How to ruin a great idea

So Much Promise

Movie 3

A few weeks back I was watching a pretty good movie. It had a great plot involving a robbery gone bad. It began with a chase, fun dialog and, unfortunately for the robbers, death.

Curious as to why they would kill off all the stars so close to the beginning I was pleasantly surprised at the spin of the plot where their wives picked up the slack and finished the job.

For about 45 minutes the story ran a straight line. It was solid with the protagonist, the antagonist and the side characters committed to one goal.

In a nutshell it was super cool fun.

 

Then Suddenly

But just as I was about to place this in my favorite movie of the year category it all came crashing down and for the remaining hour and twenty minutes it turned into a shell of what it started out to be.

What caused the wheels to come off and turn a memorable storyline into a forgettable one?

Three Words: Too Many Subplots.

 

How Writers Mess Up

Color

Subplots are important to every story. We need them. We write them. The reader wants them. We also need spices for our tasty dish. But what happens when you add too much garlic?

You get the idea.

The movie in question began to add layers upon layers of subplots. So much so that it caused me to forget the actual plot. It was as though a new team of writers came in and ruined the original idea.

 

Remember the Audience

As a story teller we must constantly remind ourselves we are here to entertain not to hand down layers upon layers of messages.

I’m guilty of adding way to many subplots when I began a story but I’m fine with that. In fact I want to. But as the rewrites begin so do the killing of my darlings.

Anytime I watch a movie or read a book containing endless subplots I am always frustrated. Especially if I see potential.

I encourage all of us to toss our subplots against the wall and see which ones will stick. A writer who listens to their characters and follows the path of their story will choose the ones that work.

There has to be a balance and the focus of the plot has to be clear.

The last thing you want is a person like me turning away from an excellent beginning. We all know how disappointed one can be when seeing such a promise turn into a mountain of goo.

goo

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

A visit with Ellen

For those of you who know me I am a huge fan of friendship. I’m sure all of you can agree a good friend is an important ingredient in our lives. I rank it right up there with healthy eating and juicy cheeseburgers.

Let’s face it, the better the friends the better our lives. In most cases a good truck load of friends can lead to a long and healthy life or at least a ton of laughs.

 

A heavy dose of explosions

When I entered college in 1989 I had pretty much ruined a huge handful of great things that came my way. Present to me the perfect girl who could give me the perfect life and I would present to you a shiny hand grenade.

Yes, I had a habit of blowing things up. Come to think of it, it was more like a hobby.

When I entered college I was mentally and physically burned out. For a brief time I wondered if I belonged in a dark and dank cave. It’s easy to see why I choose to move so far away. I burned every bridge. Even the bad ones.

 

Enter Ellen

Her arrival was perfect. She was smart, funny and beautiful but most of all she taught me the value of friendship and reminded me how good of a thing it was and how bad I sucked at it.

For the entire year we laughed, we argued, we fell asleep on the couch. We ruined classic songs with our out of control singing voices and still found the time to play the Ouija board in lonesome staircases.

We experimented with alcoholic drinks which in most cases ended badly but most of all I grew up in those months and understood the responsibility it took of keeping important people in my life.

 

Times passes but she’s still here

Ellen now lives on the east coast. She is happily married and a mother of two. But that doesn’t stop our friendship from growing. We’ll always be there for one another. Yes, she taught me that too.

Once a year she comes out to my town to visit her family. During her stay we always find time to meet.

For a little while we’re kids again. We laugh and joke and share secrets like we did in the past. We complain about our spouses and kids and quickly tell one another how lucky we are.

In that moment it’s 1989/1990 all over again but this time the alcohol is replaced with ice cream and laughter.

An old friend is like a favorite song. They are full of memories that run deep. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Here’s to all the Ellen’s of the world. I hope you have one just like mine.  

Friends

Stories behind the novel

Books 4

Writing a novel is tough. I don’t need to go into detail on that. For those of you who write novels you know exactly what I’m talking about.

We all have our different ways of approaching it. For me I have to see it and feel it before I jot down a word. I have to know these people, feel their emotions, but most of all see their world.

 

Do I say goodbye

There are times when I want to walk away. Sometimes an idea is impossible to write. Let’s face it, some things are not meant to be.

