In O3. The Arms Race Nemo follows a disembodied arm up the mountainous main island of Sheridan. The arm convinces him to eat a centipede, and then Nemo eats the arm.
Writers often hear, “where do you get your ideas.” I don’t hear this so much, because I’m not exactly a writer, but I’ll still self-righteously subject you to my opinions.
In my opinion, writing is mostly making stuff up as you go, and the rest is researching and rewriting and editing. That means I’ll retroactively find religious allegories in my dumb anime robot fiction, and then rewrite to make the religious allegories more meaningful and fun.
In the opposite vein, I sometimes spontaneously recall ideas I’d long ago forgotten. An idea worth remembering never knocks just once, and occasionally it returns without warning.
I’ve been sitting on a particular idea for years and never found inspiration to write a short story about it. Have you heard of the ancient alien theory, somehow popularized by the History Channel? I can’t honestly pretend to believe it, but it’s a great concept. What if all modern religions are just misinterpretations of an intergalactic visitor?
I imagine a space-alien stranded on Earth. The alien teaches primitive humans the basics of civilization and demands the humans build a spaceship shaped like a pyramid, say. The alien takes the spaceship back to their home galaxy, and returns centuries later to find the humans building the Pyramids of Giza, naive models.
This is a nice little idea. I’d get to re-contextualize any number of iconic religious images as misunderstood sci-fi elements, like having the alien’s space-helmet look like a halo. It’s cute, but I’ve never actually written it.
Instead I wrote Akayama DanJay, which accidentally contains the same themes. Henry hits the nail on the head with his notion of cargo cults: what Dan and Jay call the ‘real world’ is a copy made by Professor Akayama, and the Islands of Sheridan have a religion based on her misunderstood teachings.
Recall the three commandments listed in the red card-stock pamphlet: never harm or photograph birds; only Virgil Blue can prepare centipede; never walk above the permanent cloud-cover. A few sections ago, Akayama tried to tell Nemo not to eat birds. In this section she tells him not to let the other islanders eat centipede, then sets herself on fire and becomes the permanent cloud-cover. It seems natural to me that Nemo, without language, might misinterpret her.
Again, I didn’t write my ancient alien story on purpose. During exploratory writing I just wrote what I thought would be cool. I only realized afterward that my old idea had reappeared organically, and now, in my second draft, I’m writing with it in mind.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King compares writing a narrative to digging up dinosaur bones. At first you might find a few bones of the tail. It’s not until you unearth the skull that you really understand the dinosaur you’re investigating, and it has every right to surprise you. Once you know the nature of the beast, you throw muscles and skin over it.
Thanks for reading my half-baked musculature. I hope you enjoy reading it like I enjoy writing it.