In the first installment in this series, I talked about the basic ideas: a story about roleplaying games, in the sense that it was also about the impulse to be someone and somewhere else. The original idea, as incarnated in my unfinished screenplay version of the story, went like this:
A secret society of people exists in our world who live double lives. They have taken on the personalities and appearances of the stable of characters found in a certain novel. For them this isn't just about the fun of it; it's a mission to better the world by embodying their ideals about it. Become the change, and all that. Their mission is threatened not simply by the indifference and contempt of the rest of the world, but by another faction: a group that hates the mere idea of fiction, and wants to see it destroyed.
There were too many problems with this incarnation of the story to ever work. The biggest one was what I've come to call the Too Many Suspensions Of Disbelief problem. Just having the first faction in the story, with all of the struggles it would run into, would be enough for any dozen stories. But the presence of the second faction really stretched it -- both in that it was not plausible on the face of it and that having both of them fighting for air in the same story would have suffocated them both.
From time to time I pull out the idea of that second faction -- the anti-fiction brigade -- and I try to find a way to treat it. But I always run into the same issue. When you talk about people who entertain ideas that are unsustainably absurd on the face of it, you're not likely to find much of a story in it save for the depiction of pathology.
I say all this after having watch people do exactly that kind of stuff in public, en masse, over the past four years. That makes me think such a thing is possible, because if you can trace the congeries of social pressures that make such things not just possible but inevitable, then you can a story about something absurd on its face. But to do it for something that outlandish was beyond me then and is still beyond me now. (At least, I think it is. Maybe I'll see how it's possible if I take a stab at it. Got other things in my plate as of this writing, though. Someday.)
That brought me back to the core idea -- people who adopt the lives and worldviews of a character, the better to make a statement and embody a principle. This was still outlandish, but closer to home -- easier to frame in terms of a story that happened in a world we could recognize as our world, and which would require less of an epic-scale unpacking to make it credible.
So from the ashes of the original, I salvaged these few key things:
What I needed to do next was build an entirely different story from those pieces, one that went in a direction that better complemented my new intentions for it.
In the next installment I'll talk about the other things I drew on to make that happen, and which had supplied many of the original ingredients to begin with.
Other Lives Of The Mind