Friday, 20 November 2009

The Ancestry of an Idea

Character test render from the film Static © 2001 G.Boulton & S.Cornish

It is good to understand how ideas develop, evolve and combine.

I believe that no ideas are wasted even if they get nowhere in their original form. The novel I'm writing didn't just spring fully formed like Athena from the forehead of Zeus; it has a history. It has parents that lead to a sort of conceptual conception, and a long long gestation during which it began to develop features such as characters, and a storyline. It's some way from it's debut yet, but it's been kicking for a while and it's definitely turned and engaged with the birth canal.

So let us begin with the parents. Back in 2000 I was a partner in an animation studio called Artgeek. Things were going well; we had landed a rather good deal to make a short film, with a working title of Static, funded by an insurance company. It was a good idea and my co-director Greg Boulton and I ran with it. We could afford to; the budget was colossal. It was an adaptation of a short story about disability, originally written by Stephen Duckworth, illustrating what it might be like to be the only hearing person in a world where ears hadn't been invented (as an artistic decision we also chose to design every living thing with wheels, resulting in a world that was subtly geared around wheeled access).  To cut to the chase, it got canned at the end of pre-production. After the whole 9/11 thing, insurance companies globally had to tighten their belts. It was gutting.

The other parent is an idea that struck me as I was sitting outside a coffee shop on a sunny Brighton afternoon (don't ask me why there and then, but it was shortly after being knocked back on an alternative funding bid for Static, over to legal concerns). I had an idea for a black comedic live-action short film, in which a child was so ugly that his parents actually stuck a paper bag over his head.
I discussed the idea with a friend and filmmaker at yet another coffee emporium and from that realised I had an idea that was big enough to develop into a feature script. In my usual style I wrote up a few scenes (which were very good scenes), but the resolution and character needs didn't quite work on the rough treatment and I shelved it. It was In some ways too comic for the direction it was headed.

Over the following years I would visit those scenes in my mind more than once. But it wasn't until I began serious writing on my MA course that I realized that the essences of the two projects might be combined. Taking away the physical reason for the protagonist's stigma in Ugly, whilst giving the readers the lack of comprehension that the other citizens had felt for the character in Static, would leave the pure prejudice and preconceptions of both the other characters and the audience. This immediately enabled the message from the earlier projects to gain a redoubled power and meaning, and I knew that I had a strong story to work with for my Novel.

If you are interested in more blogs about how writers develop their ideas Back Story is definitely worth following.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Muse is messing with my head again

I have two problems with my writing: over-confidence and lack of it.

It works with my underlying mood. There are times I'm on top of it all, cock o' the heap; I'm focused, I see clearly what needs to be done, I write as the words come to me. I play with the text, I experiment, it feels like I'm painting emotions and experiences with words. Sometimes when I read back through what I've done, I can't believe it was me that set it down. Really, I have no idea how I could have conceived it that way. Then there are the other times I question everything; I make false starts and lose confidence in what I am trying to say and how. Over and over again, different failed ideas die as I try to put them down, like lifeless insects spread across the page. I can't sleep properly, worrying that I'm going round in pointless circles. Any excuse interrupts the work; children, traffic, the weather all are blamed for my inability to concentrate. Criticism is doom; I'm self-conscious about everything, and nothing is worthy.

This isn't writer's block; the one comfort I can take when my mind turns listless, is that my muse is busier than ever. All those false starts are simply the seeds of new ideas. Embryonic creations to be mulled over by my subconscious for a few weeks or months, before they can be brought to term, to be born from my eager fingers in one of my cyclic periods of productivity.

I have learn to accept that this is the way I work, but I love hating it and hate myself for loving it. The sickening tedium of sustained dissatisfaction in exquisitely hideous contrast to the intensity of my over-stimulated brain, tearing me apart, leaving me hurt, exhausted, and craving more.

My muse may be good but she is not kind.