I suppose I should mention where the ideas in my random encounter chart come from originally before they’re twisted and deformed into future ideas.  I mean… refined.  Yeah, refined like a chilled, vintage Boone’s Strawberry Hill.

The thing is… ideas come from everywhere.  Let me spell that out for the people resisting the notion.  E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E.  Ideas can ignite from anything you hear, see, smell, touch, taste or exfoliate.  Take a look at a few samples of idea harvesting:

  • "Oh, look… I overheard a conversation between some people and their discussion bubbled with awesomesoap."  Uh-oh, Jeff’s eavesdropping again.  No stalking!  Bad Jeff!  Seriously though, imagine sitting someplace busy where dozens and dozens of widely varying conversations flitter about within earshot.  Your attentions gets pulled here-and-there and through it all, you might hear a jumble of words: "Pizza giganticus… his girlfriend’s girlfriend punched him out… backpacking across Greenland…"  Write all that down and let it percolate a touch.  There’s probably some idea forming right now (even if it’s an off-the-wall one).  When people converse in public, they exhibit this passion for exaggeration and not caring who hears them.  Don’t let their efforts be in vain!
  • "People!  Public!  Personal space persecution!  Aaarrrgh!"  For those of you exhibiting signs of social anxiety/awkwardness/apprehension, don’t worry.  A slightly less effective means exists for listening in on conversations… the Internet.  Twitter, message boards and chat rooms all provide eavesdropping opportunity but don’t expect it to be the same raw, unfiltered conversation you’d pick up out in the wild where humans dwell en masse.  Most of it gets edited for public consumption.  Just be sure to go where people talk about interesting things or follow people on Twitter discussing a wide variety of subjects.  With enough variety, your Twitter feed evolves into a stream of human-like consciousness and ideas.
  • "OMGageddon!  In one day, science made the universe its bitch with some new quantum discovery AND spent years of research figuring out which part of the brain controls the uber-dangerous ‘puppy dog look’."  I swear these science websites and magazines kick out story potential material all the time.  I call ’em virtual assembly lines of potential.  I sometimes use a swear word or four in there for emphasis. 
  • Oh, I hear you whiners out there, "But my story has nothing to do with science."  That doesn’t mean science can’t influence your story.  Science is more than math and physics and chemistry.  There’s psychology.  Struggling with a great villain?  That’s the science to keep an eye on.  There’s anthropology.  Need a well-developed world for your epic fantasy?  That’s the science to turn to.  Don’t expect a flood of ideas if you’re constantly damming off idea waterways whenever you don’t think they suit you or your writing.  "Oh, why doesn’t anyone like my fantasy genre story?  I’ve read everything related to fantasy and swords & sorcery.  Why, oh why?  Woe is me?"  Be brave… take a step away from some of the genre inbreeding and don’t be afraid to let ideas jump in from outside the norm of the genre.  Magic based on quantum theory?  Alien parasites turning people into  fantasy uber-champions?  Radiation forcing the evolution of animals in a human colony ship leading to a new race of primitive humanoids stepping onto a life-supporting plant after landing?
  • "Honey, guess what?  A group of people survived a blizzard by holing up in a freezer where it was warmer.  I’m so glad we live in Texas."  Ah, the joy of crazy news stories.  Whether heartwarming or horrifying, they provide such wonderful compost for my backyard idea garden.  Even if I don’t immediately "feel" a story has the potential for an idea, all I need is for it to generate some reaction in me to put it onto the list.  Any reaction… any emotion… any stray thought… if it gets me thinking or feeling anything, then it can be used to spark my imagination.  Sure, you might want to throw that little fish back… but you can always use it to catch a bigger fish.

See how all that works?  Now, repeat the mantra with me.  "Ideas come from everywhere."  Again… with feeling this time.  Better yet, write it down a hundred times to let it sink in.

Over at the private forums, a discussion came up about talking in panels at conventions, and Brad Guigar (of the fun webcomic Evil, Inc) mentioned the following:

If someone asks, "Where do you get your ideas from," it’s a serious question. Don’t be That Guy again.

