Hollywood is dead set to refresh everything you’ve ever seen. I figure if I can’t stop them, then I’ll show them how it’s done. What film franchise do you wish you could take back to the drawing board? Not for nostalgia’s sake, but because there’s something worth exploring there.
Here’s how my new series will work: you give me a film franchise in dire need of repair and I’ll write you a fully realized pitch. As a former script reader, I’ve written over two-hundred coverages, as well as treatments, and script notes. Having pitched to networks and studios, sat in on meetings, and the board of the Minnesota Screenwriters Workshop, I can say I know my way around a screenplay.
Rather than criticize the parade of titles Hollywood dishes out, I want to pose alternatives. If I say I could come up with a better plot, I better have a narrative to back it up. Any mega fan can recognize where a series fell flat, but it’ll take some imagination to wrench it back up off the ground. It’s one thing to say The Phantom Menace lacked a clear protagonist, it’s another to give it one.
I’m not just going to make an abstract series of demands for J.J. Abrams to check through when he’s making the next Star Wars movie. I’m going to write a condensed outline of what that movie might be. Explaining my reasoning, I’ll show my work, and welcome objections.
I’m going to start by scraping the bottom of the barrel, the films with so many entries they’ve destroyed their own continuity. The ones that no longer resemble the classics they came from. The ones that jumped the shark, nuked the fridge, and stepped in the Eopie poop.
I’m talking about the sequels that took spec scripts and shoe horned their series mainstays in, because it was cheaper than writing a fresh script (Die Hard and Hellraiser I’m looking in your direction). I’m talking about the franchises that were ruined by investors who thought it would be a good idea to bring aliens in (Highlander fans are still pretending part 2 never happened). I’m talking about the reboots that did more harm to the brand than good (Nightmare on Elm Street is not supposed to put you to sleep).
Here’s my proposal: I want to tell new stories with new characters, in the same universe. Let’s take the best parts of fan fiction and put them up on screen. I’ll make controversial proposals that could spark heated debate. I’ll take the backbones of these franchises, and spin them on their heads. Knowing that most of these properties are already being remade, I’ll pitch something so far out of the left field, no one will see it coming. I’ll be the lightning rod to direct your nerd rage at, the spark that ignites yelling matches between geeks, the free lunch for trolls everywhere.
Here’s my stance: I’d rather refresh a franchise than reboot it. Let’s tear down the old sets and rebuild from the ground up. Forget about Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, a retelling that missed the social commentary of the original. Give me Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a familiar concept from a different vantage point, with a whole new cast of characters.
I don’t want to see a young Captain Kirk face off against the Borg. I want the series to boldly go to a plot line it hasn’t gone to before, to show us new worlds, and give us new moral quandaries. Don’t get me wrong, I love this new cast, but I don’t want to see them in another story with a Khan-like villain. Captain Picard became Captain Ahab over the course of four movies, let’s not have Kirk go through the same transformation.
We don’t need to meet a young Connor Macleod, we need to meet his Highlander brethren. We don’t need to paint the mask of irony on another Eric Draven, let’s have a Crow film starring a woman. We don’t need a found footage Jason movie, we need a Friday the 13th with a protagonist who is just as compelling.
Do we need to see what’s in the Freeling family’s closet again, or could we meet a new family with a similar Poltergeist situation?
Does Ridley Scott need to take us to the engineers’ home world in Prometheus 2, or could we take a pit stop in one of the worlds they’ve decimated already? Maybe he could introduce us to a creature in the engineers’ arsenal that makes the Alien xenomorphs look like kittens in comparison, something the Predators wouldn’t have a chance at hunting.
If Clive Barker really wants to wow me with his next Hellraiser movie, he’d make Pinhead the protagonist, and have him take on a even more malevolent foe. OR make the cenobites one of two feuding demon mobs our hero is forced to play against each other, like a grifter with a debt hanging over her head. OR he’d go back to his original concept and make the cenobites other worldly sadomasochists with no affiliation with the afterlife. These creatures aren’t moralists, but explorers in the further regions of experience.
Your job will be to tell me what series you think is broken, in the comments section. I’m not going to catalogue their problems (the rest of the internet has got that covered). My job will be to prescribe a solution, to pitch a fix, to adjust an established universe to accommodate a brand new story. I’ll write a treatment that hits every major plot point, with a logline and everything. I’ll give you conflict, a character arc, the whole shebang.
