Is your idea for a novel good enough? How will you know if it is? Or isn't? What do you write next?
With Payback safely out, I'm 20,000 words into a new project. But how did I pick it from the dozen-or-so I could have chosen? The book above provided a bona-fide epiphany, folks. Or more specifically, Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Shrek, The Mask of Zorro, Pirates of the Caribbean) did.
His extended, detailed account of idea selection and development begins on page 47 of Karl Iglesias's The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, and is of course concerned with cinematic story-telling. But it struck me as so relevant and useful I've reproduced the bulk of it here. Rossio's is a long, spoken answer. So the paragraphing, subtitling and numbering is mine, for the sake of structure and clarity. Run your idea through the man's handy ten-point-process, and you'll be in pretty good shape to start, I reckon.
"I like to feel with absolute certainty that the idea for the [story] is an exceptional premise. Next I ponder why the concept is compelling. How does it achieve its beauty and could it be enhanced even more?"
2. Two concepts
"I want to stack the deck in my favour by taking the first inspiration and going past it, adding to it with a second inspiration. [Something that] derives from the original idea and pushes it further. I always keep thinking, "How can I push this more than I already have?""
3. Character Relationships
"I don't go too far without starting to think of the main character relationships. Not the main character, their histories and such. That's not so important. The relationship between the characters is what needs to be defined."
4. Character Situations
"I always try and think of ways to push characters into extremes. I worry that characters are too timid or bland. My goal is to present a series of characters in situations... people dealing with immediate problems with no relief. All actions are the result of intent, and intent comes from desire. Character desires have to be designed so that the plot occurs as a by-product."
5. Point of View
"At some point, after having a few characters, scenes and images in my mind, I wonder what the point of view is. Is there some way to limit the point of view that would actually enhance the telling of the story... like "What if we revealed stuff from this character instead...""
6. The Ending
"Early in the process, I want to focus on the ending. [Now} nothing else matters...until the ending is known. Everything else derives from the ending because its setting up that final...rush of excitement. Good endings are hard."
7. Tone and Genre
"I always ask what the tone is and this takes me back to genre. Are there genre conventions that can be mixed, or used to advantage? is it a combination of story patterns? How do I see the pattern in my head? I wonder if I've fulfilled and also exceeded the genre."
8. Title, Theme, Opening Images
"What's the title? If a project doesn't call to mind a cool title, then I start to suspect it's not a good project or I'm not ready to write it yet. Has a theme emerged yet? Is the opposite of the more obvious theme more interesting? I also explore whether all aspects of the theme, or central question, can find form in the story - perhaps characters or relationships can be invented by assigning them different aspects of the thematic argument. Then I ask, "What is a compelling opening image?""
9. Double-checks: setting, characters
"I double-check that the setting is right. What if I changed the gender of my lead? What if I opened at the end instead of the beginning? Would the whole thing be better if the leads were ten years old? These are questions to...shake things up, and make sure I'm fully exploring all options."
10. Double-checks: what's cool?
"I always ask what's cool. What's a cool sequence, character, line of dialogue, relationship, demise, fight or opening image?"
Then: "I repeat this whole process several times until, in an excruciatingly slow process, each solution asserts itself and declares itself "good". And finally, when everything is good or I run out of time, I start writing."
Top draw, Terry Rossio. I love this. (Just today, in fact, a question under number 8 fixed a problem for me as I walked around the block.)
So, yeah. The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters is a superb little handbook. Recommended!