How’s it going, readers?
For the longest time, I’ve been trying to find the perfect topic to discuss on this blog in between poems, and after giving it much thought, I finally…finally…decided to discuss the kind of themes and other traits that I myself would like to discover in whatever books become published in whatever’s left of 2016—and, quite frankly, this entire decade. I’m sorry, but I simply can’t buy into the whole idea of originality being “dead,” even now. Rather, I believe that there are some ideas out there that can translate well into good novels, should the right author come around and craft his or her next book with at least one of them in mind. As a matter of fact, I’ve been able to come up with eight such ideas that would make for a novel that I myself would like to read—not even as an author myself, either, but as a fan of good literature. Who knows? Maybe by the chance you folks read this blog post, at least one of these ideas will have been made into such a publication.
Keep in mind, of course, that the following list simply reflects my own preferences. If there’s any kind of idea you have in mind that would also make for a good book, feel free to share it in the comments section below. Also keep in mind that each of these ideas need not be limited to material for novels, either, but also materials for other works of fiction like movies, television shows, video games, comic books…whatever medium might suit the premise at hand. After all, with the way various forms of entertainment often receive adaptations into other forms of media (e.g., books receiving movie adaptations) and the way people have become disenchanted with entertainment as a whole these days, trying these ideas out might be worth a shot to revitalize things somewhat. That considered, then, I hope you enjoy my list.
1. A story involving the scientific explanation of popular supernatural creatures.
In an age where one can argue that vampires, zombies, werewolves, and other such monsters have been done to death, it can be pretty hard for readers to find a unique, compelling story involving these creatures. However, even seemingly tired characters can be revitalized with the proper twist, and in this case, rather than stage the usual supernatural romance, interspecies war, or monster apocalypse, why can’t someone create a story with a premise that mirrors that of X-Men or Bloody Roar? In this example, monsters like the ones I’ve just described live amongst baseline humanity and use their inherent abilities either for the good of all humankind or for their own selfish and oftentimes destructive desires. However, scientific breakthroughs within the reality in which this setting takes place have revealed that the abilities of such individuals aren’t strictly supernatural per se, but actually the result of previously undiscovered advances in human genetics. According to this model, humans are either born with regular DNA or with a strain of genetic material that grants them one of a number of unique supernatural conditions such as vampirism, lycanthropy, and the like. These conditions grant their possessors the abilities and even relevant weaknesses of the monsters with which we are familiar.
For example, humans with vampirism are generally nimbler than baseline human; have keen nocturnal vision; are more resistant to toxins, pathogens, aging effects, and physical damage; and can (and must) subsist upon the blood of their prey—or, at the very least, artificial blood plasma. On the other hand, they likewise must subsist on foods with a low sulfur content to survive, hence their aversion to garlic, and are incredibly allergic to solar radiation and running water, among other classic weaknesses. What further makes this model interesting is just how real life science ties into the myths revolving around creatures of this nature, particularly specific ailments from the real world that sparked the myths behind such monsters. Porphyrias, for instance, are rare inherited or acquired disorders of particular enzymes that normally help to produce heme (a component of hemoglobin, a.k.a. the red pigment of blood cells, and various other hemo-proteins) that are also cited as a collective explanation for the origin stories behind vampires based upon given similarities between the ailments and vampire fiction of the 20th and 21st centuries. Some forms of this condition, according to The Brain Bank at ScienceBlog.com, lead to the deposition of toxins in the flesh that activate via exposure to sunlight and eat away at the skin, most notably the lips and gums. Such a condition would account for the dislike of sunlight that we associate these days with vampires, and the lattermost part in particular would explain vampires’ fanged, corpse-like appearance. Rabies have also been linked with vampire folklore, according to the research of Spanish neurologist Dr. Juan Gómez-Alonso. Usually transmitted through the bite of an animal—specifically that of a bat or a wolf, both of which recorded history has associated with vampires—the rabies virus affects the brain of such animals (as well as the brains of dogs and humans) through the peripheral nervous system and has been known to produce traits in its sufferers that are similar to the traits we’ve long associated with vampires. One symptom of rabies, for example, is hypersensitivity, which could very well be the cause of vampire’s susceptibility to light (including sunlight), water, strong odors such as that of garlic, and similar stimuli that cause spasms in the facial and vocal muscles that can in turn result in the baring of teeth, the utterance of hoarse sounds, and especially the bloody fluid frothing at the mouth for which people have most frequently associated with rabies. The disease also attacks the brain’s limbic system, which regulates emotions and behavior, and as such results in disturbances in regular sleeping patterns (thus explaining vampires’ nocturnal nature), hypersexuality, and the tendency to bite people. There’s even the legend of how a person who was not rabid could look upon his or her reflection, which harkens back to rabies sufferers’ aversion to stimuli—in this case, mirrors and other reflective surfaces—as well as to the myth that vampires have no reflection. On that note, both porphyria and rabies could very well be precursors to vampirism in the reality of this setting, and sufferers of either of these two diseases could either be mistaken for vampires or possibly even become vampires themselves at some time during their illness. Such is how other genetic mutations would work in this story as well, which could very well keep the baseline human characters (and even some of the genetically enhanced characters) of the setting on their toes and wondering who’s who, what’s what, and how to prepare for the worst case scenario.
