Robert McKee, in his Story Seminar, says that 90% of all ideas are crap. Part of a writer’s work is to keep coming up with ideas until you get to the good 10%. And you have to learn to recognize the difference between it and the crappy nine-tenths.
Sometimes people are surprised that I jettison ideas. Writers just starting out, perhaps working on a short story or their first attempt at a novel, often struggle to do this. They’ve sweated over every word, and editing is painful. I’ve heard, “I had to cut two paragraphs today. It killed me.” I replied that I’ve cut whole chapters. I’ve dropped an entire novel into a file cabinet because I knew I needed to write something better. I chalk it up to learning the craft.
Non-writers sometimes ask me if I get negative feedback on ideas I propose for novels. Has an editor ever nixed a plotline or a story twist? Surely not.
I just laugh.
90 percent, folks. I try to winnow out the dreck before I send ideas to my agents and editors, but sometimes my initial thoughts don’t meet with enthusiasm.
How about a mystery where members of a writers’ group are being murdered? (No. Aside from Misery, name a successful novel about writers in jeopardy.)
How about a thriller where eco-terrorists take remote control of a jetliner over the Pacific? With Evan Delaney aboard! (Sounds too much like a boys-and-toys novel.) Even if the villains are a BDSM couple who like to get out the whips and handcuffs in the cockpit? (Oh my dear, I didn’t think anything could shock me, but really.)
What about a storyline involving the sale of bull semen? (Uhh.) Cousin Tater diversifies beyond her lingerie business! But trouble brews when she hires Jesse Blackburn’s brother, P.J., as her assistant, unaware of his criminal record. And when a prize bull’s semen is stolen… (Stop. Stop.)
And I did. That idea will remain unwritten.
Or has its time come around at last?
American dairy farmers use software to predict and test the hypothetical production of milk from offspring based on the traits and data collected on possible parents, according to Dr. Harvey Blackburn, the coordinator of the National Animal Germplasm Program.
So you see: the Blackburns are already involved. I would only be catching up.
On second thought, it remains a really bad idea. I think.