One of the things writers don’t talk about much is the loss of your babies. Not actual babies, mind you. That would be terrible.1 No, what I’m talking about is the experience of coming up with a really great idea, filing it away in your Idea Box to be used later, and then watching, haplessly, as somebody else uses it.
My favorite example of this happening to me is probably Demonic. Demonic was an idea that I had and then fleshed out, a serial narrative – could be television, could be comics, could be short stories or novels. It was always on the back end of my “to-do” list: a story about a demon who, for reasons of his own, had decided that Armageddon was kind of a bad bag and that wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have one?
Not a new idea, of course. Good Omens did it first. But I figured I had enough of a spin on it that my take was fresh: Darius, my demon, was an antihero rather than a lovable misfit like Gaiman/Pratchett’s Crowley. He wasn’t saving the Earth because he loved it, he was averting Armageddon because it offended his sense of pride. He didn’t bring along humans for companionship; he brought them along because he needed them to do very specific things for his Plan (always, always the capital P).2 It was distinct enough that it was its own story, a sort of “what if the Doctor was really kind of a bad person but still the protagonist” idea. I rather liked it. Plus I got to have the end of the world happen in Indianapolis, because you can justify anything in a story like this and why not?
Of course, then Eric Kripke came along and created Supernatural, which has way more in common with Demonic than Good Omens did; more political intrigue among the ranks of Heaven and Hell, more brutal in tone than Omens was, and oh yes it’s another story about averting Biblical Armadeggon and maybe you can do two of them but you can’t do three, not with that many similarities. I watched with that odd combination of delight and nausea as ideas I had also occurred to the writing staff of the show: the crossroads demons, the Croatoan plague3 and hellhounds had all been on my list, among other things.
So now Demonic gets shoved into the “scavenge” box, which is my mental box of ideas other people have also had but might have something I can use later. One thing I think I’ll eventually use somewhere else is my idea for Uriel, the archangel of Death. See, of late the Death pendulum has swung back towards Death generally being an unpleasant sort of anthropomorphic concept, as Neil Gaiman’s Death has faded into the background and meaner, more sadistic Deaths have taken the forefront. Supernatural’s Death is really kind of a prick, killing off an entire restaurant of people just to have a meet-and-greet, and he just piles on with other Deaths who are kind of dicks.4 Pratchett’s Death in the Discworld books is really the only holdout on the “Death is probably a pleasant enough fellow” side of the equation.
So my idea was that Uriel would appear as a kindly old hippie – think Tommy Chong in his late sixties, shuffling around a hospital in a fringed brown jacket in sandals, escorting the ghosts of children on towards whatever came next. I rather liked that image; I think it’s got some oomph to it.5 The idea of Death as perhaps just a bit mournful, a dedicated and concientious professional doing a really, really terrible job, is one that I think works. (Pratchett’s Death comes close, but is, when you get down to it, a bit too alien to really get existentially sad about his work. He might have a bit of a depressive moment, but he always rebounds. What I’m talking about here instead is a general sense of melancholy.)
That’s how writers recycle their own unused chaff, trying to find a little wheat they can still use. Because the great secret of writing is that you are not a special flower and your ideas are not unique snowflakes; somebody else will have them if you don’t use them.
- Also writers would talk about it all the time and write novels about it. And have. But I digress. [↩]
- Of course, over the course of the series discovering friendship et cetera humanized by his drafted “companions” and so forth. [↩]
- I was all NO SERIOUSLY I EVEN NAMED IT THE SAME GODDAMNED THING. That one physically hurt. [↩]
- See also: Final Destination’s unseen Death, who really is a total asshole. [↩]
- That is a very technical term. Oomph is quantifiable. For example, Tom Mota spraypainting the billboard in Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came To The End is a sequence with forty-one oomph. [↩]