Hello, writers. A shout-out for those who reported surpassing 50,000 words in the month of November:
CronewitWoohoo! Big cheers. Well done, folks. If this is your first time through—now you know you can do it. If this is your third, or ninth, or twelfth time through… now you know you can do it. (It does get easier. But it doesn’t get easy.)
Cheers, too, to all the folks who went for it and will no doubt hit it out of the park next year. Or maybe NaNoWriMo just isn’t your style, but you’ll have the manuscript finished by next November anyway.
To tonight’s topic… Ideas. I’ve been thinking about ideas a lot lately. It seems to me that most of the stories we read, and love best, use very old tropes. Boy meets girl. Boy meets boy. World must be saved. World must be changed. The seven basic plots, or the 32 basic plots, or the three basic plots. What matters, as we’ve discussed before, is not the newness of the idea but how you renew it, with your own twist, voice, humor, quirky characters, etc.
New ideas should be handled with caution. (I’m talking strictly about fiction here! Not government, science, education, etc.) Often new story ideas are logically flawed… the reason no one’s done a story like this before is because it wouldn’t happen, people don’t act like that, dragons don’t act like that, the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t act like that. It’s always worth trying a new idea, in case it really is new, and it’s possible it will turn into a wonderful story. But bear in mind that a story has to make an awful lot of sense. Much more sense than, say, reality.
Sometimes a writer thinks s/he has a new idea, but the idea is really pretty old. This tends to happen to writers who haven’t read enough in their genre. It’s not a huge problem, because most ideas are old. It’s just that if the writer doesn’t know it’s an old story, s/he might neglect to twist it properly.
If you’ve been reading Write On! for a while, you’re familiar with the tale of the Jewel of Togwogmagog. To wit:
A callow youth (male or female) is the Chosen One who must obtain the sacred jewel of Togwogmagog in order to save the kingdom.Stock stuff, right? The bloody battlefields of fiction are strewn with the corpses of Chosen Ones and littered with the discarded wrappers of sacred jewels.
But what happens when y’all write about this hackneyed youth? S/he becomes the shiny new star (or shiny new patsy, or shiny new resident klutz) of very different stories. Not one of the callow youths you’ve written about is like another. Their stout companions are all different, and the Realms they inhabit are different. If everyone published their Togwogmagog tale, nobody would be accusing anybody of stealing ideas. (Well, I hope not, anyway.)
Sometimes when I put up a Tonight’s Challenge, I think “Well, of course everybody will write X.” But nobody ever does write X. Everyone’s idea is different from mine.
Most story ideas are old, but all story ideas are endlessly renewable, reusable, expandable, twistable, reversible, spoofable, sublime… damn, I’ve exceeded my adjective quota.
Don’t be afraid to use up all your ideas. You can’t. They’re everyone’s ideas, and they go on and on.
Tonight’s challenge comes from a logline I saw in The Guardian for a review of a Broadway play. I didn’t actually read the review, but I jotted down the line because it seemed like it should be a story idea. Yours or mine— whatever we write, it won’t be what the playwright wrote.
Here’s the line:[a] one-night stand gone surreally awryUse that line, either as a description of your scene, or as a line in a scene, a metaphor in your POV character’s thoughts… use it any way you want.Write On! will be a regular weekly diary (Thurs 8 pm ET) until it isn't.
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