Friday, February 16, 2007

Seriously, robots...I'm sorry.

Okay so um, the story idea that I have is weird. I explained it to my boyfriend and he was like, "Umm...I think it...needs some changes..." so that gives you an idea of what you are about to get into. Basically - I don't even know how this idea came to me - I want to take the story of the fiery furnace from the Bible, and expand on it and make it modern. With the characters as robots. I know you're laughing, but wait until I finish (and then you can laugh even harder).

Here's the setup: There's a woman, a normal human girl living in our world, and one night she goes to sleep and has this vivid dream about a robot world. And then she has another one the next night and the next. Basically she dreams the main story's plot line. Her dreams peek in on the robot world at different points in time, so when she falls asleep from one night to the next, two days or two years might pass in the robot world. This robot world probably doesn't actually exist (that's up to the reader, I guess), but it's where the storyline takes place, so for the purposes of the story, it does exist. The point of having the dreaming girl is, on a basic level, to help suspend disbelief in a robot world, to question inexplicable aspects of the robot world (i.e., how do they procreate?), and to let me skip between important scenes without doing too much summarizing. She has a more metaphorical function, too, but I'll get into that in a paragraph or two.

So here's the plot that the narrator dreams: We start off with a small robot child enjoying a happy evening with his robot parents. All of a sudden, storm troopers come in and haul the parents off for political crimes, and the robot child only escapes by hiding under his bed. He goes off to live with his aunt and uncle in a very picturesque rural area, and their neighbors have a girl his age who he becomes friends with and then obviously falls in love with. (Right now you are thinking, "How do robots have kids? Why would robots have beds? How do robo-aunts and -uncles work?" Well, the narrator will be wondering all these things, too, but accepting them because they are part of a dream. No one will relate to the robots unless they do things like have kids and sleep in beds.)

They grow up and when they are about the equivalent of college age, the girl robot goes off to seek her fortune in the big city. Robot protagonist has to stay behind to help his aunt and uncle (maybe they are badly manufactured and aren't aging well), and he's mad/sad/hurt at her leaving, so they part on bad terms. The government assigns him a data transmission job, which he hates, but he's not going to defy the government because they killed his parents. One day, he's transmitting some news articles and he sees one about girl robot and how she was in an almost-fatal accident (or maybe there's a computer virus sweeping the city she's in). He realizes he could never see her again, and they parted on bad terms, so he feels bad and goes to the city to find her.

He hops on a bus (a sleek robo-shuttle bus) and heads for the city. Here's where the Bible story kicks in. Robo-protagonist = Daniel. On the bus, he meets two robo-dudes in similar situations and befriends them. The two robo-dudes = Shadrach/Meshach/Abednego. As soon as they arrive in the city, they cross through customs and their names are replaced with a number (dehumanizing, and it's the equivalent of the Bible characters getting forced to change their names from Hebrew names to Babylonian names). They get an apartment together. Robo-protagonist finds his girl, who is downtrodden and weary from living in the city. She moves in with him and his roommates, and the four of them are friends. Having all been wronged by the government, they eventually become political subversives (the equivalent of worshiping the Jewish god rather than the Babylonian gods).

Throughout all this, the dreaming narrator becomes more and more attached to this world and these characters. It's all she talks about and it's sort of upsetting/frustrating to her because sometimes she wants to help the robots or tell them when they're being dumb or whatever, but she can't. Her friends think she's going loopy (and maybe she is) because she keeps talking about these dreams as if they're real.

So one day the rebel robots get caught and arrested (Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel are taken before King Nebuchadnezzar). They are ordered to submit to the government (they are ordered to worship false idols). They refuse. The authorities throw the two roommates and the girlfriend into an incineration chamber, forcing the protagonist, who is the leader of the group, to watch his friends die (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace...Daniel isn't actually there in the Bible, but whatever). Flames spring up! Our heroes are going to die! Suddenly, a fourth robot appears in the incineration chamber (a fourth man, a physical incarnation of God, appears in the fiery furnace). But then the dreaming narrator wakes up. She is very distressed, not knowing if her robo-friends are going to live or die or what, and her friends decide enough is enough and put her in an insane asylum. They sedate her there, which gives her dreamless sleep, so she still doesn't know what's happened to the robots. When, at last, they take her off the sedatives, she finally gets to dream about the robots.

The last scene will be her dreaming seeing that not only did they survive (as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did), but they've made significant progress fighting the government (King Nebuchadnezzar realized the Jewish god was powerful, while his Babylonian gods weren't). Their fight isn't over yet, but they are working and things are improving.

Oh, and Daniel interpreted dreams. That's why there's stuff about dreaming. That's the more metaphorical function of the dreaming woman.

So, that's the end, and if you're in my peer editing group, I'm deeply sorry you had to read all that.

Here are the three forms it could take:

1. Comic. I'd be lying if I said I didn't conceive of this as a comic, and I will probably end up doing it as a comic. I love comics so much, but I've never actually created one, and I'd like to try my hand at it. Really, this is why the characters are robots. Because I want to take advantage of the magical realism so abundant in comics and draw some friggin robots. I have cool ideas about doing watercolor backgrounds for the pretty rural scenes, with non-watercolor robots on them.

