Let me tell you a story.
Back in junior high, I played with an ill-conceived sci-fi story that was heavily influenced by the Jak & Daxter series on the PS2. It was a horrible mess of a tale, and I was by no means the writer I am today. It was more like terrible fanfiction. Really terrible fanfiction. And yet my friend Vivian ate it up. Some days I can never understand how this girl listens to my rambling, but she does. I was so pleased to have an audience for my creative rambles, even if it was only an audience of one.
This particular story revolves around a character named Phar. True to a story about a rebellion attempting to over-throw a tyrant, Phar’s first appearance established him as an elite member of said tyrant’s royal guard who was actually a double-agent. Though not a high-ranking member of the rebellion, and thus not privy to any of their plans, he sold them palace secrets, coming off as if he wished to see an end to his master’s cruelty.
During the course of the story, he develops an intimate relationship with a young woman from the rebellion named Leta (a mind-product by dear Vivian). An intelligent and capable fighter, Leta was much higher in the rebellion’s ranks than Phar could hope to be, though she didn’t quite have a leadership role. She had, however, grown-up in a rather harsh environment, raised by her peers and never received much in the line of affection. Although they clashed at first, Leta and Phar eventually settled into a romantic relationship.
You all should know where this is going.
Guess what? Phar’s a traitor. Yes, while he sold secrets to establish himself as a trustworthy source, he needed access to the inner workings of the rebellion in order to crush them. And Leta gave him that. The deception left her heart-broken, and scared to trust.
He also turned into a horrible gloater, but assholes are assholes.
It was then that Vivian told me something that has stuck with me all of these years. It’s no great secret and it provided me with no epiphany, but it was just this little note that has stayed with me all of these years.
Vivian, being from Egypt, speaks Arabic, and one day informed me that “far” (or Phar) was the Arabic word for “rat.”
How delightfully fitting for this scumbag of a character.
I don’t know why this little bit of information stuck with me for so long. It’s really an amusing coincidence at best. Years went by, the story was abandoned, and I eventually learned how to write. Our little exchange eventually became background information.
In the process of creating a new story, I was fiddling with some character ideas. One result was that of a sorcerer who—very likely influenced by my having played Dishonored—could summon a swarm of magical rats. This sorcerer was also a former-street urchin—or, perhaps more aptly, a street rat.
I needed something to call this guy. However, the figure I imagined was a dramatic one, proud of his hungry years, theatrical, and more than a little arrogant. Recycling “Phar” would simply not do such a lavish character justice.
So I asked, “How would one say “King of Rats” in Arabic?”
And Vivian responded, “Malekulfar.”
Both elegant-looking and sounding, the name screamed “sorcerer.” While it isn’t the character’s actual given name (it would be a silly thing for a mother to call her child), it was the perfect thing for people to call him. In time, I decided it was street talk. “Malekulfar” would be a title given to gang leaders in the desert setting the character came from.
And that was that.
So, why am I telling you this story? Because, I think there’s a lesson to it. No matter how awful your old work might’ve been, how ashamed you are of every aspect of it, how much you want to light it on fire and dance in the ashes, remember: even the worst story can hold inspiration.