Sunday, November 25, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Roadside Bigfoot

I turn again to the Fortean Times; to the same page of the same Fortean Times as last week, in fact, as the quarter-column about the mechanical ape is preceded by Bigfoot coverage: about three-quarters of a column on Bigfoot sightings in, and a dubious YouTube video from, Ohio (not thought of as Bigfoot country by the mainstream media), and half a column on a practical joker in Montana dressed in a ghillie suit and trying to spark a Bigfoot flap being accidentally hit by a teen driver, then run over by the teen driving the car behind her. Which is tragic, particularly for the teens, who now get to live with the fact that they've killed a man; even if it was, arguably, not their fault. Being hit by a car has to be accepted as a natural risk inherent in the activity of dressing in camouflage and deliberately looming up from the side of the highway trying to scare people at night.

Nor are cars the only hazard involved in impersonating Bigfoot, particularly in a state like Montana where gun racks are standard pickup equipment; but that's probably why August was chosen as hoaxing month. People are a lot less primed to shoot large animals in August than in November.

This is all evocative enough, but the trouble is, there's no real implied plot here. None of the characters have any obvious connection beyond that fatal conjunction at the side of the highway and nothing was at stake in the masquerade except for a practical joke. In a sparsely-populated state like Montana, the odds are reasonable that all of the principals knew each other, at least by sight, but Westerners are accustomed to driving long distances for what would seem to be slight cause in more densely-populated areas, and he presumably chose a relatively well-traveled area to maximize the potential that his prank would pay off, so it isn't a given.

So if you're going to use these elements, you have a lot of work ahead of you still. Here's some sample questions to answer before you even sit down to write:

Does the accident have to be fatal, or can you get away with pulling that punch and telling a farce?

Is the accident the end of the story, or the beginning? If it's the end, then the story is a tragedy (unless the hoaxer was using a Bigfoot disguise to cover up a nefarious crime, which is contrived and melodramatic, but contrived melodrama still has its place in literature); if at the beginning, the story will be about the two teens learning to cope with what happened and can, therefore, have a happy ending.

Is there some useful mid-point for the event, the third-act turn, for example, in which the discovery of a Bigfoot hoaxer turns the entire plot to that point on it's head? This would require that the protagonists (presumably the teens) were dealing with some mysterious events, all of which have been assumed to be Bigfoot-related; but now that they know about the man in the ghillie suit, not only have they got accidental manslaughter on their consciences, a big chunk of whatever they were involved in is suddenly not explained by the Bigfoot hypothesis and they're on a downhill run to the climax.

What are the connections between the two teens, the hoaxer, and Bigfoot, either as a concept or as a real phenomenon?

What more interesting motives than tomfoolery or boredom might have prompted a Bigfoot hoax? Perhaps the hoaxer is not a mere silly joker, but someone trying to create a flap in order to hoist the local economy out of the dumps through increased tourism. Perhaps there's a real Bigfoot population and he's trying to protect it by drawing the attention of cryptid hunters to areas where it's not.

Does it have to be Bigfoot?

Does it have to be Montana? Sometimes an incident floating in isolation in the news can be snapped into place in one's own culture and location, and you know that, if that had happened here, it would have happened on such-and-such a road, the hoaxer would have been a member of a particular subculture, his motivation would have been thus-and-so, and the teens would have been on their way to the county line to buy kegs; and the rest of the story would roll out effortlessly from there.

This is why people think it's hard to get ideas. Getting ideas is as easy and pleasant as reading the Fortean Times. Developing ideas, now - that's work!


  1. Now this is my kind of story! In fact the guy in the Bigfoot costume and the mechanical gorilla would, in an ideal world, be part of the same story. I'd set the whole thing in Cambridgshire, not Montana, because I went to University there so I know the place is crawling with mad scientists... including Japanese ones. In fact it was the Japanese professor who was in the Bigfoot suit. He wasn't killed, merely concussed and suffering from temporary amnesia. So he can't remember why he needed to be in the Bigfoot suit or what the gorilla's Top Secret government mission was. And the remote control unit got smashed in the accident too. This is really bad news because just at that moment the other robot gorilla (the bad one) turns up. So it's left for our plucky and resourceful teens (geeky students from the university doing really useful subjects like Ancient History and French Literature) to save the day...

  2. I'd read it! Write that sucker.

    Alas, the trouble with amnesia is that you really need to remember what he's forgotten early in the process, before you write yourself into a corner.

  3. I might just take you on! And I always make sure I know how a story is going to end before I get to the point of actually writing anything!

  4. Having slept on it, I find that I haven't come to my senses and it still seems like a pretty cool idea. I was casting around for something creative to do anyway. I will probably do a 10,000 word novelette and stick it on the Kindle store. Would you be interested in seeing it to comment on it before it's published? Even if not, I'd like to send you a free copy, but I don't know your email address and can't find you or Damon on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. How do I send stuff to you? Assuming you want stuff sent, that is.

  5. Hmm...guess I did kind of bury my contact information. (Puts "update blog and webpage with e-mail address" on "to do" list.) When I look at the blog I can see my g-mail address in the top right corner, but it's with the "New Post Design Sign Out" links, so I suppose it must not be there for other people. You can use, or my regular address of; but I don't have an e-reader and when (I suppose it is when, not if, at this point) I get one it won't be a Kindle, so give me a head's up before sending it to me and I'll tell you what format I can read it in.

    Have fun with it, and always glad to be of service.

  6. Thanks very much, Peni - I've made a note of both addresses so you can delete them if you want to (I find it's a bad idea to have your email address on the web, not because of humans but because of spambots. Writing "penigriffin at gmail dot com" fools the latter but not the former). I was thinking of sending the draft as a PDF, but it won't be for a few weeks so I'll let you know when it's ready.