There's Always Hope in Pandora's Box

The best story idea you'll ever have is the one you haven't started writing yet. Take me, for instance: I've got a carefully plotted, long-sweat-over outline for a fantasy historical romance based on the Cinderella story. This outline is holding up well, and proving adaptable toward the inevitable expansions and twists that happen under NaNoWriMo's blowtorch of speed. There are even a few passages I have come to like, or at least that I don't feel the need to bury forever from the shaming light of day.

But three days ago someone coined a term--or brought up a newly coined term--in a Twitter chat, and a day after that I had an hour to spend with no internet or computer access, and the next thing I knew I was in the grip of an Idea.

It was half-formed, but so irresistible that I kept thinking about it, asking how this part happened, why the characters would do this, what is the agenda of the protagonist and how is it possible to defeat the antagonist. A video recently posted by a Facebook friend turned out to provide one solution, and others soon amassed themselves.

I wanted to start immediately.

If you're like me, and like many writers, this happens to you all the time. New ideas are dazzling, splendid, perfect, magnificent things that you know will practically write themselves, and then you as the humble conduit for this perfection will make scads of cash/cure cancer/get seriously laid.

It never works out that way, once you start writing. Beginning to write the idea is like the moment when Pandora, full of curiosity, opens the box that contains all the evils of the world.

Your characters turn out to be people with flaws -- or worse, they turn out to not be people at all. They move and speak like cardboard cutouts, and you feel like you are a five-year-old playing with action figures, but without the cuteness factor to save you from ridicule. Meanwhile, your characters refuse to do things that are vital to your plot, and start doing other things they have no business doing.

You feel you have let your Idea down, and therefore you have no worth as a human being.

Sometimes you push ahead, and finish the manuscript anyways, because having part of the Idea on paper is better than none. And then you remember, or someone reminds you, that there is this magical process of salvation. It has many names -- editing, or revision -- and it can work miracles.

Sometimes you sense an upcoming catastrophe and see no option but to stop writing -- slam that lid down on the box and try to pretend you never opened it in the first place.

But no matter how badly you've bungled it with your horrible prose and your wooden dialogue and your lackluster characterization, Hope never escapes from that chest.

And you know that, sooner or later, another Idea will come along. You'll sneak back, cast a quick look around to make sure no one is watching, and try again. Pandora's always going to open that box.