Sunday, May 11, 2014

May 11 2014: The wonderful and terrifying business of creating a whole new story—working title AMBER.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Maya Angelou

FORMULA IS THE ENEMY OF CREATIVITY. I don’t think there is any one single good way of coming up with a good story—and I’m glad there isn’t. If there was, we’d all learn it and we’d end up with the blandness of much of TV. Commercial interests are (normally) oriented towards formulae and predictability. Truly creative types value pushing the envelop and unpredictability. GAME OF THRONES is a perfect example of creativity winning out—something which is all too rare. It breaks nearly all the conventions—but it works brilliantly. It’s a remarkably fine TV series.

IN PRAISE OF MINI-SERIES. Incidentally, I have long been of the view that the mini-series is, in many ways, a superior creative format than the 90-120 minute movie. A min-series allows superior story development, allows more time for character development, and permits greater complexity. My top three mini-series: GAME OF THRONES, BAND OF BROTHERS, ROME.

A BOOK IS BORN. Currently, I’ve got an idea for a new book whose working title is AMBER. I have the theme, a great deal of context, some characters,  but no story. Or no story that I’m consciously aware of—which is not quite the same thing. Never underestimate your subconscious. I’m quite excited because I have never written anything like this before—but I have the strongest feeling it could end up being an important book. Through fiction, I intend to deal with a major issue. Is there a real Amber? Yes there is—and I hold her in high regard.

A SENSE OF WONDER. Crafting an original story is wonderful, both because it is such a magnificent creative challenge—and because even you, the author, at the beginning, has little or no idea how how the story will develop—let alone end. If you have 400 pages to fill for the kind of big thriller I like to write, that is quite a marathon. In fact, at times, the prospect can be terrifying, In my case, when I re-read some of my better work, I always think: This isn’t bad—but how did I do this? Surely, I’ll never be able to write this well again. It’s not that I lack confidence in my writing ability. It’s more a sense of wonder that I have been granted this gift—and I never take it for granted.

A STORY STARTS WITH FRAGMENTS. The way I like to work is to have a few pivotal ideas about a story before I start to create it. In the case of GAMES OF THE HANGMAN, they were:

  • A hanged body found in a lonely wood on an island of the West of Ireland.
  • A battle weary soldier turned combat photographer, Hugo Fitzduane, who finds the body.
  • Fitzduane’s sense that it was not a suicide.
  • The small castle he lives in on the island.
  • An elite counter-terrorist unit known as ‘The Rangers.’
  • Fitzduane’s friend, his former commanding officer in the Congo, Shane Kilmara.
  • An investigation in Switzerland by Hugo Fitzduane.
  • A master terrorist who always seems to be one step ahead.
  • A siege of Fitzduane’s castle to end the book.

THE RELEVANCE OF REALITY. Hangman was heavily influenced by the fact that in real life I discovered a freshly hanged body under conditions almost exactly as described in the book. The experience was so surreal that I actually walked past the body for several paces before turning and thinking my life will never be the same again. I was so right. It hasn’t been.

Pretty much everything I write has its roots in actual experiences—which means it’s derivative. Does that mean I’m not creative? I don’t think so. Virtually all stories are derived in some way or other. It’s what you do with your initial ideas that counts—and to make the end result into a compelling story may look easy—but it’s hard (and extraordinarily satisfying).

I love it so.



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