You’re welcome to come back and nitpick, to respectfully disagree, or to shout heresy until your lungs bleed.
With a little luck we’ll come up with something so cool that we’ll feel compelled to free it from its source material and turn it into its own thing.
Are you feverish from franchise fatigue? Do you suffer from sequelitis? Has nonstop nostalgia left you feeling nauseous?
Are you stricken with sickness at the silver screen? Are the prevailers of popular pictures only pitching placebos? Are you missing the mystery at your marquee, the thought at your theater, the brains at your box office? Do you require a remedy for all these reboots, an antidote for antiquated archetypes, an inoculation from adaptations?
You’ll have to get sick before you can get better. You’ll have to subject yourself to something that insults your intelligence so completely that you won’t be able to suffer through another installment. You’ll have to let Lucas and Spielberg fire you up, before you can burn that bridge. You’ll have to watch in quiet awe as they…
A Screenwriting Professor’s Prophecy
When the market crashed, our screenwriting professor decided to put his curriculum on hold for a day. The giant notepad, which usually featured terms like, “Drive, Goals” and “Conflict,” had a graph on it. Drawing in a deep breath, he searched his eyelids for the right words. “This is a hard industry to break into. It’s about to get a whole lot harder.”
Our professor had a vision of the future; a time when the average theater-goer had less change rattling around in their pocket. A time when seeing a movie would be reserved for special occasions, when there was a big title to draw a crowd. With everyone tightening up their belts, they’d be less likely to take a chance on something they’d never heard of.
He foretold the death of the original premise. He saw a marquee filled with familiar titles; a handful of franchises with annual entries. He saw each of us sitting on stacks of unrequited spec scripts. He saw the image of the lone screenwriter cracking his knuckles at the typewriter, replaced by a committee in a boardroom.
Soon, the studios would make sure that everything on their docket was a tentpole picture, a safe bet blockbuster, a for certain sure thing. Production costs were too high to gamble with. A few box office bombs, would unseat studio dynasties. Risk had to be eliminated. It wasn’t enough to have bankable actors, audiences had to be built in.
Shaking his head, our professor paced the room. “The only properties studios will take chances on are ones that have been proven in other mediums: comic books, young adult fiction, romance novels, Mattel action figures, and boardgames.”
We had a harsh truth to face: our career making masterpieces were bets no one was going to take a chance on. Battleship had a better shot at making it to the big screen than our coming of age flicks.
With his eyes clenched tight, my professor saw the battlefield of art and commerce. He saw commerce raising art’s severed head, atop a mountain of slain pitches.
Gone would be the days of the breakthrough independent feature. Art house theaters would play blockbusters. Indie would go from a production method to a genre, a flavor of romantic comedy, where every title had animated box letters, and every trailer had a soundtrack with a glockenspiel and an ascending choir.
The independent studios would disappear back into the lots from wince they came. For those of us who wanted to write the next Swingers, the next Clerks, or the next Pulp Fiction, we were shit out of luck.
Hollywood didn’t need us anymore. It had all the stories it would ever tell, and it would tell them over and over again.
As harsh as this truth was, our screenwriting professor felt a responsibility to tell it. Sadly, his prophecy came true.
Déjà vu at the Drive-In
Franchise fatigue doesn’t just put the audience to sleep, it costs the medium its credibility.
For every remake, reboot, and reimagining, the world is denied the next great series. For every sequel, prequel, and betweequel, there’s an original premise that will never get green lit. For every spinoff, alternate timeline, and interwoven TV tie-in, there’s a universe that we’ll never get to explore.
For every screenwriter whose brought on to put in a draft on a franchise feature, a personal project gathers dust. For every property acquired in a bidding war, a piece is passed on for it’s lack of attachments. For every fresh spin on a familiar story, a script reader is forced to put a five star screenplay on the blacklist.
Every time we upgrade a classic, we lose a comment on our own times, viewers are denied a fresh perspective, and society misses out on a discussion it should be having.
