4.23.2008

Incest, Strife & Dumb Babies - The Battlefield of Ideas

I’ve always been something of a slow-boiler. I have friends who get an idea, let it bounce around like a fish out of water for nothing but mere minutes or hours, and then they start banging the shit out of it on their keyboard. Presto-change-o, it’s a draft!

I hope they die of gonorrhea.

But I mean that in the nicest way possible. Because they are, most of them, swell little shits. And while many say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I say it’s jealousy.

Myself, on the other hand, well, there’s a lot of dragged-out comingling going on in my head. The land up there gets seeded and things need to grow roots, set up camp, and then survive the catastrophic storms of mood and climate, and the many horrific battles over territory and intercontinental strife. Things need to fester and mutate and grow and subsume other little nations of ideas, concepts, or warped obsessions. The lineage of whole little communities of ingenuity is far beyond the scope of any dusty genealogical expert.

It’s a process.

And it usually involves a few factors: the test of time; a slow-stoked birthing of clarity; and many aborted attempts at taking various half-cooked ideas out for irresponsible rides on the blank page.

Normally all sorts of fractured and orphaned ideas, images, characters, moments – all sorts of multi-faceted hoo-ha – they sift on down to conscious levels as I’m working. I rarely get decent ideas if I’m not already writing, already working on something else. The gears and hinges need to be oiled, I guess. In fact it’s almost guaranteed that as I enter the latter stages of one project, something else is already spattering on the back burner.

But these beginnings are as confusing to me at this stage as the regurgitated memories of someone else’s dream from the night before. It’s all very secondhand and disjointed. Some things pull my interest, some flare out pretty quickly. What’s usable? What’s rooted in an issue, emotion, idea or situation that actually means something to me and I can sustain for the roller coaster ride of writing a script? Well, like pornography, I know it when I see it (or at least I usually do) and, frankly, I can’t see it enough.

So something will latch itself onto my attention like a squeaky-wheeled leech. And I’ll swat at it and go about my business. Eventually I’ll concede that I can’t ignore it any longer, or possibly I’ve been glancing at it askance the whole long while. Either way, I’ll take the idea out for a spin, all retarded over its potential.

Sometimes it works, but usually this is when things go awry. I can’t get the fucker on its own two legs, or I loose the wispy thread of thought-smoke somewhere along the way. Or I decide that it just plain-out sucks. As Miss T at the death-of-me-day-job would say, “That dog don’t hunt.”

So it gets left at the wayside, smoldering with the rest of the Aftermath: a pile of papers, notes, abandoned first drafts, and partially completed first drafts that I hold onto in case something sparks and they’ll come back to life.

Or, it could also just be an idea that I keep returning to in my mind. I’ve got a whole mental Aftermath pile going on up there. There’s a couple of mental feature script frameworks, a YA novel idea, a few essay openers, two pilot ideas, and a Veronica Mars spec idea that just won’t leave me alone. Damn you CW!

And as my imagination festers, there are always a few ideas that just won’t die out. They poke at me, and often insist on their feasibility, or their value. So I often find myself trying to weave them into other ideas, or they’ll weave themselves into some other project. Sometimes it’s kind of like a comedy writer who has a joke they love that they keep trying to insert into script after script, but it always gets cut. But they keep trying to use it.

A lot of these ideas keep working their way in – but often enough I just have to admit that some of them are just dumb babies. They’re victims of brain matter incest, now just puddles of challenged DNA. And they’ve become crutches that need to get tossed into the incinerator.

(Side Note: I wish I had access to an incinerator. That’d be awesome. I’m like the opposite of a pack rat. I love my fiancée’s paper shredder. If you’ve never shredded, you’ve never moved on – and lived, paper-free. Or at least whole-paper-free. But an incinerator. Yowza. Kill ‘em with fire.)

But sometimes the ideas join up with some complimentary framework or fragment, and things spark – and before you know it I’m working on a first draft that’s working. Or on it’s way to working. Terrifying, but working.

And that’s what I’m in the middle of now. I have this character, this battered threading of ideas that I just keep trying to resuscitate between other projects. I keep working at it, taking new ideas and see if these die-hard pieces will fit, like a slow and determined kid whacking away, trying to force a square peg into a circle hole.

I have something now that I think might work, might finally turn this dumb baby into something new that works, something that will finally take this fresh idea and make it necessary and not just novel. So we’ll see if it works this time, or if I resist throwing it into the mental incinerator and keep it on the Aftermath pile for a little while longer.

ps. Huh. Funny enough, the same descriptive rigamarole could be used to describe my career tract thus far. I’m not sure if that’s more amusing, or way too bracing. Here’s to hoping that I end up with something that works, and not a dumb baby.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Yeah, but most of the writers I know who start writing the script before their ideas are fully formed end up rewriting a TON more than Jul and I do...and I'm talking full scale rewrite when they realize they don't know where they're going 50 pages into the story. Having been one of those people, I know that it sucks.