I’ve been that guy… kinda.  It was a (mostly) serious response, but everyone took it as if I was joking.  Here’s what happened…

Cornered by a wild pack (3 counts as a pack, right?) of Writerus Aspiringien, I willingly subjected myself to their onslaught of inquiries so I might pass down lessons learned on the ways of the hunt (and not feel as guilty if they get ravaged after venturing back out into the Wastelands of the Script).

My answers appealed to their ravenous appetites for all things writerly until one fated question hit me, "Where do you get your ideas?"

"I have a homemade D&D-style random encounter chart I roll on."

From that moment on, they scurried about the subject of writing and headed back out on the hunt.  Perhaps, I wounded them with that answer.  Maybe I revealed too much… too soon.


More-or-less, that’s how it happened.  Details may vary but you get the point.  They didn’t like my answer and the worst part of it all… it was true. 

When I get thoughts or ideas I think could be interesting in or as a story, I jot them down.  I used to read through these ideas from time-to-time to keep them fresh in my mind, but it reached overload capacity within a few years.  So, I decided to put together something simple where I could organize and randomly "roll up" an idea. 

I went to a familiar friend I grew up with–a staple of roleplaying games, the random encounter chart.

If I had an idea I thought needed some extra spice, I rolled on my idea chart to see what sent a spark through the ol’ brain meats.  If I wanted to pull together something new, I’d roll a few times on the charts and the very act of trying to piece together disparate ideas into a fluid, feasible storyline would generate tons of new ideas.  In fact, the number of ideas grew even faster after I created the chart.

I also experienced a side effect to this process… I started believing I could put together a feasible story with any jumble of ideas.  Eventually, I got to the point where I knew I could make a story out of anything anyone could throw at me. 

In just trying to keep up with my ideas, I learned a valuable skill for any writer… but it’s tough sharing this with anyone in person or talking on panels because I still wind up being "that guy".

I decided to keep going with the #watchmen2pitch challenge.  And by keep going, I mean I was asked if I could do it again today.  This time I went with the notion of a prequel to the Watchmen movie (thus the deviations from the Watchmen comic canon/continuity for the sole purpose of additional movie drama).  Here it is… and I decided to include some notes afterwards on my thought process for developing this pitch:

In 1977 as masked villains grew in numbers and costumed crimefighters sprang up to fight them, politicians debated the Keene Act, which would make masks illegal.  The sheer number of villains kept this political measure at bay, but one tragic night acted as a catalyst turning the Keene Act into a cause worth fighting for.  On that night, a large force of New York City policemen stormed a building in a raid to take down an illegal gambling operation.  None of them survived. 

The Watchmen stole their way onto the crime scene to investigate the slaughter and stumbled onto a single clue–a discarded betting slip… betting against them in a crime that took place the day before.  As they dig deeper, they discover a dark underworld where masked villains rise up to take on the crimefighters like sports stars seeking glory and riches.  Just like the proliferation of betting in sports during the 70s, odds are taken against planned crimes by these masked figures.  Betting for or against their success.  Betting on escape, capture or death.  Betting on who will be there to stop them.

As details leak to the press about this secret organization, Ozymandias shocks the Watchmen and the world by revealing his true identity as Adrian Veidt and stepping away from crimefighting because he could no longer in good conscience protect the people if his presence alone helped bring about these villainous acts.  Following his announcement and the news of the source of all these new masked villains, the NYC police stage a strike plunging the city into chaos with the people rioting against the masks further hindering the investigation.  The military moves in to aid with the riots but with open orders to capture or kill any mask they encounter.

With the world against them and with Dr. Manhattan pulled away to deal with matters of national concern, the remaining Watchmen still succeed in tracking down the nest of masked villains.  With the odds against them, the crimefighters battle this horde of villains and the criminal mastermind behind the operation, the Underboss.  The Watchmen struggle on and find a way to win.  They capture the Underboss… just as the Keene Act passes.  Their reward for ending this menace is the disbanding of the team under the heel of this "retire or be arrested" policy.

In the end, a mysterious figure in shadows (Veidt) works on the model of a familiar Antarctic Pyramid as minions drag the handcuffed Underboss before him.  The mystery  man congratulates the Underboss on a job well done and poisons the criminal and the minions to leave no trace of a connection to the gambling operation and the push for the Keene Act–the first steps toward a utopian world.

