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.

1 comment:

  1. Simon, this is great stuff. I like the way you have described how ideas occur and how they can be developed into characters, scenarios and stories to make them real - even if ears haven't been invented. That's the great thing about telling stories.


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