Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The DWPFF Journey - Part 3

So last time I revealed that the story I was adapting for the "fairy tales in the future" project was Rudyard Kipling's "Rikki Tikki Tavi". This time I wanted to talk a little bit about the pitches I made to Chris Stevens, editor extraordinaire, and discuss the hellacious time I had trying to put together a script. However, I didn't quite realize how long a process all that actually was, so I'll be breaking things down even more. First up on the docket is discussing my first pitch to Chris. This happened directly after Chris mentioned adapting a story from Rudyard Kipling's "Jungle Books". I immediately keyed on Rikki Tikki Tavi and, still having aliens on the brain, sent him this...

Humans colonize an alien planet. They strive to make a home there, and vow not to make the same mistakes they made with Earth. The youngest son of the leader of the colony makes an imaginary friend he calls "Rikki". An alien lifeform attacks, killing one of the colonists. The boy calls the alien "Karait", and tells his father and mother that Rikki told him. Karait ends up dead, and the colonists breathe a sigh of relief. But larger alien creatures the boy identifies as Nag and

Nagaina begin attacking, causing massive loss of life night after night. Though the colonists want to leave, the leader of the colony tells them to be brave. Nag attacks the leader directly, but the boy kills Nag using his "imaginary friend" with only the boy's family as witnesses. The leader doesn't want the colonists to know what his son is capable of. Instead of disposing of it, the superstitious colonists place the body of Nag outside the colony to ward off Nagaina, without the leader of the colony knowing, and Nagaina vows vengeance. The leader's son tells him that Nag and Nagaina are the parents of millions more creatures of which Karait was only the first offspring, and the leader, in desperation, makes a plan with his son to end the threat. The leader goes out to confront Nagaina in a small ship called "the Darzee" that he's rigged to look like it's malfunctioning so that his son can enter the lair of Nagaina and destroy her "nest". Eventually Nagaina realizes the deception and Rikki finally materializes to the entire colony, killing Nagaina and explaining that his people were the original inhabitants of the planet killed by Nag and Nagaina. By bonding with the boy, Rikki was able to get justice for his people, and release their souls before they could be used to birth Nag and Nagaina's children.

To me this was a case of trying to be way too complicated and clever. The stories in this anthology are primarily supposed to be anywhere from 8-12 pages in length. While anything is possible, it would certainly be a challenge to cut the pitch above to 12 pages. Chris called me on this immediately, suggesting I make the effort to be tighter and cleaner. Another thing that bothered Chris was the fact that the story didn't appear to come from the heart, and had a darker tone to it. A lot of the writers pitching ideas came up with darker-themed stories and Chris had been getting pretty tired of it. To my own mind, I think the problem with telling stories that take place in the future is that you (as a writer) almost always tend to think of the future as this extremely bleak or idyllic place. So there are tendencies to lean in one direction or the other. Chris made me think about that quite a bit.

Another thing that Chris mentioned was being overwhelmed with the countless pitches he'd received of stories set in outerspace. His hope for Rikki Tikki Tavi was a story that captured a sense of the magic in the everyday. This provided me with more fuel for thought, although I admit I was somewhat daunted when I heard back from Chris. The reason being that Rikki Tikki Tavi was probably considered one of Kipling's darkest tales. The story of two cobras fighting to the death against a mongoose isn't exactly the most lighthearted fair. But instead of quietly agonizing over this problem, I decided to bring it to my editor. Chris once again presented me with a nugget of wisdom by asking me
to break down the original Rikki Tikki Tavi in a sentence or two to determine what it meant to me. No clever plays on the names of the characters or puns or anything like that. Just talk about why Rikki Tikki Tavi is such a special story in my mind.

So I thought about it for a minute or two, and the answer came to me with surprising ease. Rikki Tikki Tavi wasn't a dark story about animals killing one another. Oh, no. Rikki Tikki Tavi was about unflappable heroism and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. It was about facing fear and adversity head on with nothing but grit, resolve and love as your weapons. It was about the little guy being picked on by the bullies, and finally standing up to them in a showdown the little guy couldn't stand a chance in... but he did it anyway. And he won.

So with that in my mind, I set out to write another pitch and send it to Chris. And I did exactly that. And we'll discuss that pitch a little more thoroughly--along with the moment when I very nearly pulled out of the project altogether--next time.

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