Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
Plot Generator XY112G
One way to come up with ideas for short stories and novels is to steal--I mean, borrow--them from other writers. I write of this practice in earlier posts, “Leftover Plots,” parts I through IV. Those articles are more general than this one (and, possibly, future ones, which will focus specifically on the works of horror fiction’s current bad boy par excellence, Stephen King.
I’m not really going to tell anyone how to steal from King (or anybody else, for that matter), of course, because (a) stealing is wrong and ( b) plagiarism can be costly, to one’s reputation as well as to one’s purse.
However, ideas (like titles) cannot be copyrighted. They are free to anyone and everyone, which is why, for example, The Lost World (1925), Jurassic Park (1993), and 10,000 Years B. C. (2008) (or, for that matter, The Land Before Time ), and many, many more movies about either dinosaurs or dinosaurs in conflict with human beings have been made. No doubt, many another will follow.
Often, horror writers throw off ideas for short stories and even other novels in the novels and screenplays that they write. The concepts sometimes fall like sparks from the tail of a fiery comet (or, at least, comets of the type that we generally see in science fiction movies and tend to imagine in the theaters of our minds). King’s novel, Desperation, suggests a few ideas that could become the bases for additional short stories or, perhaps, even novels. Others of his many works offer similar suggestions.
One of these ideas, the one that appeals most to me, is that of someone’s discovery of idols that might or might not be like the images of the false gods that King depicts in Desperation. If one devoted his or her story to only one (or a few) idols, their properties, and the results of human interaction with them, he or she would be apt to write a short story, but were he or she to consider a number of these false gods, their characteristics, and their effects on those who make contact with them, he or she might well produce a narrative of novel, or even epic, scope.
One’s development of this idea would, of course, have to be one’s own; otherwise, borrowing an idea would, in fact, likely become stealing a treatment of such an idea, or, in a word, plagiarism.
In his novel, King depicts his idols as being like “some kind of stone artifact,” and they have a decidedly sexual effect upon those who make contact with them, as Cynthia discovers when she touches one of the idols with “a tentative finger” and “her hips jerked forward as if she’d gotten an electric shock and her pelvis banged into the edge of a table,” making her blush (254-255). King’s omniscient narrator then describes the idol in more detail, indicating that it has an animal shape:
It was a rendering of what might have been a wolf or a coyote, and although it was crude, it had enough power to make them both forget, at least for a few seconds, that they were standing sixty feet from the leftovers of a mass murder. The beast’s head was twisted at a strange angle (a somehow hungry angle), and its eyeballs appeared to be starting out of their sockets in utter fury. Its snout was wildly out of proportion to its body--almost the snout of an alligator--and it was split open to show a jagged array of teeth. The statue, if that is what it was, had been broken off just below the chest. There were stumps of forelegs, but that was all. The stone was pitted and eroded with age. It was glittery n places, too, like the rocks collected in one of the Dandux baskets. . . .
“Look at its tongue,” Cynthia said in a strange, dreaming voice.The narrator’s description is vivid and detailed, allowing the reader to visualize the artifact readily, which makes the idol seem both more bizarre and, paradoxically, more realistic than it would be had the storyteller merely glossed over the strange artifact with a few adjectives or descriptive phrases.
“What about it?’ [Steve asks]
“It’s a snake” (255).
The idols can make those who touch them experience orgasms; can make them forget their surroundings; and, readers learn a few pages later, can have a devastating effect upon their self-esteem. As Cynthia later tells Steve, when she touched the idol, “it seemed like I remembered every rotten thing that ever happened to me in my life,” and, she admits, its touch made her think of “sex. . . the dirtier the better” (318). Moreover, contact with the idols can spur its victims into acting upon these lusts, as both Cynthia and Steve find out soon enough.
There are other idols than the image of the wolf or the coyote:
He thought at first that there were three odd-looking charms lying in her open palm--the sort of thing girls sometimes wore dangling from their bracelets. But they were too big, too heavy. Not charms, but carvings, stone carvings, each about two inches long. One was a snake. The second was a buzzard with one wing chipped off. Mad, bulging eyes stared out at him from beneath its bald dome. The third was a rat on its hind legs. They all looked pitted and ancient (480).The artifacts are obviously images of gods or demons, as they have inexplicable, supernatural effects upon those who come into contact with them. At the same time, however, they are tangible; they are material; they have concrete form. Made of stone, they are subject to the long-term effects of natural forces; they erode: they are “pitted and eroded with age,” and they appear “ancient.” Moreover, they can be “broken,” “chipped” and, presumably, destroyed. They have powerful effects upon the humans who make contact with them, but the artifacts are not invulnerable. The
Were another writer to write about such statues, he or she would have to do so in such a way as to make them his or her own creations, with properties different from those whitish King ascribes to his, and with effects that also differ from those that King’s false gods have upon those with whom the carvings come into contact. There are various ways to accomplish this task, which are better left to each individual to determine for him- or herself.
Another idea that spins off, so to speak, King’s novel is the creation of demons out of the whole cloth of one’s imagination rather than to embody such evil spirits on the basis of research concerning demonology. King’s demon is a spirit from another dimension, utterly dependent for incarnation upon possessing the bodies of other, corporeal beings, such as humans or animals. However, the demon’s metabolism is extremely fast, and it soon wears out the body of its host, so that it must possess another and another. His possession results in the deaths of the possessed, whose bodies thereafter enlarge, possibly in response to the greater demands upon the organs of Tak’s greater metabolic rate. Tak is able to exercise control over animals and insects through a power similar to telepathy. He is also able to project his power into the stone idols, or can tahs, that various characters discover in Desperation. When he possesses a human being, the body’s senses, strength, and natural abilities are heightened, although Tak can also perceive phenomena by other, extrasensory means, as when he is aware of the presence of a nameplate inside the Carvers’ recreational vehicle without entering the vehicle of looking through any of its windows (“Tak [Stephen King],” Wikipedia).
By imaging one’s demon (perhaps on the basis of one’s own inner demons or the problems and issues that best society), one is pretty much guaranteed an original creation. This approach is as wide open as one’s own ability to think outside the box of tradition. Where King creates Tak, you or I might create Tik or Paddywack in the same fashion, by using our own imagination or our knowledge of social problems, past or present, to envisioned to embody our own concepts of the demonic, creating one or more demons in our own image and likeness as a result, as King apparently did in writing of the idols in his novel.
Another provocative consideration is what might happen to animals that survive Tak’s telepathic influence? Would their exposure to the demon’s mind have a long-lasting, or even permanent, effect upon them, and, if so, what, exactly, might the animals change? Perhaps they would become monstrous versions of their previous selves, retaining the enhancements of their natural abilities that they experienced as Tak’s cognitive thralls. Would big game hunters ally themselves with demonologists or scientists to hunt down these demonic beasts and capture or kill them?
At the end of the novel, not much remains of the town of Desperation, but what if it--or, rather, another small town, elsewhere, that has experienced a similar catastrophe--remember, be inspired to borrow, not to steal, and make other writers’ ideas your own--were to be rebuilt? With its horrific past, could new horrors occur to the community’s children or grandchildren, a generation or two after the original calamity? King’s novel It suggests that such could easily be the case.
Could the demonic entity that destroyed your first town return to destroy another community? The answer is in King’s simultaneous, mirror-image release of a twin novel, The Regulators, which features many of the same characters as appear in Desperation, but living wholly different lives in a wholly different community.
Other of King’s noels suggest other ideas for additional stories or novels, which, possibly, I will consider in future posts, although not necessarily in a continuous order.