In setting up a variety of promotional efforts for my books this year, one website asked me to write a Guest Blog. It was posted recently, and I thought I might as well post it here, as well. Hey, it's long and it's written, you don't let things like that go to waste. This concerned the question about coming up with ideas, but more importantly how those idea develop into full-blown stories.
The Winding Road to The Wild Roses
I think the question that writers get the most is, “Where did you get the idea for that?” Well, the second most. The most is probably, “Are you still here?”
When it comes to where the ideas come from, I generally like to say that there’s this old guy in the room above the garage who I have on retainer, and buy ideas from wholesale. The reality is that ideas come from any number of places – overheard conversations, newspaper articles, offbeat characters you meet, but usually they come from simply doing work. Sitting down with a piece of paper and writing down thoughts, and then more random thoughts, saying “what if” a lot, and finally seeing what dots get connected the best.
But sometimes, it just pops into your head. It’s not a satisfying answer, but it happens. And that’s what happened with The Wild Roses.
The thing is, usually I can remember how it all came about. With The Wild Roses, though – I don’t have a clue. What makes it all the more odd is that I can remember exactly where I was when the idea popped into my head. But I don’t have the slightest idea why it popped into my head. Yet even if I did, it’s only part of the answer. Because more than just an idea, somehow the story had to show up. And therein lies the tale.
I take a half-hour exercise walk every morning. I was only about 150 yards down the street, thinking about…well, something. And then, into my head popped, “The Three Musketeers, but with three women.” That’s all, but I swear it was like a cartoon moment, when a light bulb pops over a character’s head. I just don’t know why I thought it.
I ruminated about the idea during the walk, and where it could go. I loved the premise – but couldn’t get interested in how it grew as a story, with three adventurous women roaming the French countryside.
Oh, sure, I could jerry-rig a story, and make it work. But that’s not how you want to start, forcing a story. So, I put The Wild Roses aside.
About nine months later (a fine gestating period), I was on the phone with my friend, Rob Hedden, who’s a writer and filmmaker in Hollywood. He had just sold a screenplay a couple days before to Paramount Studios, for what would be his first, major movie. It was extremely exciting, and we spent a half-hour talking about every detail. And then, eventually, he said, “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What are you working on?”
The honest answer would have been, “Nothing.” Now, you must believe me on this: I don’t have much of an ego. I hate talking about myself unless asked. (I was asked to write this article…) But I have a healthy “writer’s ego,” which means thinking that other people might be interested in the stories you tell. So, though my ego is small, there was No Way in the World that I was going to spend 30 minutes talking with a friend about a movie he’d just sold, and when asked what I was doing, answer – “Nothing.” No. Way.
So, my mind began whirring. Searching my mind for some idea I had. Any idea. And all this is taking about six seconds, as I’m stalling. “Well, you see, the thing is, of all the ideas I have…” And from the deep crevices hidden in the far back recesses of my mind, I pulled something out and said – lying: “There’s this idea in the middle of my mind. The Three Musketeers but with three women.”
Rob, who has written several novels, almost leaped through the phone and grabbed me by the lapels. He kept repeatedly saying, “You have to write this. I don’t want any excuses.” And then, to emphasize the point, he said, “Because if you don’t, I am telling you right now that I will steal it.”
Okay, I figured after that, hmmm, maybe the idea for The Wild Roses was worth addressing again.
(I should note here that Rob Hedden is one of the most honest, honorable, decent people I know, and the only thing he would steal is a kiss.)
So, I went back to thinking about the story for The Wild Roses. What I didn’t like was how the idea developed. But what interested me was who those women were. If three women teamed up, why would they do so?? And how would they ever even get to that point?
That got me to thinking about the women themselves – ideally from different cultures. That led to a lower-class gypsy, the daughter of a respectable bourgeois merchant, and a naïve heiress. But almost more importantly, why would each of them need to leave home? Alone, defenseless.
That’s when the next realization hit: the reason they’d team up was not to save France at all, but simply to help protect themselves. That made them real, and even more believable. And over time, working together, getting better, they’d reach levels they never could by themselves. And as they roamed the streets, protecting themselves, that’s when they’d start helping others they came across in need.
And from that, the dam burst and led to other story ideas. Solving a murder, for one. And most important of all, as the three helped others, it put them in a situation where they discovered a major crisis in the country and were the only ones who could resolve it.
Suddenly, I had a story I believed. It was about three people who had huge hurdles put in front of them that forced each to leave home, and how by teaming up with others, they would be able to get over their barriers and reach the greatest heights. Real women, real people, with greatness in them, but also foibles – thieving, self-centered, sheltered and more. All of which overlapped and made them more full and relatable with each page, and (importantly) relatable whether you were a woman or a man. They were just interesting people, I hoped, who everyone could understand and empathize with, three people struggling to make their way, because something else in life was blocking them, saying “no” to them.
Now, if only I could remember what in the world I was thinking about when the idea of The Wild Roses came in to my head…
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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