Turning a blind eye to originality, the industry looks at dated blockbusters through VHS tinted glasses. Acting like the art form plateaued in the 80’s, they leave a generation with nothing to strive for. They recast our childhood heroes with whoever has the squarest jaw this week.
The more we pine for the past the more we fail our future. Retro worship costs us the next great light saber, the next proton pack, and the next flying Delorean.
Jump the Refrigerator
We live in an era where franchises have so many iterations that they’d rather hide their numbers behind a suffix. The prequel is now: Origins of The Beginning of the Alpha Genesis. The sequel is now: the Return of the Revenge of the Unleashed Chronicle. The threequel is now: The Salvation of The Final Chapter of The Last Revelation of the RisingRequiem. Anything after that is a variant of the original title, give or a take a “THE,” here and there.
There comes a time when every franchise, overstays its welcome. When its returns diminish. When it reaches the limits of its universe. When its curators write themselves into a corner. When an entry leaves such a bad taste in our mouths, that it will be a long time before we’re hungry for another one.
This happened when the writers of Happy Days strapped water skis to Arthur Fonzarelli so he could jump a shark. This happened when Lucas and Spielberg had Indiana Jones crawl into a refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast. It happened when the director of Terminator: Salvation grafted a CGI Schwarzenegger to a stand-in, reminding everyone of the film they’d rather be watching.
Brand recognition became a bad thing. I can’t wait for the rest of these franchises to jump their shark, to nuke their fridge, to counterfeit their Arnold.
Have Superman throw his S, have a kid with Lois Lane, and kill General Zod. Have the Dark Knight swipe his Bat-card, perk his Bat-nipples, and face plant when someone kicks his Bat-cane. Kill Professor X, give Deadpool typed commands, and katana blades coming out his hands. Give Peter Parker an emo haircut, have him build his own webbing, and take on more villains then anyone could possibly give screen time.
Give the Ewoks their own movies, Chewbacca a Christmas special, and digitally insert Jabba the Hut where he ought not to go. Count the midi-chlorians, have Vader scream “Nooooo” at the ceiling, and swap out old ghost Anakin with Hayden Christensen.
These franchises get to be the life of the party, so long as they bring something new to it, something to keep the guests coming. The problem is, the hosts keep it going too long, until someone inevitably invites Scrappy Doo, Cousin Oliver, and Jar Jar Binks to piss on everything.
Let My Heroes Retire Already
Disney just secured the rights to Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Arc taught me everything I know about plot structure. The heart ripping scene from The Temple of Doom gave me nightmares. My father and I bonded over The Last Crusade. I grew up hoping Lucas would adapt Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis game into a movie. I’m an admitted Kingdom of the Crystal Skull apologist. Dr. Jones is still my default Halloween costume, but I don’t need to see another movie in the series.
Die Hard defined action movies in the 80s and 90s. Bruce Willis brought vulnerability to the action hero. There was a message buried beneath his one liners, and social commentary beneath his catchphrases. John McClane was losing his family. The modern world was passing him by. He was an underdog until terrorists struck, and his run and gun cowboy ways saved the day. I grew up loving this character, but I don’t need to see another chapter in his story.
Terminator 2 taught me how cool swearing could be. I’ve mapped out its timeline on napkins in barstool arguments. I found dark poetry in its chase scenes, existential questions in its explosions, and benevolence in its blood drenched backdrops. Still, I don’t need another one.
Go ahead and let Indiana Jones enjoy his retirement, give John McClane his pension, and sell the old endoskeleton for scrap. Let’s move on.
My favorite comic book series was John Constantine: Hellblazer. Constantine was more of a grifter than a superhero. He fought the minions of hell by pitting them against each other, a hustler stuck between feuding mobs. He wasn’t fighting for God’s cause. He just wanted an edge on the other mug punters, to carve a path outside of Heaven’s jurisdiction.
Over its 25 year run, Constantine got his nearest and dearest killed, betrayed his allies, and watched his sister get carted off to hell. He used sex magic, attempted suicide, and murdered those who’d crossed him. He was an anti-hero we couldn’t help sympathizing with. He wore a cocksure smile in the bleakest of times. He quipped in the face of evil. He flicked off the devil.
