Scryptic Column #3 — “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

I found a few of my “Swift as Mercury” columns that used to run over at Scryptic Studios, this nifty website for comic book writers. Drew Melbourne invited me to do a column, and then the site folded. Go ahead and blame me for it if you want.

Sex sells, but love reprints. See why Valentine’s Day has more to teach about giving birth to really cool content than the proper way to give a foot massage (but that’s good too).

File under: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
Seductively crooned to the tune of:
Bouncing Souls – “Hopeless Romantic”
Reel Big Fish – “Good Thing”
Stiff Little Fingers – “Running Bear”
Johnny Cash – “Walk the Line”
Elvis Presley – “Can’t Help Falling in Love”
The Pietasters – “Night Before”
The Pogues & Sinead O’Connor – “Haunted”

Happy Valentine’s Day! (Or, if you prefer, Horny Werewolf Day.) Here in New York, we’re celebrating in bursts of sleet and hail. The yin-yang children of snow and rain possess the attributes of both, but the personality of neither.

Why aren’t they used to atmospheric effect in drama more? Snow is a quiet thing, muting acts of violence and bulwarking safe, warm places. Snow is peace, even the atrocious peace of death. And rain…rain splatters down on guilty, hungry, heads, chases all but the driven into their homes; rain is the sizzling background staccato of action. When the rain comes, it washes out the stage so something important can happen. Rain is focus.

Sleet and hail? Under-utilized. Sleet is a colder, meaner rain, a snowball personally slung down the back of your neck by God. Hail is snow trying to be rain, peppering your face with a barrage of wearying punches. Turn back, turn back…

That’s one take, but they can have any meaning you care to infuse. It’s those new combinations that create the really amazing, complex sensations we seek. To put it another way, a burger by itself is fairly bland. But add cheese, lettuce and a bun: voila, taste sensation. Disparate elements from the four corners of the food groups create a wonderful new union.

Don’t be afraid to marry unrelated concepts. If it’s not a happy union, you can divorce them and keep only the best and brightest of their children, the good ideas, while discarding the rest (please note that outside of the metaphor, this is terrible advice).

Speaking of love, (and it informs just about every story I write, for I do believe there’s no holier grail in any story than that, even if it’s just for the pure chemical kick for some characters…) I once wrote a satire of teen romantic comedies called She’s Famous Now.

The premise is that a timid lad gets a second chance to pursue his high school crush, who has become the world’s #1 popstar, but he isn’t ruthless enough to win her attentions over half the planet’s adoration. His mercurial friend, however, is…

It was all written out of frustration with lame romance flicks, where the hero is some passive, neurotically nice simp, who can’t be arsed to leap off an emotional cliff and simply tell the girl how he feels. Step up! Be a mensch! Doesn’t anyone fall passionately in love anymore? Why does every film have to be about a couple that seems horribly wrong for each other, and only fall in together because of fate’s nudging and some hasty psychological shortcuts?

Real love…well, it’s not usually at first sight, but that spark that lights the tinder is. I wanted a hero who knew right at the start that he wanted this girl, for herself, who she was, and was always going to love her, no matter what. I also wanted him to dodge all the weird-ass schemes that might seem cute and endearing to a lady on the screen, but would in reality probably provoke her to call the cops. I wanted to say that weird rom-com tricks like that are a cheap lie to the audience, valuing wacky stunts that don’t hold water when applied to real psychology.

I also wanted a boy-band to gang-bang a groupie to comedic effect. Am I not an unyielding artist?

Taking the script out this year to revise a bit, I realized it ultimately resembled the genre more than deconstructed it. Some of the jokes still read alright, but the only real swerve I had left was the anti-teen movie ending, but in light of the fairly standard story (boy-band orgies notwithstanding), it felt like a cheat ending. OK, so how could I rip the story I wanted to tell away from the hokey, unfunny junk, and take an unsterilized knife to one of the lousiest sub-genres in existence?

At the same time I was asking myself that, I picked up George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, and was surprised to find — hey, a satire of romantic comedies. The characters even seemed to line up to my nice nerd, his offensively honest pal, and an apparently bubble-brained girl who reveals surprising reserves.

Shaw’s play barely has time for the romance amid its socialist campaign, and Nietzschean ideas of the ubermensch, which can be pop-fired into the belief (among others) that it’s better to be active than passive, therefore it’s better to be evil than nice, something I’d already tinkered into the script.

Yeah, I thought, maybe I’ll hang Nietzsche on my story. Maybe the jerk can only help the hero by breaking him down and forcing him to abandon all his old precepts. Remake him as the new Don Juan, the ubermensch incarnate. That’d be in line with what I wanted to say; maybe he has to have his heart broken before he’s capable of getting what he wants. Destroy the romantic notions that it’s better to suffer and pine in silent dedication. Replace it with a call to all nice guys to take their crush off the pedestal, face her as a human being, want her for who she really is, and go after her as an equal. Yeah. Yeah…

Except now I’m treading on all these Shavian notions that I’ll have to respect even if I’m going to subvert them a bit. Subversion isn’t required, but I’d like it to be a little something new, say something more than just an iteration of Shaw’s ideas on life-force. As he’s making his statement on Nietzsche, I’d have to add my two cents on Shaw. Maybe they could be right on every point, and completely wrong on what it all added up to. Maybe for all their cynicism about human nature, they just didn’t count on the greedy co-opting their work against the ignorant (in the German’s case, very quickly, as his anti-Semitic sister touched up his final work to fit her own views). Who could foresee a world where Che Guevara t-shirts are a pop commodity?

So these thoughts all hold a general orgy in my head, and nine months later, She’s Famous Now is the tale of how socialism proved to be the greatest capitalist force in the Hollywood machine, and the ubermensch…ahhh, let’s say there’s more to fear in the magnificent blond beast than Nietzsche probably ever considered.

To recap: German philosophy + Don Juan + iPods + triple-threat male model + a horrible genre = probably the funniest thing I’ve written. But it won’t be very funny if it doesn’t matter; it requires the heart to love unabashedly.

Marry your concepts. Watch your hot, little ideas bear young faster than rabbits, rats and roaches put together. Seize upon their strongest offspring and promote those to further procreation. Let your concepts revel in their will to power, revising, recreating and reproducing. Love is all you need, but if you’re trying to make great stories, try smashing other stuff in there as well.

(This also works with hamburger meat. I recommend chopped onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, onion salt, parsley, a little cilantro, and some pepper.)

Someday I’ll tell you about Iconography, which shouts its love for comics and family and America and humanity and trumping them all, The Girl. It’s a love letter to life. But now, I really must go. I’ve been locked out of my house for hours, and the sleet has turned to snow.