Like most authors, I have a bunch of ideas that will go nowhere. Thought I might share some today so you can see what it’s like to filter through all the garbage…er, not garbage, exactly, but all the cast-offs…before we writers can find The One—that is, the idea that’s good enough to sustain an entire novel.
It’s sort of like American Idol. You have to make it through a few levels on the show, yes? First, there are the singers (most of them) who are simply and quietly rejected. They never see Randy, Simon and whoever…they’re screened by someone lower on the food chain and simply deemed what I think of as Yawn category. They may not be awful, but they’re not special…and they’re not colorfully bad enough to make good TV.
My Yawn idea was about a woman who owned a restaurant that was going under. He ex-husband finds out, buys the restaurant and inserts himself back into her life. He’s changed, you see. He will no longer take her for granted. He’s a better man now. Yawn. Now, another writer might take that exact same plot and make it pop. Wasn’t going to happen with me. Next!
American Idol also has what I think of as Disaster level. These people are HORRIBLE! They’re off-key, can’t sing their way out of a wet paper bag, they may well be rather unusual in their physical appearance…but they make good TV. Usually, this is because they have no idea that the rest of the world clenches in pain when they open their mouths to sing.
Same can be true with writing. I spent weeks—weeks, I tell you!—on a book I thought was really quite fun. It was, in fact, quite dumb, but I didn’t know that then. It was about a woman who’s kind of a loser (though with secret talents, of course) and is stuck in terms of her own life. She has a minor car accident and decides that faking amnesia would be the best way to improve her situation. The tentative title of the book was, in fact, Faking Amnesia. My agent very gently told me not to write this book. After a few moments talking about it, I could see that yes, it was a bleeping disaster. Sigh. Moving on…
The next level on American Idol is the Golden Ticket. You’re going to Hollywood! Congratulations! You made it past the judges! You can sing! Are you great? Um…let’s wait and see, shall we? Oh. Oh, dear. Well, turns out you fall apart with a little pressure. Golden Ticket is the highlight of your career, sweetie. Sorry. Go home and rejoin your church choir. They’ll be glad to have you back.
My Golden Ticket ideas are legion. In some ways, they’re the toughest, because with the right kick in the proverbial butt, they might make it. But for some reason…they don’t. Something’s a little been-there-done-that about them. Are they awful? Not at all. But they’re not The One. Ideas that have fallen into this category are: Woman dumped on the altar blames best man for influencing her groom and sets out to get revenge, only to fall in love with him. Okay, it could work. It hasn’t yet, but maybe someday (or not). Here’s another. A woman falls in love with the Lands End operator who takes her order for new sheets. Again…sure, it’s a cute idea, falling in love with someone you’ve never met. But it just kinda stopped right there. Dead in the water. Time to go home.
Then comes the Top 12 category. These are the singers who go on tour. They’ll have their fifteen minutes of fame, there will be photo shoots and squealing teens. They might not win…but they could have.
For us writers, these are the books we outline. The characters who speak to us. They might not have won…but we’re keeping them close. Maybe not this time around, but quite possibly the next one.
This is the book we write…and sell. This one hits the shelves. This one is the real deal. Out of all the hundreds of ideas we had, this was the one with the spark. It might have taken a lot of work, a new look and some serious coaching…but there was something special, and it held up for 400 pages.
So let’s hear it…do you have an idea for a book you think could really make it? Did you ever read a book where the idea was so farfetched you wondered how on earth it got published? What are some of the qualities that can turn a Hollywood idea into a Top Twelve? I’d love to hear what you think.