2. Mash-up. Clearly I've started with the Bible story, but as I scribbled down ideas, it occurred to me that I was drawing inspiration from many more sources than just the Bible. First of all, I didn't mean to steal the dreaming an alternate world from Jorge Luis Borges' short story "La noche bocarriba," but I probably subconsciously did. My story is not about a motorcycle accident victim dreaming about Aztec sacrifices, though, so it's not as if I've plagiarized him very thoroughly. Second, the idea of a dystopic government is certainly not very original. I could use 1984 as part of the mashup (or V for Vendetta, which was originally a graphic novel, you know). And there's more. The protagonist living with his aunt and uncle could be related to Luke Skywalker. There are parallels between the ending I've thought up and the ending of The Matrix (the first one only). I could somehow mix all these things together and see what I get out of it. It would probably turn the story I created mostly in earnest into a sarcastic satire. That would be sort of sad, but possibly fruitful.

3. Hypertext. The fact that we only see the robot world when the narrator dreams it leaves large holes in the plot. We only see important scenes. This will be nice if I'm making a comic because I'll have less pages on which to spend hours each, but if I'm not doing a comic, I'll definitely want to fill those gaps in. That would be a good place to use hypertext, I think. There could be links that could tell us what happens in between the narrator's dreams. It would be information that wasn't really essential to the plot, but it might be interesting to play with giving optional extra information that the dreaming narrator doesn't know.

...Stop laughing!


Steve Bergson said...

Please let me know when the comic is finished.

Jessica Johnson said...

Lauren --

I'm amazed at how well formed your ideas are! I worry though that it's a bit long of a plot line (especially in comic form) to pull off in this class without driving yourself crazy --but go for it if you can!

I like the idea of robots and alternate worlds but I'm not entirely sure why you want to do it. No what the character dreams does not need to be logical but the author should have some reason behind it. Why robots? Why robots with families? I feel like there might be a statement here but I'm really not sure what it is. I like the idea of a modern tale and robots mixed with biblical passage but there seems to be a lot of layers going on.

Maybe you can simplify the story/eliminate some of the back story? (At least for this class. Maybe this is the start of a larger project that you will be working on for a while.)

I think the plot line most naturally caters to a graphic novel though hypertext could be pretty neat. Especially if you include more about the life of the girl who is dreaming it. The whole robot story could just be subsidiary pop-up dreams. I'm not sure if that's what you want but it could be really interesting read.

I'm also really interested in how the world of the robots influences the girl. Especially the end when the robots have converted. What does that parallel in her life? What does it juxtapose with?

Good Luck!

Tom Kealey said...


This sounds like a novel to me, though you can compress a lot of the events.

One thought that comes to my mind: I wonder if you can start with the robots, instead of with the girl. That might help us plunge into the world quicker.

I like the graphic novel idea, but I like the hypertext too. I wonder if you can use them both, with the hypertext as a way to move us from the Robots' world to the girl's world.

JessicaJ said...

It's clear that you want to make a graphic novel, and I think you should just go for it. Forget about the other stuff, you'll be more motivated if you're working on something you've always wanted to do.

That being said, I agree that this story is really long and complex, perhaps too complex for the confines of this class. I mean, in addition to having to concieve of all of the dialogue and backstory and each page and how you want to arrange it, you also have to draw and everything. Even if you don't take 6-8 hours on each page like Gene Yang does, you will still be spending an enormous amount of time on this thing. Maybe you could just choose one part of the story and focus on that, and if it's successful you could expand it in the future. I think that you don't really want to simplify the layers because there is something really interesting about how the robot story influences the real-world girl. It's kind of sad that it influences her so negatively--it's hard for us to watch her lose all her friends and go into an asylum and the only redemption we see is in the robot story. What have the robots done to this poor girl? And why? Is she just crazy? It's not usually the best choice to have crazy people in your stories because then they aren't accountable for any of their actions, and it kind of discredits the effects their actions have. It might be more interesting to have the robot story really affect the real world, mirror things and affect things that happen to the girl, rather than just rendering her incapable of interacting with others.

Darren said...

Hey Lauren, love the idea of this as a comic book - especially since, in the separation between the two worlds, there's lots of cool visual options.
However, at this point I'm not entirely clear on why there's this girl character dreaming about the robot world. The robot world itself is so fully mapped out (robots going to college, robots rebelling, etc), that it seems like it would just add a confusing layer of reality/fantasy/etc to have a character dreaming about it. I don't think you should eradicate the dreamer character, but at this point she doesn't really have alot to do.
If you've ever read any of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," alot of his longer storylines did a good job of balancing out the fantasy element (King of Dreams doing crazy godlike magic in fantastical magical lands) with the real-life element (normal people, normal problems, normal lives). Right now, I'm not really sure if the Dreamer has anything to do except appear to go crazy. Why is she dreaming about this? Does it have to do with her own life, or with where the world is today, or is god talking to her?
I definitely think this could work as an amazing comic. How intensely are you planning on following the Bible story? Like, are the robots going to talk in a Biblical style, or more natural? Or do they talk at all?