Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[process] Ideas and their discontents

In case you haven’t read it, go read John Scalzi’s post from yesterday on ideas. It’s okay, I’ll still be here when you get back.

Ideas. I swear to God, they are the easiest part of this business. They are for me, anyway, and for most working writers I’ve ever talked to about it. Why people think otherwise is beyond me. (Well, not really. After all, I am a highly trained professional imagination user, so by the Law of the Tool, ideas would of course seem easy to me.)

Except, like everything else, the devil is in the details.

What constitutes an idea?

Is it the general statement? “These two kids fall in love, but their families hate each other.”

Is it the high concept statement? “Gang wars. Forbidden love. Two kids whose dads are the biggest crime bosses in the city pursue their infatuation to a disastrous end.”

Is the it synopsis? [ Romeo and Juliet at Wikipedia ]

Or the themes? Or the outline? Or… Or… Or…

I for one am quite capable of writing a short story in service of a single image that pops into my head. I don’t need more than that to drive me. My novella “Our Lady of American Sorrows” derived completely from a dream about some priests riding in the back of a military truck through a small, Latin American town.

But for other writers, such an image doesn’t count as an idea unless they can see more. Perhaps the through line, the resolution, or the character arc. That very much depends on the writer. So while I could probably writer an entire novel from nothing more than the idea of a werewolf with achondroplastic dwarfism, another writer would need a great deal more/different to qualify that idea.

For me, notions, concept and ideas are all essentially the same thing — creative stew. For others, more flesh or structure is required.

What’s an idea to you? How much do you need on the page or in the brain before you can turn it into a story or a novel?

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.

Tags: process, writing

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