Sometimes we have better, stronger stories with deeper settings and believable characters. They are easier to write and that’s the simple truth.

A few weeks back I had one of those moments. A bad scene, a bad chapter and pretty much a bad idea. The setting was wrong and I knew something had to be done.

I started having doubts and I began to wonder if the idea was just that and nothing more. But that’s when I saw them and soon my mind changed gears.

 

They are always with us

I saw the people I created give me a long hard look. Suddenly guilt ran through my veins and shot passed my writing fingers.

How do I explain to them that I run at the first sign of trouble? Is this the new me? Am I returning to old habits?

So I put my pen down and pushed everything away. I stopped complaining and took a stroll through my favorite bookstore.

books 6

I walked down the aisle and pretended I could see the characters sitting on the shelves and talking to one another as I passed by.

I thought about the people who created them and the tough times they had. How many times did they think of walking away?

How many close calls?

 

Just what I needed

Before long my story was bright and real. The voices loud. Little things started making sense. I have a feeling I was forgiven for walking away.

It’s still a struggle, I’m not going to lie. Of all the story ideas I have it seems I chose the toughest to tell. But these people have a story to tell and they chose me to tell it and because of that there is no way I could look them in the eye and say no.

Trust me, this bunch will haunt my dreams until I write the final page.

books 5

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

wrestling

Life was good

I grew up in a wrestling family. My grandmother’s cousin was a wrestler during the 1950’s and because of him a collection of wrestling fans were born.

When I say professional wrestling I’m talking Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and the earliest of super stars, Gorgeous George.

As a child and into my teens it was all real. There was no rehearsing. There was no fix. There was hatred. Blood. Broken bones. It was legalized violence to the extreme.

What’s not to love?

 

Suddenly, life wasn’t so good.

But all of that changed on a day in Tijuana, Mexico.

I was visiting my dad in San Diego. His super cool girlfriend Wanda and her three kids took me down to Mexico for the first time.

It was there that I saw the baddest wrestler of them all: 

The legendary Bull Ramos.

 

Shaking in my shoes

Wrestler 3

He was the biggest, the meanest and the most feared wrestler in the world. He never played by the rules. It was his world, his rules and that’s all we needed to know.

I once heard a rumor in school he killed two wrestlers in one night.

Wow!

I remember walking down the street when I heard his voice. He was sitting on a bench shooing away a street salesman when he looked up and caught me staring at him.

There I was, a skinny kid, my mouth open, my eyes wide. How is it possible the street salesman is still alive, I wondered?

With all the courage I could muster I took a deep breath and introduced myself.

 

Why are you so normal?

 “You’re Bull Ramos,” I said. My voice was probably shaking as much as my extended hand.

I remember he paused and smiled and with a gentle voice he replied, “I sure am.”

I watched as my hand disappeared into his giant paw. It was the same hand that eliminated hundreds of challengers. Probably a thousand. I could not believe I was actually touching the hand of a living legend.

I quickly asked what brought him to Tijuana. Not surprisingly he had a match in San Diego the night before. With a day off this was a perfect way to spend it, he said.

I probably glanced at his hand to see if the blood of the challenger was stained to his knuckles. Another notch on his belt I presumed.

To my surprise he wanted to know about me. What was my name? Where did I live and what did I like to do? In a way he sounded like a parent talking to someone’s kid.

Odd.

 

You’ve got to be kidding me!?

As my mind was racing to conclusions as to why the meanest wrestler in the world was acting so kind two little girls raced passed me and pulled on his giant arms.

They called him daddy and told him it was time for lunch. Suddenly my mind became twisted into knots. How is this possible?

Daddy? Lunch? Do they realize who they’re talking too?

As the illusion of the biggest and baddest wrestler ever to walk this earth blew up in my face a beautiful woman and an older woman the girls called grandma appeared.

 

This isn’t happening!!!!!

Bull Ramos obeyed their orders and stood. With his massive frame inches away from my skinny body he laid his giant hand on my shoulder and expressed how nice it was to meet me.

With a shake of my hand and a pat on my back I watched with utter confusion as he slowly walked away.