DC ended the series when they revamped the New 52. Hellblazer was rebranded as Constantine, a young mage who battled spandex clad baddies alongside Batman and Superman. Warner Bros plans to return John to the big screen in Justice League Dark, while NBC plans to bring a different interpretation to the small screen. The synopsis for the TV show makes it sound like a clone of Grimm, that might as well be called Johnny Demon Hunter.
I own all 300 issues of Hellblazer, many of which cost me a pretty penny. I’ve modeled my hair cut after the character’s trademarked blond spikes, but as far as I’m concerned he is done. These new iterations are just wearing Constantine costumes. They don’t care about the old fan base.
They’ll swap the snarky sacrilege for Catholic iconography. They’ll trade John’s light hearted quips for a chip on his shoulder, turn him into the squinting brooder that all heroes inescapably devolve into. They’ll never capture the downtrodden charmer audiences fell in love with. To them he is just another property to cash in, another title to throw at the wall in the hopes it will stick, an echo of an idea, handed to desperate writers, who just don’t get it.
I say, put him out of his misery.
Nostalgia Needs to Die
Old characters are always reintroduced to new audiences, but their spirits fade with every reproduction. They’re modernized, made younger, more attractive, more likable, and more vanilla. Their jagged edges get soldered off. They bear but a passing resemblance to their counterparts. Superman sulks as Metropolis comes crashing down on its citizens. A jet black Robocop fights soulless drone bots, while Khan’s wrath is reduced to a starship crashing into the shore.
The heroes that are allowed to age get taken places they were never meant to go. Indiana Jones shares the screen with martians, the Terminator’s gut spills over his robot frame, and John McClane looks so very tired. Their stories have been mishandled and they’ve lost their luster.
Drag a property through the muck too many times, and it turns toxic. It spreads a contagion over a crop of coming attractions. It contaminates its spin-offs and bogs down its tie-ins. It ignores its own continuity and insults the audience.
There will come a time in every series, when it’s too risky to put out another entry, when an unknown low budget property is a safer bet.
I’m nostalgic for the good old days, before the majority of movies were made to capitalize on my nostalgia.
My generation has come of age. We’ve taken our place as a key demographic, but please Hollywood, stop pandering to us. Stop trying to sell us our childhoods back. Stop catering to our adolescent selves and give our adult selves something to chew on. Stop giving us what you think we want, and give us something we don’t yet know we want. Bring the wonder back. Surprise us.
What’s missing from the time travel romantic comedy genre? A harsh dystopia. What if every manic pixie dream girl, was secretly a talent scout from the future? What if someone told you your magnum opus finds an audience long after you die? This story is a commentary on where I think the entertainment industry is headed.
Hand me the keys to the Delorean and I’ll show you an alternate timeline. Here’s some of the irresponsible things I’d do with a time machine.
My Time Travel Romantic Comedy Pitch
This isn’t a synopsis, it’s a loose pitch, a parade of plot points, a poll of possibilities. If you think it’s something worth developing, say so in the comments.
Logline: A publicist travels back in time to seduce an author whose fame was achieved after his death. Her firm specializes in corrupting these unsung geniuses with stardom, and reaping in the profits.
In the not too distant future: every film, TV show, and video game is based on an established work. New intellectual properties are considered risky investments. The corporations with the most time-honored masterpieces in their vaults own the entertainment industry.
Ashlynn is a scout for a publishing firm. Charged with copywriting classics before they enter into the public domain, she gets to these stories before their audience can. Violating restrictions on time travel, her firm has offices that stretch back to the dawn of the printing press.
Ashlynn specializes in finding authors who gained notoriety after their deaths. Traveling to when they were in their prime, she wins them over with sweet talk, and publishing contracts. For minuscule costs in the past, she reaps massive benefits for the future.
Ashlynn’s firm is responsible for an alternate reality where Edgar Allen Poe lives to become a bored true crime author, where H.P. Lovecraft struggles to step out of the shadow of his Cthulhu mythos, and fame gives Henry David Thoreau a new found affection for the big city.
Ashlynn pressures Herman Melville into writing a sequel to Moby Dick. It undermines the original’s message, turning the series into a precursor for Jaws.
As a scout, Ashlynn does her best to avoid the firm’s temporal agents, dark figures who travel back in time to enforce the firm’s agenda. They make sure their golden geese keep laying eggs. Whenever an author has a flight of fancy, these shadow figures clip their wings. Sabotaging lives, the agents put these writers back in front of the blank page. The firm regards their authors, who would never have achieved acclaim without them, as their prose spewing property.
