Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ode to Homage

Writers are often asked, “where do you get your ideas?”  It’s a difficult question – my new stock answer is going to be, “Luxembourg.”

Part of the reason the question is so difficult to answer is that it’s actually the wrong question.  The correct question is more like, “what inspired you to write that?”  Now that’s a good question – one we can all answer.

Everything we’ve ever written: a column, short story, novel, poem, song, screenplay, joke, or anything in between, came from some specific place, and we usually can pinpoint its origin.

The young adult novel I’ve been working on for the better part of five years was inspired by a meal my oldest daughter and I had at one of the theme restaurants in the Disney Wilderness Lodge Resort.  The screenplay my writing partner and I used as our senior thesis at NYU, “…and if you take cranberries” was a satiric send-up of all the pretentious art students surrounding us at the time.  (Note: “Cranberries” never really went anywhere, though several of the inspiring personalities have become quite successful in their fields.  Cynic’s karma at work.)

I’ve been inspired by people, conversations, pictures, buildings, news stories, and often, other works of fiction. 

This last one is a bit tricky.  It’s a fine series of lines between “inspiration,” “homage,” and “plagiarism.”  Where does one stop and the next begin?

I’ve been working on a screenplay idea for a few months called “Small Packages.”  It’s about a female detective who finds herself protecting a young girl from a shadowy government agency.  Sound familiar?  Well, there was a 1998 film called “Mercury Rising,” with Bruce Willis as an outcast FBI agent protecting a young autistic boy from a shadowy government agent played by Alec Baldwin.

I definitely drew inspiration from the film, but I wanted to deal with some other issues.  Mainly, I wanted to write a hero who was deeply flawed and perhaps unable to be redeemed.  And I wanted to make the hero a woman. 

So you see, this is quite different.  My hero, Detective Kate McCallister, is nothing like Willis’ Special Agent Art Jeffries.  She’s deeply flawed and has trouble with interpersonal relationships.  She’s more like Holly Hunter’s Detective Grace Hanadarko from “Saving Grace.”  Oh.

Ah, but I’ve made other changes.  For example, my kid isn’t an autistic math whiz who breaks codes like the “Mercury Rising” boy, or Keifer Sutherland’s son in the new show “Touch.” No, the reason the government wants to get their hands on this girl is that she has some kind of telekinetic power they want to understand and control. 
What’s that?  2009’s “Push” had a similar theme?  Ah.

Well, that’s okay, I’ve got my premise, I’ve got my characters, I’ll just be careful to tell my story in a unique way.  I know, I’ll take a break to clear my head and think this through.  (That’s code for “going to the movies,” by the way.)

Shh, the previews are starting.

Oh, look, this one is about teenagers who have some kind of telekinetic powers and are hunted by a shadowy government agency.  Sigh.

Okay, put that one behind me.  Another preview is starting.  This one’s about a young girl…being protected by a outsider cop…as she’s pursued by lots of bad guys in New York City.  Double sigh.

Well, maybe I can tweak my story.  Maybe the cop and the girl will survive a plane crash and be running from a pack of wolves – curse you, Liam Neeson.  Okay, what if they’re out on a ledge and…oh, never mind.

At least you know what inspired this column.

1 comment:

Michael J. Sullivan said...

It would help if you stopped giving away trade secrets.