As I watched the living legend being led away by two little girls, a beautiful wife and his mom I started to wonder if professional wrestlers had a secret life.

No. Impossible, I said, as I quickly turned and walked away.

Wrestler 2

My Dang Knee

First of all I apologize to my good friend for stealing some of her blog’s name. But it’s such a cool name I just had to steal part of it.

 

I’m watching you

I hardly ever talk about the physical side of things. My physical side that is. The main reason is the example I have taken from all of you.

At one time or another many of you have mentioned limitations in your body or a sickness or your lack of sight. You did it with such class and determination that I remember feeling foolish mentioning my knee operation last November.

Looking back the only reason I did was because I had to step away for a while plus all of the drugs I took would limit my writing even if I tried.

Since then I have been able to study how you handle new challenges in your life. You see it as another chapter and you simply turn the page. It is a strength I will always admire.

 

Changes

A few weeks ago I was forced to swallow a giant reality pill. My knee may never be the same again.

The reality of all this came during a meeting for a European trip I am taking this summer. The meeting included a group of people I will be traveling with. By the time the meeting ended it felt like a punch in the gut.

I knew it would be impossible for me to keep up.

Not surprisingly my wife stepped up to the plate. She has always had this way of doing the right thing at the worst possible time.

She talked me into checking out wheelchairs. She convinced me I could blend the trip into walking and riding. Instead of trying to keep up I’d be slowing down with my new set of wheels.

It all made sense but I still wanted to push it away. Forget the trip, I kept saying. I’ll be in the way. Yes, I was pouting.

 

A Surprise Voice

The following day I received a call from a dear friend. Her son was experiencing health problems and through the strength of her voice she reminded me where my head was and where it should be.

It didn’t take long for my eyes to open. Not only did I feel the strength and hope in her voice but I remembered feeling the strength in your words as well.

 

It all comes back to you

I realized none of you run away from anything. You look your troubles in the eye and you never blink.

Maybe a lot of this has to do with writing. We all chose a difficult path. For some, impossible, but none of us have plans on stopping.

This journey of ours is way too exciting.

The other day my wheelchair arrived. I took it for a little spin and now I have serious plans on experimenting at the skateboard park.

A long time ago I mentioned that listening was the best thing I ever did when it came to writing. Now I have taken that new found discovery and placed it elsewhere.

Not a bad choice. I got this.

Racing

An update to The Genius on Campus

I rarely post three times a week but this post is worth it.

Last week I wrote about my friend Rich, the Genius on Campus. Kat and Rene expressed interest on Rich’s life after college. Curious myself I took timeout on Sunday, found my old college yearbook and did some investigating.

I immediately found our dorm with me and my fellow residents standing out front. Not surprisingly Rich was not with us. As mentioned in the post he was always away working on his studies.

Thankfully the page included a list of names. I knew his first name but could not remember his last.

Doing some investigating it didn’t take long to find Rich. Unfortunately the news was not what I had expected.

Rich died of cancer in October of 2014.

Life is interesting, isn’t it? Here is guy up until last month I had not thought of for a long time. Had it not been for a chance meeting with him and his English assignment he would have blended in with all the other faces.

The last time I saw Rich was in 1991. Probably graduation day. But the sadness I felt learning of his passing struck me as though I had lost a good friend.

Memories have that effect, don’t they.

The post I wrote had a lot to do with me and how smart I felt helping the genius on campus. But I have a feeling Rich would have done just fine without me. Had I not come across him that day I’m positive he would have collected himself, picked up the pieces and created the type of work the teacher wanted.

For my part all I did was speed up the process. On the plus side the experience allowed me to get to know this quiet genius for a little while.

If I were to have had the chance to have spoken to Rich in his final months I have a feeling he would have had little to no regrets in his professional life.

He had a passion and a dream and he succeeded in making them a reality. That is something we all strive for.

I’ve included the link to his obituary at the bottom of the page. If I messed up and it doesn’t work do a Google search – Richard Bley Ashland, Oregon. If that doesn’t work e-mail me and I’ll send you the link:  

bryanjfagan@gmail.com

I was never the type of student he was but I hope my craziness gave him an occasional smile. I do know this: I now know what it’s like to be dedicated to a craft and fulling a dream.

