Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bad Idea Bears

You know the two in the picture above? No? Are you sure you don't know them?

Cute, huh? Yes. And Evil. Irredeemably Evil.

Those are the Bad Idea Bears from the musical Avenue Q. (Hilarious show, by the way; Sesame Street for adults.) The Bad Idea Bears--who have these sweet, happy, high-pitched, enthusiastic voices--arrive at important junctures in your life to give you, well, Bad Ideas.

("You should do something for yourself for a change--buy some beer!" "Buy a case! It's cheaper that way in the long run!" "Yay-yeee!")

("Quick, take her home!" "She's wasted!" "Yay-yeee!")

In the Comment trail a few posts back, Aliya noted that one of the biggest problems a writer faces is deciding what advice or input to ignore. Dead right. Some of those people out there are trying to be helpful, but aren't. And some of them are Bad Idea Bears.

Sartre claimed Hell is Other People. Maybe, though I've always been suspicious that he had it backwards, and that Hell is Me. Though I'm not certain on Sartre's proposition, I can guarantee you that not all Bad Idea Bears are Other People. I have a whole troop of them right here in my head, ready to help with important decisions. And, since writers make decision after decision, from little things like word choice to big ones like what to write next, the Bears have plenty of opportunities to chime in. If only I could learn to recognize their voices...

A few places the Bad Idea Bears are fond of visiting me:

Placing backstory. Sometimes the thing to do with backstory is merely hint. Sometimes it's best to stop and explain. Sometimes the most effective course is to wriggle it into dialogue and action. Sometimes you really need to Scooby-Doo your way into a full-up flashback. And sometimes you want to go into one of those interwoven flashback/narrative combos that has no name. The Bears have plenty of opinions about backstory.

Move Ahead versus Fix It Now. Think you might need to stop and reorganize the first three chapters into six? Or rewrite that one scene? Or should you keep your momentum going and quit making excuses to stop and fiddle about? Count on the Bears to have strong, and very plausible, opinions.

Facing New Challenges. You don't want to repeat yourself, do you? Climb a new mountain. Work at the limit of your abilities--hell, work beyond them! But wait--shouldn't you consolidate what you've already established? And what about the readers, who are expecting something new, but similar? (Hey, Kids: How many Bears can you find hiding in this picture?)

Innovation and Cross-Genre Options. You know what this detective novel needs right now? A vampire! No, no, wait--an alien!...Hey, I know--let's kill the protagonist! (Yay-yee!) Wait! What are you thinking? There are certain kinds of rules for these sorts of novels. Now, lessee, I have exactly three red herrings planted, and I need six...Did the Bears eat some of my herrings?

Style. Stephen King said that in his early writing a whole group of diverse stylistic influences (he cites Bradbury, Cain, and Lovecraft) melded together in his prose to create a "kind of hilarious stew." Blending the unblendable is always attractive. So are technical challenges--wouldn't first-person plural present tense omniscient give this book a distinctive feel ("We look down into the hearts and minds of those who go about on this planet, we peer into the souls of those who will soon die...")? Or second-person future-tense amnesiac ("You will be looking around the room. You will be wondering where you are. You will be wondering who you will be meaning by 'you'...") On the other hand, shying from a needed approach because it is odd is just plain cowardice, ya big chicken...Ah, yes: style is a favorite Bear playground.

Write or Think. Maybe I should go for a walk and work this out in my mind. No, maybe I should just sit down and write it. Hey, I have a great idea--let's put both on hold and write a blog entry instead...



Janet said...


And that is as profound as I am going to get.

Tim Stretton said...

David, that is quite simply the most hilarious blog post I have ever read!

And it's that much funnier because we've all been there. The writer, who by definition is looking for different ways to express their reality, has to give the Bad Idea Bears a hearing because they room with the Good Idea Bears. Shame they all wear the same clothes...

Alis said...

Yay-yeee! Now I have a name - no, more a whole character - for the rubbish which pings round inside my head. Great post David, thanks!
PS glad Amazon delivered Testament without too much delay.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Tim--

Oh, are there Good Idea Bears, too? I'm glad to hear it--I was starting to get Bear-shy!

David Isaak said...

Hi, Alis--

Yes, "Testament" is here, in lovely condition, and a great big thumping volume it is! Looking forward to it.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Janet--

"And that is as profound as I am going to get."

Me too. But at greater length!