Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Three Wishes

by Robison Wells

I've been trying to get into my new writing project, which is always more troublesome than I expect it to be. Once I get going, I can write pretty quick, but it's that initial stuff--getting to know the characters, figuring out the plot--that really bogs me down. I end up spending a lot of my writing time procrastinating: updating my website, reading research books, and wishing I was working on something else.

Ideas come to me pretty easy. Readers often ask me where I get my ideas, and I must say that that's usually the simplest part of writing a book--it's the outlining and editing and revising that really kill me. So, with all these ideas floating around, I always have a dozen projects on the back burner. Some of them will eventually see the light of day, and many of them won't. And unfortunately, the reason why several of them won't ever go anywhere is because there's just no marketable direction to take them.

Here are three examples of things I really would love to work on, but I don't know how I'd make them work. If any of you have solutions, I'd love to hear them:


I've been kicking around the idea of a screenplay for a couple years now, ever since I realized that a book I was writing would work infinitely better as a movie. I've mentioned the story on the blog here before, but the basic gist is that it's a romantic comedy where the leads don't meet until the final moments--in the book version, they didn't meet until the last paragraph. The point of the story is that both romantic leads are kind of screwed up, and were they to meet earlier in the story, you know that it'd never work. So, as the story progresses, they change and get to the point where they're perfect for each other, and then they meet.

The reason it would work better as a movie, though, is that the evidence that the leads are changing is shown via daydreams: they picture themselves in various situtations (the girl inserts herself into movies she's watching, for example) and we see their personalities alter and their flaws improve. Anyway, that probably sounds weird.

But there just ain't much to do with an LDS-based screenplay these days. LDS cinema, which appeared to have a lot of potential for a couple years, has been dwindling. And while I fervently believe that it will make an eventual comeback, I just don't see much opportunity in the current market. Heck, even if I wrote an LDS Citizen Kane, a shimmering star in the cinema firmament, there's just no worthwhile place to take it right now. Sure, there are a couple of screenplay contests here and there, but the winners of those contests don't appear to be making any appearances on the silver screen.

Ultimately, it boils down to this: I know, with a fair degree of certainty, that any good books I write will eventually get published. And since my writing time is finite, and the possibility of selling a screenplay so remote, it seems like a colossal waste of time.

Speculative Fiction:

Mormons read more speculative fiction per capita than mainstream audiences. And yet the majority of speculative fiction bombs in LDS fiction. Why is that? I think it's because if you put speculative elements into an LDS world, readers immediately try to reconcile the two--and they don't reconcile well.

Magic flies in the face of Priesthood and miracles; sci-fi set in the distant future seems to conflict with the Doctrine and Covenants (77:6); horror calls into question the power of Satan; ghosts don't seem to jive with our understanding of the spirit world. And while most of these problems could be solved in the hands of a skilled writer, LDS publishers are extremely reluctant to publish them (and rightly so, because they just ain't sellin').

And yet speculative fiction appeals to me in so many different ways. I wish I could figure out how to make it work.


I'm in love with the current television renaissance. As I mentioned here several months ago, the quality of TV programs has skyrocketed in the last couple years, both in writing and production values.

Look at Lost or 24 or Prisonbreak or--best of all--Heroes. The stories are entertaining and wild--as good or better than most action/adventure movies--plus you get a new installment every single week!

Or, look at House, MD: the plot is basically the same template every week, but the show is an amazing character study, watching several quirky people (and one completely misanthropic trainwreck) change over time.

It's the kid of long-term storytelling that movies (and novels, really) can never match. To date, there have been fifty four episodes of Lost. That equates to about twenty five full-length feature films. The idea that I could follow a group of characters for such an extended storyline makes my mouth water and my typing fingers itch. (Perhaps I have a rash?)

But how would a serial translate into books? Sure, there are series, but to write enough books that they'd equate to twenty seven movies would take the better part of a career. (Which, I guess, is why TV shows have lots of writers.) Even so, man that'd be fun.

Now really, I'm not saying that any of these three things are impossible, and I really think that I could probably make them work if I had the drive and the time. Do you guys have any suggestions? Or, alternately, are there any huge obstacles that you've found--writing wishes that are going unfulfilled--particularly within the LDS market?


At 12/05/2006 4:00 PM, Anonymous Fellfrosch said...

Mormons love speculative fiction, we just don't like any Mormon elements in it, because of the reasons you mentioned. Just buck up, write a really good speculative book, and publish it mainstream. You already have a huge crossover audience waiting for it.

At 12/05/2006 5:30 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Serials as books - Dickens managed to do it (although his serials were published in the newspaper and later turned in to books). Serials have not done so great in this day and age unfortunately - I know Stephen King's experiment with it was pretty much considered a flop.

I'm with you on the screenplay thing. I've been batting an idea of my own around for the last few months and I've actually thought about contacting you Rob to see if you'd be interested in making it funny (I'd write the romance part). I sort of have an in with some executive producers of LDS films (being married to their son and all), but I've been concentrating on other things (like you said, I know now I can sell my books, screenplays, maybe not). I too like the idea of a visual medium (being an avid movie and TV fan myself) to tell my stories. However, I'm not sure if I could let go of control - if I could just hand a screenplay over and walk away. I think I'd have to be a producer or something. The control freak in me panics a little at the thought of letting someone else tell my story.

At 12/05/2006 7:13 PM, Blogger Brian Giles said...

I think the LDS movie market could make a comeback. There have been some movies I have absolutely loved, while some have been pretty boring. I think it just needs the right movie to lead the revolution. Writing for television has also been a dream of mine but I feel like I’m diabolically opposed to myself. I like tv but I shouldn’t! I think it would be cool to write for programs like Lost but I would be the one in the back of the room saying “let’s just let them kiss this season and THEN get married and then”. You get the picture. If you’re interested in entering your screenplays into contests, here is a list of screenplay contests including one for “faith and values” based screenplays.
The list is at the bottom. Good luck.