Another aspect about this storytelling model would be the idea that the protagonists need not be genetically gifted. Unlike X-Men and Bloody Roar, which follows a specific handful of characters who happen to be of the “alternative breed” of their reality (i.e., the X-Men themselves being “Homo superior” and the heroes of BR being zoanthropes), one can still have the heroes of this franchise be baseline humans and be able to tell a compelling story. In fact, said story might be better off having regular humans as the leads so as to better illustrate the masses’ fear of the unknown and thus give the setting a feel that is more akin to the standard horror genre. For a better idea of how this setup would work, one needn’t look much further than the likes of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments book series; television shows like Supernatural, Grimm, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; or Aegis Studios’ table top RPG Contagion. In each of these franchises, the heroes are, for the most part, ordinary human beings who find out that the world around them isn’t exactly as mundane as they think, but rather filled with many a creature that most other people would expect to find in myths and fairy tales. Then again, rather than take the approach that these franchises take in investigating the bizarre and macabre, this particular setting would handle the existence of these beings in a manner more reminiscent of The X-Files and examine these creatures’ existences, capabilities, weaknesses, and such from a scientific point of view. This approach would also help to nullify the obligation of having the chief protagonist possess a legacy of some sort that he or she must fulfill throughout the course of the story (i.e., Buffy’s calling as a Slayer and Nicholas Burkhardt’s legacy as a Grimm) as well as a set of metaphysical powers with which he battles the forces of evil. Sure, such a hero can still exist, but even in said character’s absence, the writer can get away with having his or her focal characters simply be commonplace folks with, at most, exceptional skills in monster hunting. This model also leaves open the possibility for genetically gifted characters to become members of the party without any pressing necessity, allowing such protagonists to exist as they learn about their strange conditions and those with whom they share their extraordinary nature while accompanying their fellow heroes to achieve a greater good for the ever-evolving society around them. As a whole, then, this model would provide a wide berth for whatever direction the author wishes to take his or her story.
Speaking of supernaturally endowed humans, however…
2. Any story that focuses on (or at least involves) ríastrads
In Celtic folklore, a ríastrad is a state of body-distorting battle frenzy in which the subject’s muscles twitch violently and undergo a warp spasm that transforms him or her into a mighty and terrifyingly grotesque monster that fights with reckless abandon. Such a condition is known to be the supernatural gift of both Cú Chulainn of the Ulster Cycle of Irish folklore and Sláine, the titular hero of his own Celtic-themed barbarian fantasy adventure series as created in 1983 by the “godfather of British comics” himself, Pat Mills. To my knowledge, however, these are the only two documented characters to possess such a talent, although Marvel Comics’ very own Dr. Bruce Banner’s ability to transform into the legendary Incredible Hulk can be compared to it, regardless of its origin (i.e., gamma radiation vs. supernatural endowment). This thereby makes ríastrads quite unique in comparison to episodes of similar blessings/curses such as lycanthropy, and it’s because of this that I’d love to one day read any story in which they play a part. Imagine, if you will, a protagonist who happens to be a distant descendant of Cú Chulainn and, as such, an inheritor of the hero’s gift who must learn to cope with her birthright and keep it under wraps as she tries to live an ordinary life among the rest of humanity. Unfortunately, her secret leaks out, and she soon finds herself on the run from both those who come to fear and hate the monster that lies beneath her skin and those who want to exploit her inheritance for their own selfish goals. Then again, perhaps one could also write a story in which it isn’t the protagonist who undergoes warp spasms, but the antagonist, who could either be a straight-up villain who revels in his strange power or—if one would rather—a sympathetic character like Dr. Henry Jekyll doing everything he can to suppress the evil Mr. Edward Hyde within him. The possibilities are practically countless, especially with a broad array of subgenres of fantasy, horror, and even science fiction from which to choose. No matter what, though, one cannot deny that ríastrads make for a rather underused plot device as far as monster stories are concerned these days and would certainly help to breathe new life into the whole supernatural scene with which today’s audiences have become at times a little too familiar.
