Monday, October 17, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 197 - When do you Concede on an Idea?

Ideas are not flexible. They are set in stone. That gem of a thought that will lead to the (your) next best screenplay is priceless and incorruptible. It comes as is, or it ceases to be. You won't budge on it, because you shouldn't. And anyone who fails to see the genius that it is clearly just doesn't get it. They never will, so you can forget about trying to show them the light. It's their loss if they ask you to change something. Their loss, and their admission of simple-mindedness. 

My manager called me last week to discuss an idea I had emailed him about, which Jon (known here as Onyx) and I are working on. He was interested in what I sent him, but yet he had a few concerns about it. Mainly, he felt as though there were too many components to it. We were compounding three movies into one, with disparate elements that - while they might function fine together - could be separated and reduced to streamline plot and efficiency. He didn't outright say no to anything, but he wasn't overwhelmingly sold on the complete package yet, either. 

Ideas are malleable. They are fluid, and they evolve based on the needs of the script at hand. A character might not be working, his intentions unclear and ultimately detracting from the script. A plot point might not make sense. The decision to kill off the protagonist will prove itself unmerited, and the result is a grim screenplay without a sense of hope (and therefore, higher sale potential) that comes from allowing your hero to live. The genius idea that birthed the story might falter, but the supporting elements around it can carry the weight, rendering the golden nugget tarnished and unnecessary. Not everything works, and as much as you might love a line or scene or character or other part o an idea, knowing when to let the weak link go is essential to your job as a writer.

Jon and I discussed my manager's feedback briefly (we'll have a longer chat about it later when not both so busy). The main trouble with the outline we presented was the key aspect of the story Jon brought to me - a setup for the overall story, which fades from the setting about halfway through the script. As much as we liked it, as much as we both felt that the foundation for the script was unique and interesting, we both acknowledged that it also added elements to the story that we could remove, without losing much later. Something happens to our protagonist, and he finds himself in undesirable circumstances. The particulars of those circumstances, however, can change. We went one way to start with, but though we both liked it, we know we're not wedded to it. 

It's hard to let an idea go sometimes. Others, the kernel that got the ball rolling can be sufficient as just that; once the idea is more fully formed, you're free to move away from it and to let the project evolve as it needs to. Still, there are other instances in which deciphering that line - when do you hang tight, versus when do you drop something - can be extremely, agonizingly difficult. What do you think? When do you concede on an idea?