone to follow the rules. Oh, and there also might be some otherworldly horrors coming to devour the Earth if they don’t regain their godhoods anytime soon.
Easily the most light-hearted suggestion in my piece pitches, PALE‘s a thing I’ve been toying with for a couple years on and off now. It’s intended to be largely comedic and brevitous, focusing on the fallen gods Mars, Aphrodite and Sif as they become human and deal with that. The kind of fish-out-of-water story that made Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home worth watching, except this story probably won’t have any whales in it. Or maybe it will, now I’ve brought that up.
I’ve got most of one of the gods’ story down, and the other two and predominantly sketched out. I could do short stories on each of them, or something serialised focusing on all three. What sounds better?