Ashlynn watches the agents detain Emily Dickinson, when she tries to burn her journals. She sees them catch Franz Kafka trying to do the same. When he writes about their “Kafkaesque” time bending schemes, she’s surprised to find they publish it as it is.
Ashlynn thwarts Sylvia Plath’s suicide attempt. The agents throw her client into a padded cell, where the price of daylight is a page of poetry.
An account of how self-promotion feels like panhandling, and all the crazy ways bloggers beg for hits.
Every Little Hit Counts
Standing on the offramp of the information superhighway, we’re not panhandling, we’re directing traffic. With our thumbs up, we’re not hitching rides, we’re asking for “Likes.” With our signs held high, we’re not pleading for sympathy, we’re giving you something to skim as you pass by. Pull into the overpass and follow our links. Roll your windows down and leave a comment in our caps.
Pay what you feel. If you can’t give us a dollar, give us your attention. If there’s no room in your cart for another piece of art, we’d be happy to make your wish list. If you already have one, gift a second to a friend. Feel free to embed a copy in your gallery. Feel free to put our writings on your wall for all the world to see.
Every little hit counts.
It doesn’t matter how you found our site, we’re just glad you came. Stumble out of the cold. Join our circle, around the bonfire of the blogosphere. Lurkers are always welcome. If you’re hungry, you can always dip into our RSS feed.
We all have stories to tell, and knowledge to impart. We’re all down in the same dump searching for an audience. Don’t worry about anyone talking your ear off, we can count our points on our fingers. We can make our statements in five-hundred words or less. Holding your attention with drawings in the sand, we all use the same hobo glyphs: the guy punching a hole through his screen, the woman taking a hammer to her monitor, the age old ax through the keyboard.
There is wisdom in our ravings, observations in our obscenity, proverbs in our profanity. We don’t have much to say about Miley Cyrus’s joint puff, but we can tell you all about our own addictions. We don’t have much to say about Jennifer Lawrence’s haircut, but we can tell you all about the issues we have with our own appearance. Subscribe to our sage advice and we’ll give you something you’re not going to find in any BuzzFeed. Continue reading Every Little Hit Counts→
What happens when you mix The Dark Knight with Breaking Bad?
My Superhero Pitch
This is a treatment for the type of superhero movie I’d like to see; one that challenges our romantic notions of the stoic vigilante. This isn’t the summary of an idea. It’s the primordial ooze from which an idea could crawl forth from. This is a work in progress. If you think it has legs, please tell me in the comments.
William has an unhealthy obsession with Batman. Modeling his haircut after the actor Christian Bale, he quotes the character in casual conversation. He lives a solitary life in an mansion on the outskirts of town, where he prominently displays a life sized statue of his idol.
“A ghastly effigy,” so says his grandmother.
His life mirrors Bruce Wayne’s beat for beat. Like Wayne, William is the heir to a family fortune. His city is stricken with crime and corruption, a reality made all the more apparent by the fact that his parents were gunned down in front of him. Identifying with the Dark Knight, William becomes a body builder, a martial artist, and an aspiring vigilante.
The difference between William and the Caped Crusader, is that he lives in a world that doesn’t bend to suit a hero’s journey, a world indifferent to his drive for redemption, one with complex problems that don’t have simple solutions.
While Alfred advised Bruce to pose as a billionaire playboy, William’s grandmother urged him to go to nursing school. Now he works the night shift, with the good natured Dawn. The pair see their share of carnage. A rash of muggings have given them a lot to do. They treat stabbings and bullet wounds, but more often than not traumatic head injuries.
William spots a pattern, one the police refuse to acknowledge: a gang is out there handing out brass knuckle beat downs. They occur so frequently, that the cops only take statements when there’s a fatality.
