Jumping back in where we left off in Brainstorming, Pt 1, we’re in the middle of brainstorming a premise for our hypothetical fantasy novel.
Spaghetti strand #3 is a good one, but just for fun we’re going to go back and check out the others.
WOMEN IN POWER – Why would a feudal society be controlled by women?
1. Women are physically dominant instead of men.
2. Religion or tradition dictates a matriarchal society.
3. Women are superior in magic, giving them an edge.
4. Men really screw up the world, so some supernatural force curses the male royal line.
#4 is interesting to me because it also seems to have a lot of conflict built right in. Remember, conflict = gold. You, the writer, love conflict. Conflict makes ideas into stories. The first question that I come up with while looking at #4 is ‘what kind of curse keeps men from taking power in our little fantasy world?’ Hmmm. Time for another list.
MALE CURSE – What kind of curse keeps men from taking power?
1. The royal line only produces females.
2. Males in the royal line die early, or suffer from madness.
3. When a female is not on the throne, the land suffers from plagues, natural disasters, all sorts of bad juju.
#1 at first looks like a dud because of low conflict. No male heirs, pretty simple. But what happens when the female rulers marry? In a traditional feudal society, men marrying into the royal line would automatically assume power. Short of that, they would scheme their way into it. But then the Kings would father only daughters, which means the throne would be a constant tug of war between the female line and their husbands/fathers. Conflict!
#2 has promise, especially the ‘madness’ aspect. What kind of havoc could a mad king
wreak? Lots. Havoc = conflict. Yay for conflict.
#3 This one is interesting because there’s nothing physically preventing men from taking power. We’ll explore this one a little bit, this time by asking ourselves the writer’s standby “What could go wrong?”
WHAT COULD GO WRONG WITH #3 (Curse on the land)
1. After a few generations of females on the throne, people would start forgetting the bad stuff that created the curse in the first place.
2. Throw in a weak/evil/crazy female ruler or two, and people would be all too willing to ignore that silly superstitious curse stuff.
We could keep listing, but I like where these are going, and I think we could use them both.
So here’s the situation so far:
In our feudal fantasy society, men really screw up the world. We can figure out exactly how they do this later, but the point is that after some particularly bad f-ups, a curse is placed (by someone, we’ll figure that out later too) on the kingdom that stipulates a female must remain on the throne, or else bad juju happens: plagues, natural disasters, infertility, madness, whatever strikes your fancy. After a few generations of females on the throne, people start to forget what started it all, and one of the queens goes crazy and turns into Vlad the Impaler or something. So when a male descendant of the queen makes a clever play for the throne, he doesn’t get much resistance.
Queue bad juju. But the new King isn’t going to give up his power easily. How far is the King willing to go to secure his throne? Would he pull a Herod-in-reverse and start offing his female relatives? Is there anyone left that remembers the curse, and what could they do to preserve a female heir? Ah, that’s a lot of conflict. Enough to carry one hell of a novel, or three. This is the premise of Lynn Flewelling’s Tamir Triad, which begins with The Bone Doll’s Twin. The whole trilogy is an amazing read.
Lynn Flewelling may not have arrived at her idea for The Bone Doll’s Twin by this same path, but this lays out the progression of possibilities. We can go back to any one of our lists, follow a different strand, ask different questions, and come out with a completely different story. Try them all, see what you come up with. Then try making your own lists–and for the love of all that is holy, don’t throw anything away. Even if the spaghetti doesn’t stick this time, it might be perfect for your next project.
Just remember, there are no wrong choices. We’re writers. Daydreaming is what we do. Wander down all the paths of possibility until something sticks, and then run with it.