Thanks, Rich.

Peace.

 

https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/longmont-co/richard-rick-bley-7926959

 

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

I need your vote.

Wow, I never thought I’d say that. I’m not running for the President of Bloggers but I do need your vote in something else.

I’ve used the same profile picture on my blog, twitter and Facebook author page for a long time now and I think I’m way over due for something new.

The kids are older, I’m older and as you can see in the picture, its way past Halloween.

Below are a handful of pictures I have chosen. If you can take a moment and tell me which one you like I’ll use the final count as the winner.

If I don’t get a lot of votes I’ll have the kids and bride choose but since you’re the ones visiting I think it’s only fair you get to choose.

I placed a number next to each with a tiny detail scribbled by it. I won’t start counting until the weekend or so.

Thanks!!!!!

 

  • 1)  A classic photo bomb but I’m not sure if I was the bomber or Flash.

Flash 3

 

 

  • 2) Peace and Love. Don’t let the seriousness fool you.

Cover Pic

 

 

 

3) Vintage ‘80’s. Probably hungover.

Bryan

 

 

  • 4) A profile picture I was forced to take.

Smiling

 

  • 5) Attempting to look cool. Please tell me I pulled it off.

Glasses

 

 

  • 6) Me and my dog. I think I was 5 or 6.

SLIDE1.2

 

 

  • My 7th or 8th or birthday. Clearly green was in.

SLIDES10.3

The Genius on Campus

The King 1

We’ve all met that one kid who was smarter than everyone else. They were better at math, science, spelling bees….you name it.

My first encounter with this type of kid was from a boy named Jeff. We were in the 8th grade and Jeff wanted to be a physicist. Not only could I not spell it I hadn’t a clue what the thing was.

But in college there was a different kind of beast and he went by the name of Rich.

 

Allow me to introduce The King

Rich was a chemistry major. He lived quietly in my dorm directly across from my room. He was polite, he was private and you’d never see him out much unless a rerun of MASH or Star Trek was playing in the TV lounge.

Rich was a legend in the chemistry world. Not only did chemistry majors come to him with questions but teachers as well. I once heard a rumor he presented a new discovery to the science board.

Yes, Rich was the King.

But one day things changed and for a little while it was me who became the King….well, kind of.

Allow me to explain.

 

A Frightful Beginning

One day I saw Rich sitting on the front steps outside our dorm. It was an unusual site given how private he was.

His face was white, his eyes staring off into space. It was clear he was sweating. Did I mention it was January?

 Fearing the worst I joined him and asked if he was okay.

“No,” he answered.

He held a sheet of paper in his hand. His eyes watery. It was clear he was in full panic mode.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said.

To meet his academic requirements Rich had to take an English class. What he thought was something minor turned into his own personal hell.

 

The King is ill

Rich had accidently signed up for a creative writing class. The assignment: 20 page minimum fictional shorty story. To add to the horror he waited too long to change it. 

The man who many called a genius had no idea what to do. How do you make things up? How do you create people who aren’t real?

To add to his nightmare his perfect A from grade school to college was in serious danger. Something unheard of in his world.

 

I had an idea

I could have wished him luck and walked away but instead I asked if I could help. I explained to him one of my hobbies was writing stories. Not the real kind, I explained, but the made up kind like the one your teacher wants you to do.

For a brief second, or maybe an entire minute, I was pretty sure he thought I was crazy but once he understood I was his knight in shining armor Rich happily accepted my offer.

Rich was no dummy.

 

Hawkeye and Captain Kirk

Every week for the entire semester Rich and I went to work. Not surprisingly he chose a Star Trek theme with just a sprinkle of MASH.

He wrote a page. Soon two and on the day he completed ten pages you would have thought he cured the world’s ugliest disease.

His strength was plot. His weakness was people but with just the right amount of push he slowly improved.

With the final draft complete we celebrated with his first trip to the campus bar. I saw him unwind a little. His collar not so tight, an actual beer buzz taking hold.

He knew his story was not A material but I convinced him all the teacher wanted was effort and it was clear his story had it.

Back then we got our grades in the mail. I left him my number and told him to call. While enjoying spring break I received a call from a soft happy voice. He passed with an A just like I promised.