Dawn admire’s William’s ability to counsel grieving families. Aside from his grandmother, she’s the only person he lets into his proverbial bat cave. She’s intrigued by his mysterious nature, until she catches him stealing tranquilizers. Fearing the pressure has gotten to him, she has no idea that he’s lining his utility belt. Continue reading My Superhero Pitch→
A question for horror writers, do you want your story to get buried in the bogeyman bargain bin, or do you want it to stand out? There are so many imitations of Frankenstein’s monster, that people have forgotten its name isn’t Frankenstein. Dracula has become a heartthrob, and the wolf man has been reduced to the nice guy who finishes last. The mummy’s rags are stitched together with CGI, and Zombies have become cartoon characters who couldn’t even shamble their way through a decent evisceration. The unholy creatures of the night, that kept us shivering beneath the covers, are the good guys now.
When all of your favorite monsters have been recast as superheroes, it’s time to build your own.
When my first draft is dead on arrival, I have to edit my story back to life. This is how I slice out the borrowed elements from my work and stitch something original together.
Reanimating the Corpse of Your Story
My early screenplays were full of placeholders, cop drama clichés, stock dialogue I had every intention of replacing. The margins were littered with comments like, “IOU one clever retort here,” or “IOU one line of romantic sentiment,” or “IOU one well reasoned argument to show the hero has learned a lesson.” My scripts looked like algebra equations. Editing meant scratching my head, wondering what to substitute for “X.” I knew what the result should feel like, but lacked the variables to get there.
The stories hinged on melodramatic scenes. Without the words to communicate the characters’ emotions, I went for longwinded declarations. Tender moments devolved into bloated monologues that read like essay answers, not revelations. The words didn’t come naturally. I wasn’t putting myself in the shoes of my characters. I was reckoning what they’d say based on things I’d already heard. My point of reference was not my life, but what I’d seen on TV.
My beta readers asked, “Why would the hero do something so completely out of character?” My answer was always, “The story needed him to.” The writer’s hand cast a shadow over the text.
My first drafts were nearly dead on arrival. A script doctor couldn’t save them. They needed a surgeon. Someone to remove the wordy wisdom-teeth, trivial tonsils, and asinine appendix. Someone to dig their gloves into the gooey schmalz and pull the bare bones out. Someone to take the hackneyed heart and infuse it with new life.
My second drafts limped along on life support. I was too attached to the work to gut it. Making minor alterations to the dialogue, I tried to punch lines up rather than shift conversations around. I tried to define redundant characters rather than combine them. I tried to justify entrance and exits scenes rather than slice them out. I used contractions to lower my word count rather than sacrifice one line of precious description.
Have you ever watched a movie that felt like one long montage, where no scene lasted longer than two minutes? The camera would whisk you from set to set, never stopping long enough to let you settle in. The story wasn’t pulling you along, it was tugging. These stories don’t stop moving long enough to find dry land. That was my problem. I was big on sequences and small on moments. I wrote a ninety page script with eighty-three scenes.
It took a while for the extent of my problems to sink in. My scripts hinged on scenes that needed to be cut. Needless characters had been made invaluable by their lone contribution to the story. The scenes were so short that the composer could stretch one song across ten of them.
I didn’t need to write a third draft. I needed to redo the first.
My placeholders had infected the story. All of those phrases like, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” or “I can’t believe I’m saying this, (insert the name of the villain here) has a point…” and “You should see the other guy,” stuck out.
These were the sayings I always passed over during my second draft. They weren’t my lines, but they had the whole of film history behind them. They felt secure, despite being hollow. They were safe investments, filler dialogue while I waited for the characters to speak for themselves.
Something happened when my characters got more refined. Their dialogue didn’t suit them. Han Solo didn’t fit into the stories I was writing. Mine was a universe where the plucky rogues couldn’t charm their way out of harm’s way. My heroes couldn’t afford to be this smug in the face of danger. They knew better than to engage in banter in the barracks. They lacked the confidence to wink as they rode into battle.
My first few drafts took an original premise and played it out with familiar heroes, settings and events. They’d make fine trailers, but terrible movies. My third draft had to honor that original premise with original characters and sequences. I had to gut the parts that felt safe. Rather than file down the jagged edges, I sharpened them. My third drafts were Frankenstein monsters, built from dangerous material.
Applying this approach to my novellas, I’ve discovered story elements along the way. Digging myself out of plot holes, by writing chapters in-between chapters.
