I recently watched the movie Yesterday, hooked by the concept, and the fact that I’m a fan of The Beatles. It was a good film; strong performances from everyone in it. My one criticism is best summed up by the Rotten Tomatoes blurb, “…a sweetly charming fantasy with an intriguing – albiet somewhat under-explored – premise.” In other words, what kind of story had it been if screenwriter Richard Curtis had asked a few more questions and found answers that took the concept in more unexpected or meaningful directions.
This brings me to an aspect of my own writing; one that involves a bit of Q & A. I’ve blogged about my process of writing a few times. (You might recall such classics as How Do You Come Up With This Crap?, A Good Title Goes A Long Way, and One Writer’s Process.) From the very inception of an idea, I’m asking questions and looking for answers with every draft.
Let’s consider my next novel. Not the current next one, but the next next one. Its working-title is Rite. (I’ve got a strong feeling that will remain its title.) It began when I wondered what would happen if a son saw his father – whom the boy had always considered a bit weak and lacking in courage – commit a horrific act of violence in protecting his family. This premise set in motion even more questions: Would the boy be terrified of his father afterward? Would he respect him, or be repulsed? How would the violence affect him personally? That led to: What will be the nature of the attack, and who will commit it? A gang? Will they be cliche criminal minorities?
What about the father? White? Black? Other? The answer to that particular question will make for any number of different outcomes. Because let’s face it, a white man killing someone in defense of his home is going to be treated by the law a lot differently than a black man. The answers to the questions depend on the kind of story I want to write.
For this reason, Of Gilded Flesh has gone through a few transformations due to the questions and subsequent answers that have come up during the past months of revisions. This is where the importance of a good editor comes in. Whether publishing traditionally or D.I.Y., a writer needs someone on the outside who is willing to burst their bubble of creative seclusion with questions that need to be asked.
Only through the unfolding of the myriad possibilities to find the right answers, can a writer take their book from humdrum to, if not exceptional, at least something beyond merely “sweetly charming.”