Writing Right with Dmitri: Starting with a Bad Idea
Let's face it: Oft-times, we sit around waiting for a Great Idea to come to us before writing a piece of fiction. We're trying to write something original, you see. And like Will Arnett in this year's Netflix April Fool joke1, we find that our fondly imagined 'original' plots turn out to be things we've already read or seen (maybe on Netflix). So let's give it up, and think of a new form of inspiration.
Let's start with a Bad Idea. No, not our bad idea: the character's. Start the story with a character who has a spectacularly bad idea. Then see what happens to him/her. This exercise may be painful for the character, but useful for us. And it will make some actor happy in the future.
Think about it. How many stories do you know that start with a Bad Idea?
- Over-the-hill farmer reads too many novels, decides to become a superhero. (Don Quixote)
- Drag queens decide to take a road trip through redneck country. (To Wong Foo, or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert)
- Young man comes to visit his miser uncle, whom he doesn't know and hasn't checked out. (RL Stevenson's Kidnapped)
- Some people find a crashed airplane full of drug money, decide to keep it. (A Simple Plan)
- A lazy writer googles all his research for the romantic island in his bestselling novel. His fiancée wants to have her wedding on the island. (The Decoy Bride)
See what I'm saying? Bad Ideas can lead to really good fiction. 'Hey, the king's coming over tonight. Let's bump him off and take the throne!' Works fine if you're Shakespeare. Bad Ideas can put your characters through their paces. You, too. Don't want to do too much research? Use a familiar setting, or end up like David Tennant in The Decoy Bride.
Here are some Bad Ideas:
- Characters decide to commit a crime to fund their dream project.
- Character decides to impersonate someone else in order to achieve a possibly laudable goal.
- Character embarks on an ill-chosen career path based on unrealistic expectations.
- Character gets on the wrong plane/ship/rocket/train, with unforeseen consequences.
- Character tries do everything perfectly, only to find that perfection isn't the ticket to success.
Can you think of more ways to start with a Bad Idea? I'll just bet you can. Share them with us.
Then, let's all write stories that start with bad ideas. Which reminds me: I had a Bad Idea. I pitched a project to the Core Team last meeting. Of course it would take work. And guess who gets stuck with doing the feasibility test? Yep. See you when I get out from under!