It could start with something as simple as a name. For me, back around 2006 or 2007, it was the word “Azaria,” and the dreamlike vision of ships, tall sales flapping crisply in the breeze, sailing beneath a fiery sunset of oranges and purples, upon a sea reflecting that sunset with tinges of gold and flashes of silver. But who did these ships belong to? What were they doing? “Aarrrrr,” I thought… but it was a doubt-ridden exclamation because Johnny Depp and his pirates were far too mainstream already, so it was more of an “Aarrrrr?” with a dog-like tilt of the head. But beyond all that, what was I going to do with these ships, no matter who they belonged to?
Ironically, or perhaps not, I wasn’t dreaming of ships because I wanted to create some grand form of literary entertainment. At that time I was actually trying to dream up my very own roleplaying game, along the lines of Dungeons & Dragons, with my own setting and my own set of rules… or, ya know, Savage Worlds rules. I just wanted a fun, rip-roaring adventure game I could play with my wife and son on weekends and after school.
But, as previously stated, pirates were too “all the rage” at the moment, and so I sought to avoid that. So what about Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds? What about just trying to make a living with your ship from job to job, but on my beloved ocean rather than out in deep space? And what if I could take that premise and keep it confined primarily to the coastlines and oceans, never venturing too far away from the sea, and combine it all with various levels of technology and throw in some Greek mythology and D&D-style monsters every now and then and….? Whoa, boy! Slow down! Or better yet, don’t! Rule of thumb: never intentionally stifle your own imagination while it is attempting to soar.
At this point, ideas were beginning to develop and churn. It was a frantic hodgepodge of thoughts, nearly assaulting me, popping into my mind all at one time. In no particular order, it went something like this (and please, try to picture this as a circular jumble with no beginning or end): “Male heroes are overly abundant… how about a girl… with blue hair! Daunia, for no discernible reason… note to self: Google Daunia to see if it’s taken. Maybe she has a pet miniature dragon that stays perched on her shoulder like a pirate’s parrot. That would be cool. Wait, is that cool or lame? Azaria. That’s the name of the world, and if it’s not the whole world then at least it’s a big, big ocean bordered by plenty of coastal regions. She can’t handle a ship all by herself… she needs a crew. How about that guy Hamish from Braveheart? Yeah, that red-headed guy. But I can’t call him that. What about Red–… Redman… Redwake… Redwood! And some other people… I can come up with them later. So they sail around the sea and take on jobs, like Malcolm Reynolds. Man, this could be a whole series! Of roleplaying adventures though? No… well, yes but no… man, I miss comic books. But I can’t draw. So I’ll just write it. Because I can do that. But I still want it to be episodic, like a comic book. Not even a series of novels… actual issues like a comic book!”
And so the seeds of the Blue Daunia series were planted. Rough ideas can later be sketched out in a notebook or computer text file. I actually had a thin three-ring binder which I took to work and kept in my office while there (I was a grocery store manager at the time), and every time a name or an idea would come to me, I would jot it down and make a few notes beside it. This was back before the time when you couldn’t sneeze without hitting a smartphone, and nowadays I recommend some sort of notepad app so that your notebook is always in your pocket. Anyway… you will notice, if you haven’t already done so, that a name that pops into your head is usually accompanied by some sort of face or occupation or role within the story (or concept of a story). Jot it all down, as much as you can! And thus I began to chart out gods and goddesses, priests and priestesses, small villages and sprawling cities, ships, captains, allies, villains… and all of this without so much as a hint of a firm plot in place. Oftentimes, a plot can stem from nothing more than a handful of characters and their motivations, coupled with some cool locations for them to do their things in. Give that some thought, and possibly even a try.
But whatever you do, don’t shut it all down! It might sound, from time to time, stupid to you. You might wonder what the hell you were thinking. Someone else you’ve ran it by might tell you it’s really not that good. Don’t listen! (Not yet, anyway… I’ll talk more about beta readers later). First of all, they may be wrong. It might be excellent and you’re just talking to the wrong person. Secondly, even if it is a load of hogwash, it’s a start! It’s highly malleable. It can be pounded out and polished (that miniature parrot-dragon eventually became a crossbow with blade-edged dragon wings, for example, because Game of Thrones became a thing and I didn’t want Daunia to come across as just another heroine with a dragon). The bottom line is this: these are your seeds. Nurture them. Work on them. Expound upon them. You never know when they might sprout up and merge into something truly phenomenal.