Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Writers In My Head

Alex Berenson, a New York Times reporter and novelist, wrote a great piece for the Sunday paper about, in part, coming up with intricate plots. He wasn't talking about his spy novels, though. Instead, he'd been asked to be a consultant for the final season of the Keifer Sutherland show, 24.

He described how the writers 'spitballed' plots. "We sit on couches and comfortable chairs, looking for answers. Season 8 will be set in New York. But why is Jack in New York? He’s a diplomat. No, he’s in a hospital, rehabilitating from his near-death experience in Season 7. No, he’s handling security for a rich guy... When the process is going well, it is like playing soccer with an invisible ball. One writer pushes an idea forward until another steps in. Someone says, “So the terrorists seize a school bus filled with rich kids. ...” “except one kid hides a cellphone. ...” And away we go."

As I read the piece, I became envious because this was the same experience novelists squirm through while writing a book, but all in their own mind. I have about six 'writers' in my head when I'm writing. I'll suggest a plot point - Izzy McNeil should represent a woman in Chicago charged with poisoning her best friend to death. But the lawyer writer in my head will pipe up that Izzy has no criminal law experience, and she isn't certified to try a murder case. Then the voice my friend, Beth, who doesn't take no for an answer and who sometimes helps me with my books will speak up and say that's fine, Izzy can second chair the murder trial. Well, who's going to first chair it? the lawyer asks. Another writer, one of the characters, Izzy's friend, Maggie, chimes in that she's happy to take Izzy on and teach her the ropes. A disapproving writer from the back of the mind-room will say well, that's all fine and good, but really, why would a woman poison someone who is her 'best friend?' And as Berenson says, "away we go."

Wouldn't it be great, I kept thinking, if there really were six Izzy McNeil writers, who lob away ideas and scenarios with each other, who could whole the half-hatched plot points that someone brilliantly sketched out.

But ultimately, Berenson said, after rounds and rounds of the brainstorming on 24, the process with all the writers became, "exhausting and circular. As a novelist, I’m not used to this. My ideas are my own. I don’t have to listen to other people tell me how stupid they are."

All right, so maybe I don't want a democracy of writers on my novel. Maybe. If you could have a team working on your books, would you do it?

18 comments:

Libby Hellmann said...

Actually, I probably would. I love brainstorming... to a point. I find the exercise of converting a mental idea into a spoken one has a lot of merit. I can immediately see where my rationale falls apart, or where it is strengthened. I also have the experience of "team brainstorming" at my day job (although I guit that a long time ago). I guess I'm of the school that says two heads.. or more... are better than one.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Laura, You sound like a one woman team of writers.

I wouldn't want a team of writers. I have a team of characters who fight in my head for air time.

Laura Caldwell said...

Lib, makes me think of our brainstorming session at that library talk we did with Konrath and a few others. That was very excellent.

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