3. A literary work that investigates the morals and values of the entertainment industry and how things can change for the better.
Many people these days have complained left, right, and center that movies, music, television, video games, and books aren’t what they used to be, and for good reason. Sure, one might chalk things up to such people simply being “bitter old fogeys” longing for the “good old days” and resistant to the changes that the world has undergone since then. I can’t say I blame anyone for saying such a thing, either, considering that not everything from the 21st century has been trash, nor has everything from yesteryear been as golden as I myself would like to think it’s been. Trust me, though, folks: Simple, attentive, straightforward observation is often enough to show anyone that things can indeed be—and, in some regards, have been—better than what they’ve presently become. In one regard, one could equate matters to how overtly cautious society has become in recent years and how certain people’s oversensitivity has actually held certain forms of entertainment back from being as gutsy and, in turn, as wide-reaching and appealing as they once were. Comedy is one particular genre that a good number of individuals have claimed has suffered over the years, which I myself can’t help but agree with, and for reasons that I’ll explain later on in this article. In contrast, there are those people who have become convinced that the masses have settled for mediocrity, period, regardless of how politically correct or incorrect such material may be in the long run. Again, I agree, as I myself have seen one form after another of unfiltered smut and vulgarity smeared across the American landscape, promoted to be the next best thing in its particular neck of American (and sometimes world) culture, and go on to make millions upon millions of dollars for its creator(s). Meanwhile, countless individuals have created other forms of media with all the tender loving care in the world and have ensured that such creations possessed at least some substance to them, and yet, such creations have by and large been ignored and rejected in one way or another, never to be elevated by the masses as the genuine forms of entertainment that they truly are. It’s a sad thing, in my opinion, and I’m sure that there is at least one person out there who has made note of this fact and even written an essay on the matter that, if read, would surely drive the matter home into all but the hardest, greediest hearts in the entertainment industry. To read about this phenomenon in novel form, however, would really hit home with countless readers by presenting the issue in a way that would make them feel as well as think and as such get them talking about the state of modern entertainment to want to change it for the better. It might not immediately change the way people are entertained, but at least it will get the idea out there and encourage people to think outside the box to where they can identify genuine, quality entertainment and distinguish it from the crap with which we’ve been bombarded for so long.
4. Any story that involves good old-fashioned humor that will actually encourage people to laugh.
It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine, and from what I’ve seen, too much of what has passed for comedy in the 21st century thus far has left the masses in a rather sickened state of affairs. On one hand, we have humor that plays it so safe that it’s practically flat, sterile, and devoid of personality and therefore can hardly be called humor at all. On the other hand, sadly enough, is the most mean-spirited and obnoxious sleaze that anyone with an ounce of self-respect could ever stand to sit through—the kind of “comedy” that takes the laziest, cheapest, most thoughtless route possible to appeal to its intended audience’s funny bone. You know what I’m talking about, right? The kind of drivel that patronizes its intended audience by flagrantly clobbering it over its collective head with as much excessive profanity, sexual content, toilet bowl humor, flippant and unabashed bigotry, exploitation of real-life tragedies, and other tacky and insulting subject matter it can to get a cheap laugh. Thankfully, we still have our fair share of talented comedians on the scene today who don’t have to resort to such cheap tactics—or, for that matter, steal other comics’ material—to get a laugh from an audience. All these people have to do, really, is tell a funny story or a series of amusing jokes, one right after another, to put people in a good mood and subsequently earn their respect.
Such is the comedy I want in a book these days: simple, honest, and good-natured without being too timid to be a little “out there” at times or going out of its way to shock and disturb people. Granted, it’s the kind of comedy I expect from the entertainment world in general, but believe me when I say that if books that had this kind of humor were promoted more, then maybe—just maybe—the literary industry would benefit in the long run, and we would be able to see more books that are simply fun become best sellers. Then, if that were to happen, it could even be that the television and movie industries would follow in suit. Wouldn’t that be a treat?
