The best fiction seems real, and the best nonfiction seems fake. Telling stories, regardless of the medium, is a craft. It’s a skill that can be learned, that must be practiced, and which you become better the more time you spend on it. It’s a result of the 10,000 flight log, to summarize Malcolm Gladwell. When I look towards the next few decades, I think that being able to tell a story is going to become more important. I’ve mentioned before, story telling is a skill I want to impart to my children. Along with that skill, I hope they will pick up and intrinsically live the need to have dedication, focus, and reason. The idea that if you can think it, you can take steps to accomplish it.
I’m always a bit intrigued by the hard work and dedication that full time creatives put towards their products. It may be a subconscious effort of my brain, rebelling against some of the lack of professionalism is my work place these days. I find myself wishing that the staff at the highly technical and financially complex business where I work could have more of the professionalism brought about by the rock stars and movie makers of our day.
So, this post is the result of a thought experiment I had many years ago, and still return to as a common day dream. I’ve always thoughts it would be fun to create a story based on the “random” function on the wikipedia website. The idea is to log onto to wikipedia, hit the random article button, and use the result as a key part of the story. I’ve heard many professional authors discuss their craft, and each one says the idea matters less that the basics of good story structure.
Let’s see what happens when I (as novice as they come) gives this a try.
Random article #1- “İkizce is a village in the District of Bilecik, Bilecik Province, Turkey. As of 2010 it had a population of 141 people.”
A population of 141! Wow, I’m impressed that the village even shows up on Wikipedia. So, okay, I need to use İkizce in this story. My first thought at this point is that someone (a kid, Luke Skywalker?), grew up in this tiny village. His family were either farmer, shepherds, or salt traders. I probably won’t use salt trader, but I have always been fascinated by people who extract salt from the water then sell it. Anyway, we are off to a good start, now where to take this kid. Wikipedia?
Random article #2 – “Vomero is a hilly and heavily urbanized area in the center of Naples, is inhabited by the wealthy middle class.”
This story is practically writing itself. Okay, our second entry is a big, wealthy neighborhood in Naples. Let’s have our hero show up here. Why? Well, this kid is smart, talented, and wants to see more than İkizce has to offer. What I don’t know yet (besides our hero’s name) is how he gets here. Does he run away, go with his dad, or get kidnapped? We need something to tie these two places together. Wikipedia?
Random entry #3 – “Atan Burhagohain – Atan Burhagohain (Assamese: আতন বৰগোহাঁই ) was one of the most influential Burhagohains in the nearly 600 years of the Ahom kingdom. Atan Burhagohain Rajmantri Dangaria was the Prime Minister of Assam for more than seventeen years, from January 1662 to March 1679. During this period Assam passed through a series of crises in the form of foreign invasions and internal disruptions; and Atan Burhagohain conducted the affairs with rare foresight, probity, judgment, and patriotism. The versatile qualities of the Burhagoain, and the proof that he gave of his lofty and noble ideals, made him the darling of the people. Kings, potentates and the populace were united in showering tokens of their admiration and respect on this man of their country’s destiny. Twice the crown was offered to him which he did twice refuse, saying, “It does not behove a minister to become a monarch; kingship should go to the scion of a royal family, and saintship to the descendant of a saint.”
Wow, this guy was a hero, and not very arrogant. That’s rare. Gosh, though, he isn’t quite the tie I was looking for. Let’s name our hero Emir, which is a popular Turkish name meaning chief or ruler. Emir’s father is named Atan. At some point, Emir will find a connection to Atan Burhagohain through his father. Okay, but I need more to get this started, so I need to throw some kind of curveball at this idea. Looking at the cover of Businessweek I see a Unicorn and the title “Bitcoin dreams”. Now we’re talking!
Here is our random wikipedia story, with an assist from Businessweek.
A boy is growing up a sheep herder in rural Turkey.
One day, his father takes his annual journey to the big city to sheer the sheep. Emir goes with him, then runs off from his father to check the internet.
It turns out that in a previous trip, he had purchased some bitcoins, and was excited to see them triple in value. Emir has always been interested in mathematics, and was particularly attracted to the encryption aspect of bitcoins.
Emir goes to share the exciting his father, but watches as his father gets in a disagreement with a merchant and gets knifed (gotta have some drama!).
Having nothing to return home to, Emir sells the sheep and buys passage on the first train out, which makes its way to Naples.
Arriving in Naples, Emir has a hard time learning the lanugage, but does get a job doing manual labor. He follows his bitcoin at night. He starts to spend his evenings mining for bitcoins, and stumbles upon a unique algorithm for mining quickly. Author’s note – it seems like this good is starting to take on some Good Will Hunting aspects. Good for him.
Emir starts to bring in real wealth. He moves into the neighborhood of Vomero, and starts to join the high society scene.
Intoxicated by the wealth and privilege in his new life style he falls for the wrong girl, a girl with a unicorn tattoo. He decends into a life or drugs and sex, and stops working. Eventually, he gets in a wreck drinking and driving, and the girl dies.
Heartbroken, he wanders around Naples and spend his time in the library. While there, he reads about Atan Burhagohai. Due to the connection to his father, Emir is crushed, feeling horrible for having forgotten his upbringing and vows to do better.
Emir goes to rehab, gets a job working for an internet security firm, and eventually starts a halfway house to help kids get clean.
Fast forward several years, and Emir is seen receiving an award for his community service and leadership. When asked about running for political office he declines, stating that only royals and saints should pursue kingship and sainthood.
Thanks for making it through my thought experiment with me. I had fun writing. If you want to give me through random ideas to think through in a future post, feel free to include those in the comments section.