I usually do the following in Word, a form of elenchus with myself as I seek to take an initial idea and refine it, expand upon it, explore the possibilities until I have enough to begin writing with or decide to discard it all and start anew. I’m going to attempt the same here on the blog in preparation for February’s novel. Whether this will be interesting reading material I cannot say; it will however allow a glimpse into my creative process, a formula I have followed for every book I have written thus far.

So. The initial premise is to take the Jekyll and Hyde idea, wherein somebody through outside interference transforms nightly or every few days into their exact opposite; in Dr. Jekyll’s case he went from being a refined, intelligent person into the brutal, bestial Mr. Hyde. I’ll take this idea and invert it, having a brutal, bestial orc come across a magical artifact, say a crown perhaps, which when worn turns him into a tactical genius, giving him access to magic, vision, the charisma of a born leader. However, in true Jekyll & Hyde fashion, this only works for brief durations; he oscillates between being a brilliant leader and his own normal brutish self.

Alright, so what would the plot of the novel be? We take our lowly grunt, begin in the far and desolate reaches of a mountain range infested with orcs and goblins, and have him stumble upon this artifact. With its aid he reverses his fortunes, gaining leadership over his immediate tribe, and then leading them across the mountains, absorbing all the other tribes as he defeats their leaders or his enhanced stature begins to draw them naturally to his side. That might be the first third of the novel, exploring orc culture, his rise to glory, his fight to hide himself every time the power of the crown recedes. I’d have fun building his army, from mountain trolls to hordes of goblins, shamans riding wyverns to massive orcs riding mountain boars.

The middle would encompass his spilling out of the mountains, leading the united might of the orcs into human kingdoms. In the beginning nothing stands in his way, he loots and pillages and murders and burns his way through the cities and land, amassing ever more allies and dismaying his opponents. As his successes grow, so do his internal rivals within the orc horde, making it ever harder to hide his stupidity when the crown’s power recedes. His own intelligence grows tired of the destruction, setting up the final third.

The final third would be where the situation has grown so complex, the forces arrayed against him monumental as all the humans, elves and dwarves unite for one great and final battle. But even as he extends his hand to take the world, to defeat the combined nations of civilization and settle an age of darkness across the world with himself enthroned upon it, he is undone.

How is he undone? The easiest way would be for him to lose the crown, and his true self be revealed, causing everything to collapse around him. While that would work, I need something with a little more oomph. As always, when faced with an orcish dilemma, it behooves one to turn to Aristotle, whose criteria for a tragic hero are as follows:

Criteria: A man of high station and fortune but not outstanding in regards to virtue or justice whom we pity and fear; he falls into misfortune not through his own evil and depravity, but through some sort of flaw within him.

So, let’s see how our orc stacks thus far:

  1. A man of high station and fortune: check. Our orc gains high station and power through his acquisition of the crown, thrusting him into the center of global doings. 
  2. But not outstanding in regards to virtue or justice: Ha! He’s a world conquering orc, intent on destroying the world of men for the sake of fire and the urge to dominance that courses through his green blood. I think he’s got this covered.
  3. Whom we pity and fear: Actually, this works well: we’ll pity him for hiding his true nature, for living in fear of being discovered, and hopefully fear him for his power and magic as he takes control of the world.
  4. He falls into misfortune not through his own evil and depravity, but through some sort of flaw with him: OK, so it looks like he should be poised to defeat all his foes, but something within him, at the very end, that has been building throughout the novel prevents him from doing so. How about… let’s jump out of this list format first.
OK, so how about his elevated, intelligent side starts to yearn for more than blood and conquest? He truly does become more Jekyll and Hyde as his new side becomes ever different from his orcish roots, growing every disgusted with the savagery and bloodshed that he is the cause of, such that, at the very end, rather than losing the crown and failing to succeed, he discards the crown, consigning his higher self to stupidity, relinquishing the higher realms he has come to enjoy for the sake of saving the world, knowing that he will immediately regret his decision upon becoming ‘himself’ once more.
That works. So let’s check the resonances here: we have Flowers for Algernon (might try writing each personality in a different style to reflect their different world views), we have a huge homage to the Warhammer game of my youth, and we have Raymond E Feist’s Thomas discovering Ashen-Ruger’s armor from Magician (though the crown would not have it’s own personality), Samuel Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, and of course Jekyll and Hyde.
Actually, this is coming together really well. First third would be the discovery of his new powers and rise to power amongst the orcs, middle would be his first glorious sweep down into the lands of men, and the final third would be the great confrontation and his decision to not follow through.
Oh, perhaps some Philip K. Dick influence in there in terms of question of identity, at the end of the novel, is the orc really his stupid self, or is he his elevated self? Is he both?
Things to be aware of from the beginning: the writing style has to reflect each different outlook. So the base orc would be direct, unimaginative, instinctive, the language without metaphor, great for detail but doing nothing with it, reactive, more stream of thought, animal-like. The elevated self would be more fancy writing, metaphors, etc. 
Something else: need to sow the seeds from the beginning that setup the final abdication. Very faint in the first third, evident in the middle, crescendo at the end. Can’t be a sudden change. Also, it would be more powerful if there is a cause for it, more understandable if something helps change his point of view. Not just a dry philosophical change. So perhaps he meets somebody, or falls in love? A tragic love, in that he can never have her by definition of what he is, what he is doing. A human woman, a captive perhaps? Who challenges him as they travel with the army across the land, enraging him and forcing him to think in new lines? Perhaps. This would be hard to pull off without being either a) super creepy or b) forced and hackneyed. 
Ok, I think that’s come together well. Looks like I’ll give it a shot in February. Ha, eleven days! I’ll have to do some brainstorming on the side now on world building. The setting will have to be sufficiently detailed to carry all this along. Don’t want to go with generic fantasy medieval, all pastoral and bland. So, some thought there. And names. Names will be important. Looks like I have my homework cut out for me.