30 May 2013

Ideas Are Never Wasted

"I'm still big, it's the pictures that got small." --Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard.

In Sunset Boulevard, aging film star Norma Desmond has an idea for a comeback, an idea so awesome that she's convinced it will only take tweaking by a good screenwriter to make it perfect.

The key to this classic movie is that Norma is partially right. She's still a fascinating, vital women and should still be in pictures. But she's wrong as well, refusing to accept that her one brilliant idea can never bring back the life that was.

Gloria Swanson explains it all to William Holden in Sunset Boulevard
She's so deluded that even after murdering the person who was supposed to be her savior, she retreats further into her fantasy world, becoming the part she wanted to play when the cameras show up. "I'm ready for my close-up," she declares, having permanently taken up residence in fantasy. That fantasy is so strong and so comforting and reality so harsh, that it's hard to blame her. Even Joe Gillis (William Holden), gives her a pass. He, of course, regrets it.

Sometimes I feel like Norma, hanging onto an idea so tightly that it's impossible to know whether the belief in that idea or story is an utter fantasy, a delusion so big that it allows no room for reality to intrude.

Writing has no box scores, no bottom line that defines success or failure. Publishing does, of course, and that's measured it in sales dollars, but, as with any art, sales dollars aren't always the best measure of overall success.

I choose to be positive about ideas that don't work out, as part of my 10,000 hours of practice toward getting decent as writing.

My one big idea that hasn't worked out so far is to write a paranormal with a ghost hunter and two psychics hunting a mad scientist vampire. The original concept was to pair two women and one guy, since I'd been seeing so many romantic threesomes with two girls and a girl and I thought I'd mix it up. Well, turns out the reason the reason two guys and a girl is a more popular threesome is because it's more likely to be a female fantasy.

Oops.

Luckily, this revelation occurred only about 10,000 words into the book. So I swapped out Tammy for Rhys and I wrote the rest of it. In first person. For 80,000 words.

And at the end of the book, I liked the plot, the villain, and the two guys. I didn't like my narrator, my heroine, at all. And I didn't like the first person narration.

Oops again.

It turns out, unlike many authors who write in first person, that point of view distances me from my characters. When I write in third person, I feel like I'm riding with them as the story happens. When I write in first person, I feel like I'm sitting in front of a fire with my narrator and they're telling me a story, rather than me experiencing the story along with them.

So, rewrite needed. Back to third person. For all 80,000 words.

Still didn't work. ARGH.

I'd learned a lot about how to write psychic elements and how they combine with sex and a lot about writing a younger male character, and a lot about ghosts. But it was the first book that I just didn't feel I should even try to sell.

I put it aside.

I started writing something new, superheroes, and the Phoenix Institute series was born. The first book, Phoenix Rising, featured a young male hero. With psychic abilities such as telekinesis and firestarting that were not completely under his control. It also featured a heroine whose own abilities responded to the hero's.

In other words, elements from my failed idea. Younger hero. Check. Psychic abilities that needed some work. Check. Combination of psychic powers and sex. Check.

Phoenix Rising has been my biggest seller to date and it keeps selling.

So was the paranormal featuring the mad scientist vampire as the villain a failure or a bad idea? Nah. I just needed to practice first.

I've since gone back to the ghost hunter threesome story and rewritten it and it features a narrator I enjoy now. I noticed this week that a publisher was looking for a modern gothic, which is mostly what that so-called "failed book" is.

So I've concluded Norma Desmond was right. It wasn't the idea that was bad. It was the writing that got small.

And small writing?

It takes time, patience and energy but I can fix that.

Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero. Most of the time. :) You can find out more about her books at www.corrina-lawson.com

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