Monday, February 9, 2015

The Story That Got Away

by Shannon Baker

I had this really great idea for a book. I mean, scorching hot. My daughter and I had occasion to hang out at Denver International Airport and we were struck by some bizarre and disturbing murals. My daughter happened on a website that went into detail explaining a conspiracy theory involving a One World Order group and bunkers below the airport to house the world’s elite in the event of a nuclear holocaust.
I was off and running. Following Internet rabbit holes revealed how extra-terrestrials or aliens from the center of the earth had various plans for DIA. The runways created a Swastika, the murals and other public art warned of biologic warfare. I gathered it all up, plotting, planning, creating a story that wound Hopi legend and belief in Sky People with DIA and stuff worthy of Trilateral Commission mythology.
I stuck Nora (the protagonist of the Nora Abbott Series) in the middle and plopped it all in Moab, UT amid polygamists and environmentalists. I’m telling you people, this was an amazing plot.
According to my editor, it was too amazing.
But, but, but…
She didn’t think it was a great idea to use theories that could easily be debunked with a minimum of real research and wondered if I might be opening myself up for lawsuits by claiming certain far-fetched stories as truth.
I’d written the whole book with the premise of Evil lurking at DIA as the central event. The entire plot was formulated from the seed planted the day we wandered around the airport. I began to examine the book with fresh eyes. If you didn’t know the starting point was the bizarre and unsettling DIA weirdness, how would you see the plot? What would be the most important elements?
There’s Nora, our protagonist and what she’s gone through in the previous two books to bring her to this point. She’s the executive director of an environmental non-profit. There’s her best friend, the woman who is producing a documentary film to advocate for expanding the borders of Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. Nora’s mother, Abigail always wants to butt in and the books all deal with Hopi tribal history and legends.
When I boiled it all down, I discovered the DIA element was the least important in telling the story I had in mind. I pulled it out without disrupting an already crowded story line.
Other writers understand the way stories develop and morph from first idea to published book. I find it’s good to stay flexible, able to bend the original idea. If you’re like me and get stuck with a questionable premise, it’s great to unfold it and smooth out the crinkles to fold again.
The non-writers in my life are driven to drink (yes, they’d probably drink anyway) by this nutso process. I discuss plots with my favorite guy over cocktails in the hot tub. He’s often more vested in the original idea than I am and gets frustrated when I say casually, “Not anymore. I changed that.”
Eventually the books get made, messy process notwithstanding. What about you, what’s the best idea that you never wrote?

BTW- Tattered Legacy (without the DIA plotline) is available March 8th.

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