At 12/05/2006 8:16 PM, Blogger FHL said...

If you decide to write some speculative fiction, I wish you'd do something that parallels the (poorly written, IMO) Left Behind series. I suspect the biggest reason we don't already have one out there is that there's not much of an intersection between the Revelation scholar and the handy novelist. Still, wouldn't it be fun?

Of course, if you want speculative fiction, look no further than Orson Scott Card. (I'm talking Alvin Maker and Earth.) Hmm, maybe Alvin Maker doesn't apply. I agree with the suggestion that it's hard to reconcile magic with LDS teachings, but how else would miracles be perceived by the non-believer?

A question on your 77:6 comment: the trivia in my head says we've been on Earth for 6000 years. Does the extra thousand come from the Millenium, or do you have 1000 years of potential science fiction to play with? Or is my factoid just plain wrong?

Regarding Serials: well, how does that differ from a novel series? Who doesn't want to read more about Shandra or Samantha or (okay, Eric and Rebekah)? It's the same concept, isn't it? 24 is totally amazing and hooks you for an hour every week. The print medium is really not set up for that, except for maybe an online subscription. (Oh, great, I'm going to have to pay to read your blog entries now?)
Not that I'm praising the storylines, but it makes my head swim at the number of soap opera episodes produced in a year. How do they keep viewers watching, aside from having a captive audience? Can you imagine trying to novelize something like that? (ok, not for LDS audiences)

Screenplays: not much to comment here, except that I work in the same building as HaleStorm Studios (Church Ball, Suits on the Loose) I don't know anybody there, but they might accept screenplays.

And, hey, if you want to throw away one of those ideas that you're not going to develop, throw it my way, would you? ;)

At 12/06/2006 12:29 AM, Anonymous Amy said...

I must say that the screenplay idea sounds awesome! It's really not like anything we've seen before. I think you sure go for it! (just make sure you keep writing books while your at it. I don't know what I'd do if you didn't have another book out for a few years.)

At 12/06/2006 10:41 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

FHL, I couldn't disagree with you more! I think some of the worst things to happen in the realms of LDS speculative fiction are Last-Days-style novels, similar to the Left Behind books. In fact, that's what I loved about Stephanie's Believer--it was set in the future, yet didn't get bogged down in fulfilling prophecy.

(Admittedly, I'm a member of the less-doctrine-is-better-than-more-doctrine school of thought when it comes to LDS fiction.) (However, if you want an example of a last-days trainwreck, look no further than Covenant's Seventh Seal. Holy cow. Honestly, I haven't ever talked to anyone--even bookstore employees--who managed to get through the whole thing without skipping big chunks.)

D&C 77:6 says that the book that John saw in Revelation represents the the things that happen "concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance". Since the book includes the millenium, that seven thousand years is presumably includes the millenium as well. Though I'm not scripture expert.

Sariah, if you have an in with the LDS film world, we should totally get together and discuss.

In other news, while I was writing this blog yesterday, I was actually struck with a speculative fiction idea that might just work. Fellfrosch and I have been discussing it quite a bit today and yesterday. Look for it in a bookstore near you!

At 12/06/2006 11:10 AM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

It is my understanding that for Lost, there is one writer for each character in the show. The head writers come up with the basic outline for the scene, and who will be in the scene, but then it's up to each individual writer to describe how their character would act or react.

To me that sounds like a lot of fun. Rob is right, House is not good because there is a new sickness each week. It's good because of the character development. Plot is important, but characters are vital. A good plot with poorly written characters is a flop waiting to happen.

Since we're throwing out screenplay ideas, I had a good idea a year or so ago. The movie would follow two actors who are playing in a romantic comedy. Part of the humor would come in the fact that you are watching a romantic comedy that is making fun of romantic comedies. This in-movie movie would be filled with all of the 'cliches', only done very, very poorly. You know this movie is going to bomb, but it's funny to watch.

However, the two main characters in the romantic comedy movie (the one being shot) hate each other. So off set they just drive each other bonkers, and then on screen they have to pretend that they are madly in love.

Of course as the movie progresses, they both change, and start to like the other person. But neither knows if the other one has similar feelings. In the end, they do the final scene for the in-movie movie, where they profess their love for each other. And the viewer is left wondering, were they acting, or did they finally get together.

Could be fun.

At 12/06/2006 11:18 AM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Matt - while I think your idea sounds great with a great hook, as a romantic comedy fan, I would be beyond mad if the end left me wondering "did they or didn't they?" The whole point of rom-coms is that you get the Happily Ever After. Your target audience would be women like me, and trust me when I say that sort of ending would get you egged. You could do something like having the two be really bad actors but in that scene the chemistry is there and the acting is good because they're not really acting and they really do love each other. That would be a satisfactory ending.

Romance has rules, and romance fans revolt when said rules are messed with.

At 12/06/2006 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matthew, they made your movie - it's called "Kiss Me Kate"

At 12/07/2006 11:50 AM, Anonymous Jennie said...

It seems to me that the most enduring, loved movies were books first. Most of the LDS movies that are so severely criticized were written directly as film scripts. I'd like to see more LDS books that have already proved their audience appeal turned into movies. I know there was Charley and the Work and the Glory. They're neither one particularly good, but they've done better than most because they already had a following. I haven't seen all of the LDS films, but the couple I've liked the most were Groberg's. They too, began with well-loved books. My opinion may not be worth much because I'm not a big movie fan to begin with, but there's no way I'd waste my money on any Lost or Left Behind type show and I'm really tired of the sappy, silly suposedly funny ones.


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