So, here’s how my brain pulled this out of the air.  I wanted to do a prequel, and in the comic, there was one major event noted in the story.  The Keene Act (which made masked vigilantism illegal).  I thought about how that would fit with the movie and I remembered Veidt made a tidy sum off of copyrighting masked characters likenesses just before the Keene Act (where they couldn’t fight him legally for the rights without going to jail).  Curious… what if the smartest man in the world was somehow responsible for getting the Keene Act?

I then started working up ideas about how he could orchestrate such a thing, so I started thinking about other big events in the 70s when I remembered that was the era when sports gambling took off because more sporting events were getting televised in the 70s.  Hmm… Veidt needs a lot of money for his scheme… and needs to turn public favor against masked crimefighters… what if gambling was at the core of it all?

What if these masked villains showed up merely to stake their claim in professional crime?  Youngsters with potential could get sponsored by more established criminals and trained to take on jobs and heroes for the sole purpose of betting on them as additional income.  Win-win… play your cards right and you can get the money from the heist or hedge your bets and earn a tidy profit even if they fail.

And then if the public ever found out that these masked villains the heroes always save them from are only showing up because there are crimefighters to make profit off of, it could be enough to turn them against the heroes and set off a police strike… and riots… and forcing the politicians hands to pass the Keene Act.  Besides, it’s much harder to establish a utopia if there are large numbers of heroes and villains running around thinking they’re above the law.

Some other notes: 

Yes, I know Veidt (by canon) revealed his identity about 2 years before the Keene Act passed.  But where’s the drama in that? 

And even though I have the Keene Act being debated here, I believe it was rushed through as an emergency act in response to something.  I don’t think there was a specific even established to trigger this, so I thought it would be nice to have one.

Out there in the Twitterverse, @cracksh0t threw down the gauntlet by telling everyone to post a Watchmen 2 pitch and squash the rumors of a sequel/prequel by flooding the Interwebs with ideas for it (under the #watchmen2pitch hashtag).  I decided to answer the challenge and this is what I posted out there… except it was in 140 character chunks and a bit more unwieldy to read.

After Veidt opens Jon’s eyes to the humanity still inside him, that humanity steals a foothold within Jon’s subconscious.  It sets forth to bring Jon back to the world of man by subtly reversing the changes that made him a god amongst men.  As Jon makes one of his regular visits to Earth to keep humanity united under the de facto rule of Veidt the world’s military forces strike and for the first time, Jon realizes his power is weakening.

Hurt and unable to escape Earth now, he sends a summons to his former allies–Silk Spectre, Nite Owl and a man watching the event from a mental hospital dayroom. A delusional man with suppressed memories who appeared on the doorstep of the hospital the same moment Rorschach died.  Jon’s summons drops a familiar mask into this man’s hands thus releasing Rorschach’s memories to set him loose upon the world once more.  The team reunites at Jon’s location just as Veidt takes off with Jon as his prisoner to learn how to make Jon’s power his.

The Watchmen search and fight against a world controlled mostly by Veidt Enterprises in order to save Jon but in the end, through the machinations of Rorschach, Jon sacrifices himself to reveal the truth about Veidt and allow a subjugated world the chance to reclaim their freedom once more.

Let’s see how much fun I can have this week with these pitches.

There comes a day when you’re wandering through one of those massive fortresses of commercialism and notice this aisle full of flashlights.  There are the aircraft aluminum-bodied ones, which are a premium choice for bouncers.  There are lantern ones for those hesitant to play with  oil and fire in the middle of a nice, flammable forest.  And it goes on… cheap flashlights and expensive flashlights and those snake flashlights you can wrap around stuff and point where you want them to go.

You don’t really need a flashlight, but your daughter likes to "camp" in her room and has burned through tons of batteries with lights you kept around for emergencies.  You decide to go with this neat little winding flashlight that can be recharged by hand-cranking it.  Yay!  That battery graveyard just got a little smaller around the house.  And you’re a step ahead… get one for her to use and also get one to keep in the kitchen drawer for emergencies.

And then that day comes when the smaller UPS in your office start with their dreaded wail, "Aah! There’s no power in the house so I’m gonna make this constant annoying beeping sound to help drain the life out of this poor 12-year old battery all the more quickly and wake up the entire family late at night.  Weeeeeee…" 

No problem.  I’ll go downstairs, get my flashlight, look up the number for the power company, and call them up to report the outage.  The sooner they’re aware of the problem, the sooner it can get fixed.