Deleting the serviceable filler lines, I replaced them with something with genuine. This meant, holding back the zingers when they’re out of character, or inappropriate to the situation. This meant stealing from life experience, if not my own, then the accumulated experience of my peers. Challenging my character assumptions, my friends discovered plot holes I wasn’t looking for. They’d say, “Why doesn’t he just do this?…” or “What’s to stop the bad guys from just doing this?…”
They forced me to think of these ideas not as stories, but as events in my character’s lives. Donating the limbs my monster needed to stand on, they helped me rebuild it from the ground up.
This is the sixth collection of my best Tweets under the hashtag #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen. Click here to catch up on the first part. These were inspired by @KMWeiland. Her blog is an excellent resource for writers looking to become authors.
These come at the special request of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). Be sure to thank her if you get some amusement out of these.
What do you do when your muse always gives you schlocky ideas? Write them anyway. This is an article on taking your kitsch inspiration and running with it.
Witching Hour Whims
Ever get one of those late night story ideas, one of those pillow premises that won’t let you get to sleep? Your subconscious goes to work before your consciousness can clock out. It’s dream drafting, telling you a story. You should’ve been asleep hours ago, but you want to know how it ends. One minute you’re staring at the alarm clock, the next minute you’re booting up your computer. In an hour, you go from trance typing a treatment to the cognizant composition of a cliff-hanger. There’s a thud against the front door. Looking through the blinds, you spot a car pulling out of the driveway. That was the newspaper.
Whatever clock inspiration is running on, it isn’t in your timezone.
The next morning, the story is a quiet whisper beneath the noise of your routine, a murmur beneath the bristles of your toothbrush. It has none of the charm and confidence it had last night. After work, you page through what you’ve got. The hook is clever, but it doesn’t say anything about you on a personal level. It’s a fresh idea but not the profound epic you aspire to write. It’s not the journal entry that’s going to trick the world into falling in love with you.
There’s an audience for your sunset scribblings, but they’re looking for mindless entertainment. They want popcorn page turners, not deep reads. It’s not enough to get your work seen, you want to make an impression. You’d rather enlighten than entertain. The problem is, if you ignore every sleep deprived spark, you won’t know what to do with real late night lightning. You have to work on crap, before you can handle something with merit.
When you get a third-rate idea, use it to churn out some bronze caliber work. When you get a harebrained scheme, find the strands of silver in it. When you get the materials for a straw house, spin it into gold. When life gives you lemons, make something with pulp in it.
Inspiration rarely gives out straight flushes. Play the hand you were dealt. See your story through. It might set you up for the cards you need to go all in with later.
J.R.R. Tolkien had to write The Hobbit before he could tackle The Lord of the Rings. George Lucas had to put in his time with THX 1138 before he whisked us all to a galaxy far far away. George R.R. Martin wrote five novels, dozens of episodes of The Twilight Zone, and Beauty and the Beast before he tackled the Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) series.
So your story is too simple to be a Pulitzer Prize winner, maybe it’s a cult classic. There are B-Movies in the Criterion Collection. There are character actors on the Hollywood walk of fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is full of guitarists who only played power chords.
Let’s face it; bad taste, tastes great. If War and Peace is on one side of the shelf, and Salem’s Lot is on the other, I can tell you which way I’m leaning.
Your story might be a cheesy cornball dripping with sap, but it’s value depends on how you serve it. If you serve it as a gourmet entree, your diners will be disappointed. If you serve it as a fattening state fair guilty pleasure, you’ll have some satisfied customers.
You have to put out a large quantity of schlock before you can put out anything of quality. You have to refine your imagination before you can cash in on your big idea. You have to question your ability to write a blog entry before you can be certain you know how to write a novel. You have to give your work away before you can option off the movie rights. You have to write paperbacks before you can earn a coveted dust jacket.
Take those witching hour whims and roll with them. Play the odds. You’re far more likely to find a story that works when you see each of those twilight triggers to completion. So what if the idea is a little far fetched. So what if it’s a convoluted high concept mess that takes an hour to pitch. Does it hold your attention? Then it has that going for it.
One person’s piece of crap, is another’s golden turd. Just because it’s trashy, doesn’t mean it’s a throwaway idea. This need not be your magnum opus, but rather your dime store offering. Your story need not shift our world view, just flash some pretty lights in front of it.