All right, let’s do this. I’ve got a personal goal for 2011: to finish my Hamlet prequel. I’m blogging about it because I feel that if I blog about it, it’s more likely to finish. We’ll see.
The idea to write a prequel to Hamlet came from a particularly dull business school class. I was contemplating how I was potentially wasting any creative talent I had by studying something called “Strategy and Organizations.” I thought, “I should write something. Not when I get home. But now, during this class, I should do SOMETHING.”
I immediately discouraged myself the usual way, by thinking, “I don’t have an original concept in my brain, and I am not a good writer.” Two big problems. The second one, I don’t think I can help it. When I finished reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which is amazing, I thought, “No one ever needs to write another book again because this story is awesome and says everything about the human condition.” Maybe an overstatement. But I could certainly go far enough to think, “I never need to write anything because people should always read Tolstoy before they read anything that I write.” So, I’m not going to get over this one any time soon.
But I decided to overcome the other problem: “I don’t have an original concept.” Keep in mind that this was during a business school class that I confronted this problem. I thought: “What are contemporary writers writing about?” I thought of amateur writers on the internet first, since that’s closest to my level of experience. All I could think of was fanfic. I could probably write a decent story about the characters in, I don’t know, let’s say the video game Metroid. Let’s do a quick check… yes, as of writing, 754 such stories already exist. I thought I should hold myself to a higher standard than fanfic, but I liked the idea of writing about characters that already existed. I was sitting in a business school class at the school with the best marketing department in the world, and I knew the power of building on a brand that already existed. Then I got thinking, “They made a Starsky and Hutch movie.” A Starsky and Hutch movie! That’s essentially fanfic, but for TV. And not even TV; as far as I’m concerned, that’s undeserved nostalgia. There have to be real works of art that deserve better than Starsky and Hutch’s continued presence in American culture.
I decided I would write a prequel for a work of art that DESERVED to be explored further. The first thing that came to mind was “Dark City,” pretty much my favorite movie. But then, I can’t get past the plagiarism issues, and I didn’t want to limit myself to parody, so I decided to pick something in the public domain. So, what’s 100 years old that I could write a prequel for?
I ended with Shakespeare, and decided to go to the story I knew best: Hamlet. I figured it would combine well with another idea I had for a story. During my Freshman year of high school, my teacher blew my mind with Joseph Campbell’s monomyth (the idea that every heroic story in human history has basically the same plot). Then somewhere along the lines, I heard that any good villain in a story has to think he’s the hero. I figure, why not put a villain into Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and show a villain developing the same way as a hero? There it is: I’m going to write “Claudius: A Hamlet Prequel.”
So now I’ve got my basic plot down: I can take the stages of the monomyth and put Claudius through each of them. And, since it’s a prequel, I know how my story ends. But how does it begin?