Writing the Ridiculous

Inevitably, when an author gets big enough, someone will come to them and say, “I have this great idea. How about I tell it to you, and you can write it and we’ll split the money.” Naturally, the author will never say yes. The reason is that ideas are a dime a dozen, and even the most ridiculous idea can be turned into a story. It’s just a matter of figuring out how.

In 2014, I had submitted a story for the anthology One Horn to Rule Them All. James A. Own was doing the cover art. While the submission window was still open, he, as a joke, posted an image with the comment, “Here is my first stab at a cover.” The image showed a potato with a unicorn horn. Above the image was written “The Unitato, half unicorn, half potato.” I jokingly said I that I would write a unitato story, but that I had already submitted a story for consideration. Then, Lisa Mangum, the editor, chimed in and said that people were allowed to submit more than one story, so I set about trying to figure out how to write a unitato story. In the end, the story was accepted into the anthology. Here’s how it came about.

I’m not much of one for writing funny stories, so I didn’t want to go in that direction, so I had to answer the question of why I had a unicorn potato in the first place. The idea having such a thing occur “naturally” didn’t appeal to me, so I decided it would be a unicorn that got turned into a potato. Why would someone want to turn a unicorn into a potato? Well, if I wanted it to be justified, it pretty much had to be in self-defense. This led to a much harder question. What kind of person would both be able to turn a unicorn into a potato and would see that as the best way to defend themselves? It obviously had to be someone with some sort of plant magic. The default for that sort of thing is druids, but as I said before, the hypothetical druid has to have the ability and see this as the best way to defend themselves. I’ve covered the first condition, but not the second. Usually, druids have power over nature, but that would give them a lot of options other than potato transformation, so I had to limit those. Potatoes are crops, so I decided this particular druid lived in a village and helped local farmers with their fields, so while he did have power over nature, it was in a very narrow area: crops. So, the unicorn attacked the village, and the druid transformed him.

The problem with this, for me at least, is that it’s still to whimsical, and that’s not really where my strength as a writer lies, so I decided that the unicorn attack culminating in the transformation would not be my story. Rather, my story would deal with the consequences of that. What problems does having a unicorn potato present? Traditionally, unicorns are noble creatures, sometimes even sacred, so it could be seen as an insult to transform a unicorn into a potato. An insult to whom, though? I decided to take the easy way out and say to his family. Still, there had to be more. If the druid can turn one unicorn into a potato, he can do it to another, so why is the unicorn’s family a problem? They must be the leaders of the unicorns, and having their sun transformed could be seen a as a cause for war. If that’s the case, though, why doesn’t the druid just turn the unicorn back? I don’t want the transformation to be irreversible because I want my character to overcome it. Well, my druid works with crops. He’s been doing it for years. Therefore, he’s been investing power into the fields for years. This gives him a reservoir of power to draw from that is not easily replace, so he has access to that power to transform the unicorn, but when it comes times to reverse it, that power has already been spent.

Now we’re getting somewhere. We have a problem. How can the druid get enough power to reverse the transformation? The consequence for failure is war between humans and unicorns. This is only a short story, so I need a fairly quick solution. Maybe certain objects can provide a power boost. It’s a transformation. I’m already dealing with one magical creature, so why not two? Werewolves are shapeshifters, so let’s say werewolf blood can help with transformations. My story becomes one about a hunter for a werewolf, and just like that, I turn the rather silly concept of a unicorn potato into one about hunting a dark and dangerous creature. There are still more questions to be answered, but that’s the gist of it.

My point in all of this is that a story can come from any idea. You just need ask enough questions to build the plot around it. What problem does the idea present? How did it become a problem? What are the consequences of failure? How will the problem be solved? Once those are answered, you have story.

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