Saturday, January 17, 2009

title origin of "sometimes a great notion"

[Via Maureen Ryan.] As suspected, the title "Sometimes a Great Notion" comes from the title of Ken Kesey's novel. As the writer of the episode, David Weddle, explains:
The day the staff finished putting the cards up on the board with Ron, and the day before we began writing, I flashed on my favorite American novel, Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. It is a much underappreciated and towering work. Anyone interested in fine literature and great story telling should read Kesey’s masterpiece.

The book opens with a childish rhyme that enunciates the theme of the book and what to me was the theme of our show. “Sometimes I live in the country. Sometimes I live in the town. Sometimes I get a great notion. To jump in the river and drown.”

In Kesey’s book, the hero --Hank Stamper, an Oregon logger -- does constant battle with the river that runs past his home, a river that has claimed the lives of pets and loved ones and comes to symbolize the vast and indifferent power of the universe that both gives life and cruelly snatches it away again. In his notes to himself as he was writing the book, Kesey scribbled something that has become one of the shorthand phrases Brad and I use while writing scripts. Kesey wrote: “Try to make Hank quit.” By that he meant: take this strong, heroic character and pile one misfortune on his back after another until he finally falls. What happens in that moment? Does he despair? Does he get up and go on? For me, there is no more defining moment for a character.

We tried to do this with almost all the characters in this episode: Adam, Laura, Kara, Lee. We ripped everything out from under them then sat back to see what they would do. What were their individual breaking points? And if they did break, would they stay broken or grope toward a recovery?

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