As a writing exercise, I thought I’d explore some projects that almost came to light. I’ve got a laundry list of false starts and half hearted finishes. They’re worth exploring to see just how far the flame of inspiration got me when it died out. This is a graveyard for all those brilliant ideas that didn’t survive the test of time.
In today’s addition you’ll find the corpse of my last project. The body isn’t even cold yet (2010). Won’t you join me for the autopsy? We’ll see what made it tick and what made it tank. Then to put a frown upside down, I’ll tell you what I learned from it.
PROJECT: The Straw House
ELEVATOR PITCH: James is a father-to-be. He sinks all his cash into a stigmatized property, without realizing that “stigmatized” means haunted. With his wife’s pregnancy looming, he has sixth months to complete his renovations. James learns that there are factions of ghosts throughout the house: a gang of squatters called the Jolly Rogers, a junkie named Smeg, a woman who manifests in the shower curtains and a shadow figure in the basement. After the traditional methods of exorcism fail, James is forced to get creative. Bowering inspiration from his fiancé, an econ major, James tries to lure the ghouls out with incentive schemes. First he tries to give them what they want, fire for the cold, drugs for the idled. This creates perverse incentives and the ghosts only manifest more. James switches tactics, he tries a coercive approach that lands a priest in the hospital. In the end, James opts for a moral approach. Knowing the secrets of the Straw House, James pits the Jolly Rogers against the evil entity in the basement.
STATUS: On hold. The Straw House waits to be rebuilt as a novel or a screenplay.
WHY IT FAILED: After a series of malicious attacks the server holding the site crashed. After a month of inactivity, I realized how this would affect my artificial deadline (six months). Episodic fiction doesn’t work with a ticking clock. The site got very little traffic, despite its multimedia ambitions. No one knew who I was and I hadn’t the time to advertise. I had to realize I wasn’t Mark Z. Danielewski.
What I learned from it: The division of the labor: writing, drawing, web programing and composing music, wears on you. This time out, I’m focusing on the writing. Everything else is just gravy.
ELEVATOR PITCH: A downtrodden screenwriter steals his inspiration from a forbidden text. The resulting script starts a bidding war, but the studio insists on changes before the project goes into production. Anyone who tampers with the first draft ends up dead. The screenwriter suspects a character from script has leapt off the page to defend the work. The story turns inward on itself when the audience realizes they’re watching the script the screenwriter had written. He finds himself in an endless meta loop from which there is no escape.
STATUS: A convoluted outline that tried to shoehorn every scatterbrained idea I had that summer.
WHY IT FAILED: I started this project while I was recovering from a traumatic brain injury (no fooling) and it showed. It was overcast for most of that summer, hence the name. The story borrowed too heavily from Richard Chambers The King in Yellow and John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness.
WHAT I LEARNED: A bloated outline can make for one convoluted mess. Sometimes you just need to write the damn thing and see where it goes.
PROJECT: Savior Complex
ELEVATOR PITCH: A private eye, with severe codependency issues, joins a cult to lure his ex out. Richard’s at the bottom rung of law enforcement, a private eye who specializes in tailing cheating spouses. He’s contacted by the parents of his ex, Amy. They suspect their daughter has been brainwashed into joining a cult. Richard infiltrates the cult to find its members believe themselves to be part of a relief effort for laid off assembly line workers. The leader seeks to isolate his followers from a culture of waste and excess. Amy has the wool pulled over her eyes, Richard fails to convince her of the danger she’s in. Richard works his way into Paul’s inner circle and plays to his paranoia casting suspicion on the cult leader’s enforcers. The FBI arrive after Paul has the CEO of an automotive company assassinated. Richard is forced to play his hand. Essentially, it’s Die Hard in a cult.
STATUS: The script is on it’s sixth draft. Could stand to have some major revisions.
WHY IT FAILED: I actually had the opportunity to pitch this project to a handful of producers. The weirdest response I got was, “It’s sad, but this will probably get made,” as if to say, “It’s garbage, but lots of folk like to spend their weekends sifting through the trash.” I decided to put it on the back burner, let it percolate, see if a new approach might occur to me someday. It’s been on the back burner for a few years now.
WHAT I LEARNED: Research may add some authenticity to your arsenal, but it also hinders you from making brazen creative decisions. An interesting complex villain devolved into Jim Jones before my very eyes. Research should be but one tool in your kit. Don’t let it become a crutch.