5. A brand new action adventure.
Nostalgia has become quite the thing in the 21st century, which even I can understand. I mean, come on! Who doesn’t want to go back in time and relive the days when tough-as-nails heroes battled evil masterminds who wanted to either take over or destroy the world in one way or another? Sure, the formula can be pretty cut-and-dry at times, but the very basic nature of this premise was what made it work back in the day. Not only that, but there still are several—if not, in fact, hundreds of—different ways in which authors can tweak the formula to suit whatever story they may want to tell. However, I specifically would like to see some new superheroes and other action heroes come forth in American media following 2016, even if only for the reason that today’s youth deserves such icons of their own. Don’t get me wrong, however, for I’ve got nothing against any of the superheroes from the Marvel or DC Comics universes, nor do I resent motion pictures, TV shows, and the like reintroducing today’s kids to G.I. Joe, the Transformers, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the ThunderCats, or any other franchise from the 1980s and ‘90s that has experienced a revival in the past couple decades or so. Nonetheless, I’m sure there are some aspiring artists out there who’ve drawn inspiration from these figures to create heroes of their own who could help carry the torch for the next generation to enjoy. After all, we can only go to the well of yesteryear so many times before things dry up and we either have to move on to the next big thing or risk rendering the beloved brands from our childhood stale. Furthermore, despite this particular genre arguably being more suited for comic books, motion pictures, and television shows than it would novels, I’m convinced that taking a more literary approach to this genre just might offer something fresh and fetching for fans of this particular subgenre. Never mind the notion that the hero or heroes in question would stand out from the competition on account of their literary beginning, either. Rather, the story itself would stand out against other middle grade and young adult novels and offer readers and alternative from the usual supernatural, sword and sorcery, and post-apocalyptic adventure that’s been on the market for so many years by this point. Additionally, I myself wouldn’t object to seeing the usual action tropes translated in novel form. If nothing else, I’ve seen them presented many a time in such novels as First Blood by David Morrell and the Failstate series by John W. Otte, so there’s no reason why they wouldn’t work well again for whatever new action heroes could be in store for readers in the future. If nothing else, it’s worth a shot.
6. Any story revolving around the theme of moving forward.
I will freely admit that even here on my blog, I am guilty as sin for showcasing a lot of negativity in the poems that I post, no matter how much of a spin I try to put on them otherwise. Even so, I myself know that when it comes to reality, there is only one direction in which time flows: forward. Sadly, in this day and age when the economy’s still not in all that great of shape and news stories of violence and political turmoil seem to come one right after another, we all must remind ourselves that this era isn’t going to last forever and that each of us must do everything he or she can to not only keep our spirits up, but also to ensure that the years to come are a relief from all that we’re having to endure now. Many is the story, too, that has taken this concept and crafted it into a narrative that has touched the heart of many an audience member and stuck with him and her throughout time to remind him or her that no matter how great a loss one has suffered or how imposing another kind of obstacle one might face in life, all one needs to do to succeed in the end is take a deep breath, screw one’s heels in, take action, and never give up until one finally conquers said obstacle. However, no matter how many writers have created stories with this theme in mind, I doubt that there could ever be enough, and quite frankly, I’d love to see one such novel top the best sellers list this year based on general principle alone. After all, it’s a lesson that—even if only in my own opinion—we all must remember as we carry on through life.
