Working on a new writing project is always a little daunting for me. I don’t know the world, the characters, the detailed plot, nor the ending. Basically, I know shit. I have found that once I begin to think about a story, I tend to dive into things that seem to have no relevance.
For example, my characters in my fantasy has wings. The world they live in is completely made up. As I moved through my normal life, my mind seemed to come up with things that I could include in the story and world. So much so that I couldn’t keep track of it all. I bought a small notebook, this was before phones had become smart, and I jotted down everything that came into my mind that I thought might be of use. All of the sudden a flood gate opened, and my notebook was filled with nick knacks and tidbits and nuggets and morsels. I was amazed at what came out. And I’m not talking about my first time.
I remember watching a documentary about the evolution of birds. One of the topics it explored was: Do birds prefer to walk, or do they prefer to fly? To test this, the scientists put a bird on a wooden plank. The incline of the plank was increased to various degrees. No matter the degree, as long as the birds could walk up the plank, they would walk. It wasn’t until the incline had gotten so high that the birds were forced to fly up the plank. So I decided that my characters with wings would have that same behavior. That they preferred to walk, unless the place they wanted to go to required flight.
Be it fantasy, science fiction, or plain ole’fiction, the foundations of the world needs to be consistent. I’ve talked about his in the world of Harry Potter where J.K. Rowling almost made a mistake in this regard. Being the writer that she is, she caught it and corrected it.
In my new book, one of my main characters is a skeptic. He was entrenched in his martial arts school, loved teaching, and loved working with kids. But a slow disenchantment led him down the road of rebelling against his own school, much like Bruce Lee had, and he questioned what they taught and their methods. His skepticism lends well to working with children because he’s willing to investigate their issues to discover their real causes.
Before I knew all of this, I came across YouTube videos from the Athiest Community of Austin, the ACA. Their cable access show, The Atheist Experience, is run live with callers that ranges from theists to atheists to conspiracy theorists. I have to admit the theist callers are fun to listen to because the debate that ensues is not only entertaining, but opened my eyes to what constitutes as evidence and gave me a basic overview of how logic works. Both of these things were not very well defined in my mind beforehand. And this current character that I’m writing understands those things well.
Now, I started to watch the videos before I began to write this new book. To prove that my mind knew to watch these videos because I was thinking about this new book would be difficult. But I’ve always allowed myself to dive into things that seemed unrelated to anything that I was doing in my life. A lot of it went into the ether. Some of it was useful. Quantifying it would nearly be impossible since I don’t remember where anything that I think of comes from. But had I not watched the ACA videos, I may have not had enough of an understand of logic and evidence to write this character well.
Steve Jobs talked about this process in his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. In it he mentioned that he took a calligraphy class at Reed College simply because he was fascinated by the beauty of the lettering. He learned about serif and sans serif typefaces and what made great typography.
“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me...It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”
I’m not saying that everything you’re interested in will become useful in the future, but you never know. Why not delve into something just because you’re curious? For me, it’s part of the great joy of life, to learn and experience new things.