Why throw ideas for weirdness, when extremely weird stuff is popular all the time?
The article contains spoilers for the novel (and maybe TV show) Made for Love.
Pretend you’re an HBO executive. Here’s my pitch:
“I’ve got a story about brain implants, dads dating sex dolls, and people boning dolphins. Can I have money now?”
Likely, you’d say “no, you can’t have money. That’s a bizarre idea for our very prestigious network.” Your tone might not be so haughty, but a sci-fi show heavily featuring Real Dolls and attempted aquatic mammal kidnapping doesn’t sound like a tv studio’s dream project.
But…it is. Made for Love just debuted on HBO Max and tells the story of a woman escaping her Elon Musk/Mark Zuckerberg-esque husband after he implants a chip in her brain and now has to deal with her father and his new girlfriend — a sex doll.
Based on the novel of the same name by Alissa Nutting, the TV series cuts out the guy who becomes sexually obsessed with dolphins, but leaves the rest of the weirdness in. There’s a good lesson here: No idea is too weird for anything.
It’s All in the Details
I’ve seen enough MST3K to know there are a million horrible sci-fi projects with plots like “husband puts a chip in his wife’s brain.” Though that premise may sound odd, the beauty is in the details. Alissa Nutting fleshes out her characters with such flawed detail, you’re immediately immersed in this dystopian near future. The Real Doll loving dad isn’t some one note joke, he’s a father with emotional issues who’s finally found peace with his plastic companion. Nutting sets up outrageous scenarios, but grounds them in beautiful detail.
I have a lot of students who judge their ideas before they ever hit paper. “That’s too weird” or “who would want to read that” are common complaints. Made for Love proves that weird ideas can be successful, even commercially successful on a huge streaming platform.
Let me stress again that this book features a man who tries to steal a dolphin from an aquarium so he can have sex with it. Fortunately, he’s in love with the dolphin, so his intentions are good. But that’s a pretty out there scenario. I would have bet money that despite Nutting’s incredible writing, this novel would never get made into a movie or film (because again, attempted dolphin-human boning). But the studio saw the genius of the main scenario and went ahead anyway.
Don’t Pre-Judge Your Weirdness
Instead of brushing an idea off as “too strange” or “not commercial,” give it a try. After you’ve worked a bit, you’ll have a better sense if it’s a fun idea you want to keep working on or a weird little thing that really won’t sustain a whole piece. Either way, you won’t really know if your idea is too weird till you put a little more writing behind it.
Nutting has become successful because her prose, characters, and scenarios are so unique. If she wrote a book just to fit in and be ordinary, HBO wouldn’t be knocking on her door. To be clear, I don’t know Nutting personally and maybe Made for Love was her commercial, sell out project. But I doubt it.
Any Plot Can Be Good
Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a plot from its tagline. When you distill any book or two show to a 1–2 sentence description, it sounds pretty lame. “Archeologist searches for cup,” “people at an office work and sometimes don’t get along but sometimes do get along,” and “unemployed farmers look for work” certainly don’t sound exciting. Yet Indiana Jones, The Office, and Grapes of Wrath did okay for themselves.
I mean, does an archeologist searching for historical treasure filmed in the style of classic adventure serials really sound like a slam dunk blockbuster? No! But the creators wholeheartedly believed in their idea, were thrilled to tell it, and Spielberg is pretty good at making movies so it all worked out.
You don’t need to be Spielberg to make your weird idea come to life. If a plot seems odd or even a little cliche in its stripped down form, that’s okay! If you’re excited about it, you’ll add a unique voice to give any weird idea potential.
As you watch Made for Love, give your own weird ideas some love. You never know what will happen to an idea until you try. So, let your oddball ways shine and let the weird stories out into the world (unless you really do want to bone dolphins, that’s completely unacceptable).
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