7. Any story based on folklore.
If there’s one thing I always enjoy, it’s learning about another culture’s mythology—heroes, deities, monsters, artifacts…you name it. I’m quite thankful to know, too, that such a series as Rick Riordin’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians has garnered as much success as it has since its inception, and I wish for Mr. Riordin nothing less than the same amount of success with Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. That being said, I look every bit as forward to the next literary adventure involving one kind of folklore or the other simply because of how fun it is for me to learn about the tales of old that influence a given people’s history. Even when writers only give their readers bits and pieces of mythology in the stories they write, it’s enough to encourage said readers to delve deeper into the mythos they’re learning about and find out more about it. On that note, why can’t writers and publishers encourage these people to explore these tales even further by writing more novels involving the folklore of civilizations past and present and allowing such tales to be published for the masses to enjoy? One doesn’t even have to retell the legends themselves, even though that in and of itself would still be very compelling—especially for lesser-explored tales like the Lament for Ur (a.k.a. the Lamentation over the City of Ur) from Sumerian legend or the Raven Tales of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Instead, simply including elements of these myths can help a writer tell a story that would appeal to readers who want to escape modern reality for a good hour or two. I’ve already mentioned Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase as two solid examples of stories that use bits of mythology to help direct the plot, but television’s own Hercules: The Legendary Journeys based itself on ancient Greek lore—even if only superficially—to illustrate the fictitious adventures of the legendary Greek hero and his loyal friend Iolaus. Granted, the show has been known to confuse its timeline from time to time, according to Wikipedia, as well as mix in elements of Far Eastern, Egyptian, and Medieval culture as well as the occasional 1990s reference for an occasional gag here or there, but even then, the show was popular enough to run for five seasons from the January of 1995 to the November of 1999. Heck, I could even throw the 2005 BKN International cartoon Legend of the Dragon onto this list on account of how its premise revolved around many elements from Chinese mythology, particularly the twelve animals of the Shēngxiào (Chinese zodiac) and the principles of Yin and Yang, and managed to gain a loyal fanbase in spite of lasting a mere two seasons. Such just goes to show that franchises with this specific theme do have their place in today’s society and can be adaptable enough to tell whatever story the writer has in mind. The only real limit to consider is one’s own imagination.
8. The “Next Big Thing” in middle grade and/or young adult fantasy.
Many has been the franchise that has captivated younger readers and shown them that reading can be every bit as exciting as watching a TV show or a movie. Then again, when it comes to more recent times, no other literary endeavor has proven this to be true to the extent that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has. Dating as far back as its UK release on June 26, 1997, the saga of this orphaned boy wizard has enjoyed a decade-plus-long lifecycle on bookstore shelves in original releases alone with the seventh and final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, hitting the market initially on July 21, 2007 and having an estimated worldwide sales record of forty-four million copies. Not since have the masses received a new Harry Potter book, and yet, the titular hero’s legacy continues to touch readers, even with so many franchises—including Percy Jackson, Mortal Instruments, the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series, Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, James Dashner’s Maze Runner quintet, and even Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series—coming to light since its inception. Many of these literary franchises are quite beloved, too, but only a handful of them have even come close to garnering the same level of celebration that Harry Potter has gotten since day one.
All this achievement in mind, that’s still no reason for authors to not try to produce something of equal prestige to Ms. Rowling’s signature series, especially with Writer’s Digest’s Writer’s Handbook 2016 reporting the rise in popularity of juvenile (picture book, middle grade, and young adult) literature (p. 8). According to their reports, Nielsen data shows that juvenile e-book sales since 2004 have grown from twenty-three percent to thirty-seven percent of the total book market with 2014 having the highest reported sales since records began. Juvenile fiction overall, furthermore, grew eight percent since 2009, which further indicates a growing trend towards the popularity of books aimed towards a younger demographic. Hopefully, then, that should make enough room for the next breakout series to emerge in the not-too-distant future, and perhaps that very series from book one onward will garner every bit as much good fortune as Harry Potter did in terms of movies, merchandising, and all-out fan support and become as iconic for our times as Harry has for his.
Well, that should do it for this entry. Sorry it’s been a while since my last article and that I’m particularly late in writing up this one, considering how far into the “new” year we’ve already gotten. I still hope you’ve enjoyed this article nonetheless, and believe me when I say that I do look forward to some new, talented authors come to the forefront of the literary industry so that they can offer today’s readers some excellent stories that can hold their own with the timeless classics that the masses have come to love and help cleanse our memories of the garbage that has tainted the literary scene. Chances are, too, that by now—as I’ve said before—there’s already at least one story that has used one of the eight ideas I’ve presented here as its basis, and if there is, I’d definitely check it out. If there isn’t…well, then, maybe it’ll be up to me to provide such a work for someone to read. Stranger things have happened, after all.
Anyway, that’s enough rambling for now. I’d like to thank you all for reading this, and as always, be sure to visit my author pages at Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk to see what I have available, and please stay tuned for more content in the near future. Until then, happy reading!
Dustin M. Weber
PS: All credit for the pics used in the above article goes to as follows:
After Sunset: Werewolves
Additionally, cited fact in Section 8 belong to the following source:
Friedman, Jane. “Juvenile Remains Strong Growth Area.” Writer’s Digest Writer’s Yearbook 2016: 8. Print.
The opinions discussed within, however, are the author’s own.