When school began Rich went back to his quiet studious self but every now and then I’d catch him with a smile and a sense of ease.

Rich was the smartest person I ever met but for a little while I was able to help the genius on campus.   

Chemistry

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

You get me

I have always been draw to things I can relate to. This includes things that are alive and things that have never been alive.

I once related to a plastic ballerina doll. Long story, don’t ask.

But when it comes to movies and books those are the ones that take center stage. They understand me. They pull me in and sometimes they become the perfect reflection of who I am or once was.

Movies

 

Seeing Me

When it comes to movies we all love to escape. Not every movie has to remind us of ourselves. Who doesn’t love a good action yarn?

Can you say Diehard?

Speaking of Diehard: Yes, it is the greatest holiday movie ever. Let’s move on.

But if I had to pick a favorite, a movie that perfectly reflected my past, it wouldn’t be one movie. It would be two.

 

Was I really that young?

Movies 1

A few posts back I mentioned a movie in passing. It was a 1985 flick called The Sure Thing and it got me thinking. The movie came along when I was young and free and open to anything. Looking at it now the main character pretty much mirrored who I was.

It was directed by Rob Reiner. A man who directed a handful of classics during his time and a director who I always felt was underrated.

Four year later in an odd sort of coincidence, another Rob Reiner film came along that had the same effect.

A little older but not exactly wiser

When I first saw When Harry met Sally I was pretty sure some of the lines were stolen from the world I was living in. The characters were a little older and set in their ways.

Had it come out a few years earlier I would have rolled my eyes but the timing was perfect. The lead character was struggling, he was kind of happy but mostly confused all at the same time.

As with The Sure Thing, When Harry met Sally was another movie that perfectly captured me at the time. It was fun but a little scary. I saw my faults on the big screen and knew it was time for a change.

 

A Measuring Stick

So I wonder, is this why a book or a move succeeds in our eyes? Does it all come down to timing? Does their message reflect the life we’re living or does it capture the emotion we’re celebrating or suffering?

Those two movies became a diary of my past but most of all they served as a reminder of who I am today and how much I have learned.

If any of you have a book or a movie that mirrors your past hang on to it. Go back from time to time and use it as reminder of how much you have grown. These measuring sticks are gold and they’re meant only for us.

Movie 2

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

The Great Idea

Idea

We were vacationing in San Diego when the great idea hit. As you know, when the great idea appears you grab something, anything, and write it down.

The great idea is kind of like the early stages of dating. The future is bright. Life is a musical and everybody is dancing in the rain.

This is the part where your favorite happy love song suddenly appears. Trust me on this.

But like all relationships the music slows, the honeymoon ends and she cannot understand why I want to sit on the couch all day watching football.

I’ll never understand her.

 

The Fizzling Romance

When I came up with the great idea I had no idea it would begin and end there. Sadly it resembled a fun summer romance full of thrills and spills that somehow fizzed by fall.

Damn you October!

I wrote a fast first draft. I ignored the plot holes, the story arc and anything resembling an ending. But most of all I ignored the characters.

 

You Will Listen to Me!

It was one mistake, but a mistake I have learned to never make again. Not once did I ask what the characters wanted. Thinking back it was me who told them what to do.

I didn’t worry about chemistry, character growth or the protagonist being someone to root for. Who needs that kind of nonsense, right?

The result was a flat, boring, rambling mess sitting on top of the great idea. Soon it was forgotten and lost.

 

Time Heals the Deepest of Wounds

idea 1

Fast forward a handful of years later, the characters returned to me. It was as if someone gave them directions to my house and now they won’t leave me alone.

But this time I listened. The great idea was set. The house was built but now they would be the ones decorating instead of me.

Now I have the chemistry. Now they are real but most of all they are taking me along for the ride which is far better than placing me behind the wheel.

We all know what happens when I drive.

Are there plot holes? Are there bumps in the road and do I complain to my writing friends about it? Of course I do. A first draft would be useless without such a thing.

But now I have real people trying to do real things.

A great idea is a relationship but unlike my first go-around this one works and I will do whatever it takes to keep it that way.

Now I know what it means to have a great idea.

idea 2