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Tell Me - David Colby

(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)

Today, David talks about story inspiration and goes on to prove that anything and everything can be an inspiration. In this case, it is a line from a movie.

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When someone asks you about the inspiration of your novel, you are expected to talk about that one thing that struck you like a lightning bolt. For me, that’s not so simple.

But each part of my novel has an inspiration somewhere.

I’m going to talk about a single line and how it completely changed the fate of mankind in my book.

That line is a simple one. And it is stolen from my second favorite movie of all time, Terminator 2. John Conner and the Terminator are going to a mental asylum to rescue Sarah Conner. The Terminator has been ordered by John to not kill anyone, but the first thing he does is pull out his gun and blow the kneecaps off of a security guard. John, outraged, shouts, “I told you not to kill anyone.”

Then the Terminator turns to face him and - with the most perfect deadpan delivery ever – says the line.

“He’ll live.”

Of course, deciding a line had to go into a book and actually having it be in there takes a lot of steps. I couldn’t just arrange for a scene wherein my main character says the line. Well, I could, but it’d change the context and meaning behind and around the line. I love the line, not just because of the deadpan humor, but also because of what is going on behind it: A machine, slowly coming to terms with the value of human life and not exactly being that good at it.

So, I needed a ‘machine’ character.

And thus…Shiva: The AI manager of the Forge, a massive space based factory. I decided he’d work best there, as manufacturing in microgravity is a complex, delicate and perpetual task. Then I had to give him a personality to build up to that line. I had to add in scenes wherein people talked to and conversed with Shiva.

In these scenes, I gave Shiva a deadpan sense of humor, gave him observations to make about humanity, and I worked in discussions of the famous Asmiov’s Laws of Robotics (you know, A robot shall not harm, nor through inaction, cause a human to come to harm and so on). I actually think that the laws are a good idea, but I personally think forcing them on people – even robot people – is tantamount to slavery.

In the end, I had a character with snark, with a philosophical stance on Asimov’s Laws, and finally…I had a chance to use the line in the book. Like in the movie, the line has more going on behind it than it might seem.

But now, almost a year after I first wrote down the beginning of Debris Dreams, I reflect on all that I have planned and schemed and created for the Debris Dreams universe and future history. Shiva factors largely into that.

So, when you are reading my book and groan at my one liner, remember that without it, the entire book and the future books I have planned would be completely different.


Born in Sunnyvale, California, David Colby has recently graduated from Sonoma State University after four years of telling people that, no, Buffy the Vampire Slayer came from SunnyDALE. Equipped with a BA in English and an obscene amount of pop-culture esoterica, David is ready to make his mark in the world of young adult literature.