Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Sparking a World

By Catrin Pitt
Copyright © 2008 by Catrin Pitt, All Rights Reserved


The kid comes home in the usual panic: a forgotten assignment is due in a couple of days, 500 words on what Leonardo da Vinci was good at other than painting.  Not a problem.  Being a writer and a hoarder of all books interesting, you drag out the couple you have on the genius and flip them open to show your kid the wonders of the man.  One sketch catches his interest, that of the tank.  With renewed vigour he reads and then writes, the 500 words achieved easily.

That night you sleep well, knowing that your job as a parent has been done.

Except one image keeps returning to your mind: da Vinci's human-powered helicopter.  Overlaying itself on your real life, this image coalesces into something modern, something writable.  Real life, the mundane, the normal, the insignificant, becomes your inspiration.

Your Muse starts working; a story is created in a contemporary world where the da Vinci helicopters are a form of transport, Vits (short for Vitarolla).  You see a man, the only son, who flies one of these crafts, as a crop duster on the family farm.  He dreams of joining the military, but the family is against this.  His father needs him to take over the farm, soon; he has an incurable disease that he is keeping secret.  His mother worries about his safety.  His older sister, about to marry to another farmer's son, wants him to stay, not only for the family's farm but for her fiancé's farm; her brother can do the work for both farms, no need to pay someone else.  His younger sister is okay with it, but not just yet.  Big brother is teaching her how to fly in secret.  No one will take on a woman as a pilot, so when he leaves the family will have to let her fly the Vits.  But she can't fly solo yet. 

To add to the conflicts, the woman everyone has marked as his future wife can see her chance of gaining control of not only one farm but maybe a second (the sister-in-law's) slipping away, so she plans to trap him into marriage.

A story has begun, all because you want to use this cool machine.  Nice.

Words start to appear on the PC screen: the opening scene, the second, the third.  All is good, all is well.  Then it goes to pot. Holes appear, big enough to drive a eighteen wheeler through.

Sure Jimmy, the son, flies the Vit on the farm, but why did the Vitarolla come into being instead of the aeroplane?  Da Vinci drew this machine way before the Wright Brothers created their successful flying machine.  Da Vinci drew lots of machines, some of which have been tried out in current times and found to be workable.  Were they tried out by da Vinci himself?  Did he just draw sketches for the sake of drawing or was there some ultimate purpose?  And if they were built, did they fail or succeed?

Your Muse questions your world.  Your imagination answers, with a mix of truth and fiction.  Da Vinci wasn't a rich man; he needed a patron, a sponsor.  One such sponsor needed his talents as an architect and engineer, for his buildings and his army.  But what need did he have for machines that did not have an immediate use?  The Church also forced its influence on the genius, halting his clandestine practice of dissecting bodies and studying the human form.  To soothe the ruffled feathers of both his patron and the Church, da Vinci painted.  At least the forbidden practice could be excused under the guise of advancing his art.

The burning question becomes "What would change to allow da Vinci's flying machine to become a reality?"

You dream about that question, when it doesn't keep you awake at night.  Images flash before your eyes as you drive the kid to school.  Slowly an idea coalesces. 

Could it be that the Church's influence was weaker, that the fighting between the dominant families of the time less prevailing?  Da Vinci could have been from a rich family, able to indulge and experiment without worry of cost or hindrance.

Given that you can change history, change the world, you decide that in a time when wagons were the most advanced form of transport, a new flying machine appeared: the Vitarolla.  At first it was a status symbol.  Only the richest families could afford to be flown and the machine was capable of only transporting one person.   It also required two men to power the machine.  Not very practical, but as time goes on, as da Vinci and others like him developed the idea, the human powered machines became mechanised, first powered by steam, then by petrol, now by solar power.  All efforts went into advancing the machines currently used, rather than in the development of the lowly wagon.

But the flying machine, in these early years, was not suitable for the mass transportation of goods or even many people.  The wagon remained the most suitable method, until disaster struck.  A weird strain of equine flu struck decimated the equine population, killing most of the stock and making infertile those that survived.  The horse became a rare animal.

Without horses and mules, the wagon is reduced to being pulled by men.  That in itself poses a whole new problem for your muse to solve.  Who would subject themselves to becoming a pack animal?  The idea of forced labour creeps into your world.  There will be no outcry about this in your new world; the Church is ineffectual in promoting the importance of human life.  Government is ruled by the rich and powerful with no active conscience.

There is still the problem of transporting goods efficiently over land.  Fighting copiers of his Vitarolla, da Vinci throws his mind into solving this new problem.  He creates a robot horse.  It doesn't work as well as the Vit, so he modifies it, reducing the mechanical creature to the bare minimum, and creates a box-like structure with multiple legs.  Boxes can be driven by one person and linked to others, almost like a centipede.  Your world is forming.

As you go about your daily business in the real world, every thing you see, the most mundane and ordinary things take on a new light.  Would that have existed in your Vit world?  Cars certainly don't.  The Vit and the Peed are the only mechanical forms of transport.  The Vit is obviously airborne and the Peed doesn't need roads, doesn't even need flat land -- its many little legs can traverse the terrain as it is -- so the city isn't scarred by black tracts.  Houses have flat roofs for the Vits and sheds for the Peeds.  Houses sit on more land, since there are no roads, just grassy alleyways between buildings.  Everything is greener.

The sky is also different.  Instead of blueness above, the sky is streaked with movement.  Is it random or are there corridors?  Do the Vits move on one level or, since they have vertical space, are different altitudes used for different purposes: direction, number of people carried, cost of Vit, position within society?

Has a child born in this society ever seen a sunset?  The stars?  Clouds?  Do they see horses in the zoo or a museum?  If horses aren't around to ride, what is the equivalent of a pony club?  What sports would have developed in a society where flight was available to all but the poorest of the poor?  What do the cool and the rich kids do for transport?  Do they have their own individual Vits or Peeds?  Or is it cooler to walk?

Questions and answers build a society, its people, their culture.

A world is sparked.  All because your kid didn't do his homework on time.