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Something I find fascinating is how some of the best books or films do things which, if you were thinking of them, seem impossible to make work – and then make it work. I guess that’s one mark of a brilliant creator: someone who’s good enough at what they do – and imaginative enough – to come up with the ideas that break all the rules and turn them into pure gold.
In this post, I imagine how a few of those ideas might go if pitched to an unsympathetic editor with no imagination…
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Creator: I have a great idea for a new musical. It’s going to be about a magical nanny who whirls the children away on magical and hilarious adventures.
Editor: Sounds great! How does it start?
Creator: Panoramic views of London, with the overture of the soundtrack playing.
Editor: Fantastic! What about the first song?
Creator: The children’s mother, who’s a suffragette, will sing a highly political song about votes for women with her maid and cook.
Editor: Hmm, sounds a bit…heavy. But go on then, what’s next?
Creator: The Dad’s going to sing a song about how great it is to be an Englishman in 1910.
Editor: Hmm…when does the nanny come in?
Creator: Oh, not for ages and ages, at least 15 minutes in.
Creator: I’ve got a new character concept for the superhero setting!
Editor: Go on.
Creator: He’s a Holocaust survivor.
Editor: A lot of potential there.
Creator: Yes, all his family were murdered, he survived Auschwitz, but now he has superpowers – probably the most powerful superpowers in the whole setting.
Editor: And he fights injustice and saves the world?
Editor: He does fight injustice and save the world, right?
Creator: He’s the villain.
Editor: The Holocaust survivor is the villain? Don’t you think this might look a little bit…antisemitic?
Creator: No, it’ll be fine. See, we’ll make sure the audience knows he’s the bad guy, see, because he’s a racial supremacist.
Editor: He’s a what?
Creator: A racial supremacist. He sees his own kind as superior to all other humans, and wants to rule over them.
Editor: Let me get this straight. You want us to make the Holocaust survivor – the Jewish Holocaust survivor – a racial supremacist and a villain – and it’s not going to be antisemitic?
Creator: Trust me, it’ll be great!
Editor: How’s the next book in your highly successful sci-fi/space-opera series coming along?
Creator: Really well, thanks.
Editor: Great! What’s it about?
Creator: I thought I’d do something a bit different for this one. It’s a Regency romance.
Editor: It’s a what?
Creator: A Regency romance. In space.
Editor: Oh, you had me worried there for a moment. You mean there’s a romance subplot, alongside the action.
Creator: No, no action. Just a straight Regency romance. Wealthy, noble main character; virtuous not quite as wealthy woman, many misunderstandings, love, humour, all the trimmings.
Editor: And that’s the whole plot?
Creator: Oh no! There’s a subplot with the main character’s brother, his love-interest, and whether that relationship will last.
Editor: That wasn’t quite what I had in mind.
Creator: Oh, and there’s another family, with four daughters! They all get paired off by the end of the book.
Editor: No space mercenaries?
Editor: No terrorists?
Editor: No starship battles, no rogue intelligence agencies, no evil criminal cartels?
Creator: No, no, no.
Editor: You really mean this, don’t you?
Creator: I’m planning on starting a new series, in a new fantasy world.
Editor: What’s it about?
Creator: Well, there’s this tribe, they’re going to basically like Celtic Britons, and they’re being threatened by an empire that’s essentially the Roman Empire.
Editor: Great! Fantasy Celts sell well. What’s the plot?
Creator: The main character gets worried about the pseudo-Romans and how he can save his people – and maybe the gods tell him he’s predestined to save them. But first he’s got to unite the tribes, and teach them how to fight against superior weaponry and discipline, and all that stuff.
Editor: Strong. How does he do it?
Creator: Well, he travels south and serves as a mercenary with the pseudo-Romans, and learns how they fight. And that ups the stakes too, you see, because the reader sees how they slaughter and enslave other tribes. And the whole time we’re building up to this ultimate confrontation.
Editor: And so the book ends with the big battle against the ‘Romans’?
Creator: No, actually. It ends with a big battle against some Viking-analogue, where he unites the tribes.
Creator: Did I forget to say? It’s the first in the series.
Editor: Oh, that’s OK then. So the big battle against the ‘Romans’ is in the next book?
Creator: No, the next book opens twenty years later, with his son – the big battle takes place between the books.
Creator: I’m running into a difficulty with my World War Two epic. I need some way to tell the reader what’s going on in the war, outside of what’s happening to the characters.
Editor: Have you tried using those little intros at the start of each chapter? I hear that can work well.
Creator: No, that’s too predictable. I want to do something more interesting.
Creator: I’m planning to include some chapters which are excerpts from a fictitious history of WW2, written by a famous general.
Editor: Sounds great!
Creator: But there’s a twist.
Editor: Go on.
Creator: He’s not going to be an American general, but a Nazi general, writing in prison after having been convicted of war crimes at the Nuremberg trials.
Creator: So in the book, he’s going to be defending Germany and the Nazis, and writing about how Roosevelt was a Macchiavellian plotter who used the war to successfully American dominance.
Creator: And we’re going to have pages and pages and pages of this! 25,000 – 30,000 words worth of this Nazi war criminal defending the Nazis and arguing that Roosevelt was the real villain of the war!
Editor: So, what’s with the new book?
Creator: It’s about a king, noble but flawed, whose been driven by his home by an enemy, and his quest to reclaim it.
Editor: A bit cliched, but it might work.
Creator: It’s told through the eyes of one of his companions, an ordinary person who gets swept up in the quest.
Editor: Ah, the Everyman technique – good thinking.
Creator: At the beginning, the king thinks he’s a bit useless, but over time he proves his worth and ends up saving them, and becoming a trusted companion.
Editor: Great stuff. Now, what’s the nature of the enemy whose taken the king’s home?
Creator: A dragon.
Editor: Excellent! And the king kills it?
Editor: The Everyman character kills it?
Creator: No, he doesn’t either.
Editor: Who does kill it.
Creator: This other character. He’s the descendant of a lord, who was the ally of the king’s grandfather.
Creator: The Everyman character helps him, though. He gives him key information.
Editor: Well…OK then. And then the king becomes king?
Creator: Well, no. His cousin does.
Editor: His cousin does?!?!
Creator: The king’s dead, you see.
Creator: You see, after they kill the dragon, an enemy attacks with a massive army – he’s the son of an old enemy, who the king’s cousin killed many years before, in the battle when the king won his name.
Editor: Oh, this is foreshadowed throughout the book, right?
Creator: What? No, a character just announces it the paragraph before the battle starts.
Editor: OK, let’s pass over that for now. So the king dies gloriously in battle, fighting this enemy? He kills him and then dies from his wounds?
Creator: Well, he dies from his wounds after the battle.
Editor: Don’t tell me – he doesn’t kill the enemy.
Editor: Does the Everyman character kill the enemy.
Editor: Who does?
Creator: Oh, this really random character; the main characters meet him part way through the book, and he helps them a bit, but he’s not really connected to anything else.
Editor: And none of the main characters help him at all?
Creator: No, not really. It’s in a battle, you see.
Editor: Forget it, it’ll never sell.
In case it isn’t obvious, this is intended as humour, not criticism. I think these decisions were brilliant, not mistakes. I also know they weren’t (I assume!) ‘pitched’ this way. I find it fascinating to see quite how out there some of them are, taken at face value, and how what look like crazy ideas can become brilliant ones in the hands of mastercraftsmen.
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