Thursday, April 24, 2014

Where story ideas come from

When it comes to information, I'm an eclectic reader and viewer, and I especially love documentaries on all kinds of weird subjects.

I pick up odd bites of information that may pop up in a story one day, in some form or another, usually completely unrecognizable from the original source.

Here are a few knobbly tidbits that have stuck in my brain recently:

Birds that call first in the morning are doing it for a few different reasons: to be the first to attract the attention of a mate, to be the first to call dibs on territory, and because the earlier it is, the quieter it is, so their sound travels farther with less noise competition.

Ravens have more than 30 different kinds of calls.

Birds have a high-pitched alarm call (sometimes barely within humans ability to hear) that serves three purposes: scare away other birds/creatures that are too close, to warn other birds there's danger in the area, and to warn the mate/chicks to stay quite so they won't give away the location of the nest.

Some male birds grow seasonally feathers, headdresses, ruffs, etc in the spring to court females. Some have wattles (the red dangly bits that chickens, black grouse, etc have on their heads) which they can engorge with blood up 4X the size. Some repeatedly fly high, and plummet/drop down like a parachute. Some offer nesting material, some share food. Some male birds toss food in flight (food pass) and the females flip upside-down in the air and catch it.

Stravaging. Isn't that a fabulous word? I really want to use it...

And homeric. I want to use that word too, except for some reason, I can only think of using it in a sarcastic way (must be my sense of humour).

A certain parasite lives the first and last parts of its life cycle inside cats. The mid-cycle portion of their life is when it is released from the cats' body onto grass, which is then eaten by a mouse or rat. The parasite then actually changes the hosts' behaviour to make it more likely to get eaten by another cat -> rats/mice are instinctively terrified/avoid cat-smells, but in researching infected rodents, they were found to be super attracted to cat-urine, also they took an abnormal amount of risks (not hiding, but wandering around in the open/sunlight), and had slower reflexes. Since people can also be infected by this parasite through improperly handled cat-litter, researchers also discovered that people in traffic accidents are twice as likely to be infected... so, given that it's more likely you will get in an accident if you take more risks and have slower reflexes, would infected people also be strangely attracted to cat-urine?

The island of Socotra, mostly 'cause I like Sanskrit related stuff (especially the goddess Vac), and Mesa Verde (no Sanskrit there... yet...)

Parents in Tibet pay smugglers to take their children (as young as 4-5) across the Himalayan mountains (many die or lose fingers/toes/etc to the cold) to Tibetan schools in India -> the only safe place they can learn about their heritage, their religion, their history.

...The Wild Hunt... oh yeah, it's gonna happen some day...

Ogmios, or one of his other cultural variations, most likely the Irish one, 'cause, in addition to the very interesting cultural significance of dowries (for a comical rendition, see 'The Quiet Man'), I'm also interested in EriuDeirdre and The Morrigan.

...which brings me to psychopomps...

My love for these was started by the web comic Gunnerkrigg Court.

How about you? Do you gather strange facts/oddities, then warp & weave them into something different? What kind of things inspire ideas for you?


  1. I get all of those sorts of facts from the podcasts Stuff You Should Know and Stuff You Missed in History Class. I actually knew about toxoplasmosis already (pertaining to the cat parasite).

    1. Yup, so many interesting ideas out there that have to potential to inspire a new idea :)

  2. The cat one is interesting since there should be some organism that does this to humans; there are enough examples of it in nature -- take over host, alter nature a LOT, repeat etc.. There are so many stories one can tell using that idea. Some day I may even get around to doing one :)

    For stories, I tend to grab one-two ideas I run across and then build a universe around it. The current scii 'darsverse' stuff came about from a comment I'd read about how there are no sci-fi stories from the POV of mechanics and too many from pilots, and the general lack of 'blue-collar sci-fi', and then reading about how spaceships of the future might run using apps, and stuff on viable arc ships. Also stuff on a newish discovered particle -- the Z(4430) -- made up of charm quark and charm antiquark that exists in a 'charmonium state', which pretty much helped create a species of aliens.

    The fun part about working on a series or novel is that almost anything you run across during the course of it can be used -- somehow -- or stored in the head for later projects. Recent stuff...

    'Felo de se' is an archaic word for suicide (meaning felon of yourself, since suicide counted as a felony), Vancouver's war against doorknobs, a kidnapped boy who got free via using gospel songs, how many people were murdered world-wide in 2012, why people gesture even if no one is looking at them. Also the notion that yawning cools brains along with how the moon's phases affect life on earth. Err, and stuff about making fake mermaids and a missing kid who only existed on facebook.

    Can you tell I'm doing stuff or Boy & Fox? :)

  3. Haha, exactly... how it will could affect humans ;) All the bird stuff would never make it into my story as an actual bird, but probably more as a cultural aspect/etc (you know I'm thinking about Roan again...and the parasite fits perfectly in with that story as well)

    oh my goodness, the war on doorknobs thing? hilarious! maybe, the moon phase one means astrologers are more legitimate that some think...?

    The gesturing one, there was another study where they filmed kids at recess playing together/running around to compare righties and lefties, to see how, when playing, how they use their hands. Turns out, most kids use their non-dominent hand in games like tag/etc, when they touch each other... so the study concluded that the non-dominant hand is used to convey more social information like emotional state/etc

    1. The article did end on how the moon affects sleep cycles [though of course craploads of research are needed into it]. It's one of those areas of research so filled with old wives tales and hearsay that I imagine it's very hard to prove anything one way or another and not have people refute it based on 'so-and-so said this' and the like. And also the issue of how much of what is found is connected to a whole host of issues -- superstitions being one of them.

      Also, very neat study. I do wonder how people who are ambidextrous fit into that... also people with deformed or missing hands and if they also use that non-dominant limb as well.


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)