But there is a problem.  No emergency flashlight in the kitchen drawer.  No light means reading the last electric bill for the 24-hour number will be a bit more difficult.

Luckily, my long years as a dba prepared me for such a situation.  I had a backup.  I had a backup where my daughter wouldn’t think to look for one.  I guess it could be considered an "off-site" backup in that sense.  But the things about backups are… if you don’t use them from time-to-time, you can forget them.  That’s just what happened here.  I forgot where I put my backup light source.

Good thing I had my netbook handy with its 8 hours of battery life.  And a nice bright screen.  With my netbook in hand, I got the phone number, called the power company, and even managed to finally track down my backup lights (some nice little 170 hour waterproof LED lights… if I only had a pool, I’d be tempted to find out how waterproof they really are).

So, thank you, netbook.  You may cause my hands to cramp up from time-to-time with your scaled down keyboard and you definitely aren’t helping my tech industry inflicted eyestrain.  But you made a damn good flashlight and kept me entertained in the dark with a mean game of Texas hold ’em as I waited for the power to be restored.

After over a decade of suffering through sleep apnea, you’d think I’d understand the futility of trying to be productive when sleep deprived.  For a while, I had so much going on, my brain wouldn’t shut down at night when it was time to sleep.  It would take me hours to fall asleep.  And of course, I didn’t take that lying down… I just kept working on this and that (very slowly as if thinking through pea soup fog) until I was tired enough to fall asleep.

The major problem with that strategy is I’m a night owl by nature.

So, my wife finally took action.  After the extensive (and obligatory) car chase scene and the showdown fight in some old abandoned warehouse, she was able to force feed me some melatonin to get me to sleep.  An hour afterwards… I dropped like a rock.

I’ve been taking it regularly since then and with some actual quality sleep under my belt for a week, I was able to be three times as productive and get caught back up on work.  Now, I’m looking at all these projects that sat on hold for a long time when I didn’t think I had time to work on them and familiarizing myself with them.  "Hi, everyone!"  "Hey, Jeff!  We missed you!"  "Aww, thanks guys."

And I’m having fun again.

I’ve been revamping training materials for the day job lately.  Mostly because we’re expanding the training we offer… and also because I’ll be the first one to present the new training next week.

There’s a lot that goes into training.  The priority is to get the information into the brains of your class.  You can do this through various methods like repetition, mnemonic techniques, humor, and good ol’ fashioned brainwashing.

After you have the core material down, you still need to be able to present it in a fashion that’s engaging.  This is mostly to keep the class awake.  Though I did contend to my teachers in my youth that I did retain the material while asleep in their class, there was no scientific evidence to support it (hmm… sounds like a research grant proposal to me).

Finally, there are the exercises. Many people learn better through doing.  You can talk about a subject and demo it over-and-over, but sometimes it just doesn’t click with students until they actually apply that knowledge with some hands-on exercises.  Building those out probably takes the longest out of all the work (going step-by-step through something that’s almost second nature to you in order to document the process).

And even with all that time and effort dedicated to make a solid set of training materials, you still wonder at the end of training… how much of this information is really getting through?

So, I was digging through some old roleplaying game folders and boxes when I stumbled across a fun idea for a webcomic.  Planning stages have begun, so there are lots of thoughts rolling around…

  • Do I want to do it as a lot of one-shots (that’s how the ideas started) or do I want to make it a series of campaigns (longer storylines)?
  • How many episodes should I complete before I put it up online?  My initial thought is 2 month’s worth to have a buffer, but it could depend on how long it takes me to create each episode.
  • What would be the best ways to promote a RPG-inspired webcomic?
  • Will the humor translate to people other than RPGers?
  • What should I fix for dinner tonight… ooo, and what’s for dessert?

See, it’s a pretty chaotic brainpan when you have a new idea.  A lot of it’s fluff stuff and I’ll jot it down to deal with later, but some of it is crucial to how I initially develop the idea.  Sure, with a webcomic, it’s easy to change directions later on, but it’s always a plus to your readers to be consistent from the beginning (something I learned the hard way the first time around).