This is something that every writer is asked by someone who doesn’t really understand the psychology of what that means. But since I’ve been mentioning so often what I’m currently developing (Mind Over Matter – The Binding of Hugo and Multiple Occupancy – Baptism of Fire), I’ve decided to talk about the connotations of how to know which ideas are worth developing.
Firstly, a writer should never write what they expect other people to like, because – ideally – any story can appeal if it’s well-told and features a compelling protagonist. I’m definitely inspired by other works I enjoy, but I prefer to refit those styles to my own purposes, rather than just using them because I think it will “sell”. And anyone who tells you that writing should be about what can “sell” is either a writer for the wrong reasons or isn’t a writer. Any story can sell, but that story needs to be something that doesn’t exist in order to be unique. Nobody wants to watch a palely imitating psuedo-remake of a better series.
Then what should be written? Whatever excites you. Because if the story doesn’t excite you, then you won’t be excited to be writing it. And if you’re not excited to be writing a story, it’s impossible to give it the attention it deserves. Even if this means being excited about the prospect of finishing it, selling it and producing it. Writing is an art, and art requires the artist to be completely in-love with their creation. It’s their in the name, “artist”: someone who lives a life devoted to making art. It’s a relationship between you and what you’re creating. And if the relationship isn’t stimulating you, get out of it. It will only hurt you in the long term.
It is often said that good artists borrow and great artists steal, but intelligent artists know what to steal. Because whenever an homage is being made, the artist is also knowing what they don’t want to homage – either because they think that they can do certain parts better, or because they already have a way to fill the gaps they’ll leave. This is why it’s okay for a writer to write something they know is similar to another work. Because nothing is original anymore, and successfully referencing another work will show that you’re not an incapable artist, but quite the opposite: you’re clearly familiar-enough with it to qualify you as an artist. Just don’t make it a blatant remake, by adding something that wasn’t there before.
A lot of writers will create characters because they want to understand someone. Don’t create a character that reflects yourself, because otherwise you’ll be finding an adventure within your own life, and that will limit you creatively, because you won’t be able to think beyond your own world. Art is about understanding other people – especially storytelling, because what is storytelling if not a medium through-which they try to understand why people think and act they way that they do? This should be an item of investigation in creating a character – someone you don’t know, but want to understand.
Also, good characters are the inspiration for a story, not a premise. A good premise works, but is it enough to develop into a series of events, rather than a short film? I once spent some time working on a pilot episode called Nightmare Factory – The Nightmare Begins, but the problem was that I was working from a concept, rather than a character. Instead, the plot was driven by the desire to explore a world, rather than teling the protagonist’s story. Hence why I’ve since moved-on to other projects. I will return to Nightmare Factory – The Nightmare Begins one day, but only when I’ve created a protagonist first, otherwise the story isn’t justified at its premise line.
Generally, one of my main mantras as a writer is to “write it and they will come”. Any story, if well-written and compelling to the audience with a likeable protagonist will be workable. Culture – particularly television culture – has now reached the point at-which anyone will consume anything if it’s accessible via a channel they receive. Often, this means a lot of generic crap manages to find an audience, but this also means that well-written series now have a better chance than ever of being seen by enough people to sustain it for at least a season. If people are enjoying the story, they’ll watch it, they don’t need a genre.
And another thing – writing shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice. A writer writes because a writer cannot not write. They have no say in the matter. In fact, this should just be the case anyway, with anyone. If you’re choosing to do it, that means you can also choose not to do it, and makes it possible to not be completely committed. When thinking about your idea, ask yourself, “could I choose not to write this idea?”. And if you can realistically see yourself ignoring it, it’s not worth it. Because if you can disregard it without total consequence, it will be much easier for your audience to do the same.
As for me. The script that has now developed into Mind Over Matter – The Binding of Hugo began as one of my oft-mentioned projects here, The S Word – Brunch of Heroes. I wrote The S Word – Brunch of Heroes in 2014 because I was interested in writing something of the genre, but the problem was that there were too many characters for a fifty-minute pilot, and consequently none of them had the time or space to develop into complex characters. So, I analysed the protagonist, Hugo Gray, and isolated Gray in his own series, which became Mind Over Matter – The Binding of Hugo. It’s possible that I’ll do the same for some of the other characters, but that’s not something I need to consider as yet. As it happens, Mind Over Matter – The Binding of Hugo is still in the notes stage because there isn’t as yet any source of conflict driving the story. So instead, I’ll be working for the foreseeable future on Multiple Occupancy – Baptism of Fire. Having been influenced by numerous serialised shows in-which a team of people with a cool vehicle battle variations of a stock character every week, I was interested in trying my own hand at that (see?). But at the same time, I wanted to make property developers interesting, mainly because television tends to paint property developers as being inherently cynical, as well my interest in what would happen if property shows crossed-over with supernatural documentaries. So instead, I considered how I could combine the position of property developer and monster hunter, which lead to Multiple Occupancy‘s main concept. I’ll probably combine Multiple Occupancy with Mind Over Matter, because I need an ensemble cast, and nothing in happening in Hugo Gray’s world. Plus, I’ve thought of a great way to keep Hugo consistent, yet unique, while still combining him with Mulitple Occupancy‘s world. Just don’t ask me how I did that. Sometimes, the thought process is so specific that I don’t even notice. One of the key locations of Baptism of Fire is inspired by a recent case of a housing estate that’s been newly-constructed, purchased, and then immediately scheduled for demolition. And since demolishing a structure occupied by a metaphysical being often leads to chaos, that became the point at which the protagonist’s double lives as a property developer and monster hunter began to overlap. And just like that, I’d managed to find a way of combining two ideas perfectly.
To be honest, there’s no real secret. Sometimes, the desire to have an idea leads to them happening.