It was Jack Donaghy, from the hit TV-show 30 Rock, who said, “There are no bad ideas, only great ideas that go horribly wrong”.
If you are preparing to embark on the journey of writing a novel or short story, this is a quote worthy of taping to your laptop – or tattooing on your forehead. Whichever helps you see it better.
As fiction writers, we tend to be a neurotic bunch. Before we sit down to actually hammer out that New York Times bestseller, we must untangle a whirlwind of thoughts and doubts that keep us bound and afraid. Unfortunately, few of us get past that point to actually start. Even fewer actually finish.
If you read my last post, I was discussing how fiction writers can take control of one element of this nightmare – the actual process of coming up with story ideas. Funnily enough, this is one of the main things that stop up-and-coming writers from buckling down and getting started. Unfortunately, though, it is not the only thing.
That's where I, your humble writing friend, comes into play once more.
Today I want to discuss the second part of this equation – the part that is equally lethal to your creativity.
The question is: Is my idea any good?
I feel this question stumps writers more due to their own self-consciousness than anything else. That’s understandable. You don’t want to be hammering away at a project that, after all is said and done, you realize was a tragedy to begin with.
With that being said, I want to dispel a certain myth that you may hold about writing stories.
Your story idea is not as important as you may think.
Yes, I’m serious.
Here is the honest truth: An average plot with great execution will trump a brilliant plot with poor execution any day of the week.
On the whole, the ‘brilliance’ of your idea plays a very small role. What matters most to the reader is the execution of the idea, which is revealed through things such as your scenes, narrative, characters, and dialogue.
If you can master these elements, you don’t have to stress as much about finding that next brilliant gem of an idea. You will be able to create a product that your readers will stay up until 3AM reading.
But hold on there, cowboy. Before you start throwing ablaze your notebooks and begin hammering out that novel, you must understand that this does not give you ultimate freedom to do whatever you want.
As enticing as it may seem at times, you can’t simply throw together any old idea and get to work. Creative writing, I feel, is as much a science as it is an art. Your idea doesn’t have to be genius, but in every usable idea there is a structure, a foundation that must be built and certain factors that must come into play to result in a successful story.
As long as you have these factors, chances are you have the skeleton of a relatively well-rounded idea.
Obviously, you need a main character. Though some novels seem to have no main character and just jump around from one person to the next, more often you will find successful stories have us seeing through the eyes of one particular character more so than any other.
The antagonist. Who is this main character’s opposition?
What’s your conflict? This is an important part of any story. All successful stories are built on gradually stressful levels of conflict that peak at your story’s climax. The kick-off conflict – that is, the conflict that begins your story – must be well set and logical so that scenes following are clear and logical.
Can you end it? Not to say that you need a definite ending before even starting page 1, but it helps to know the very vague outlines of how you intend to end your story. Usually, when I get to this part in my plotting, I will scribble something such as ‘the main character defeats the antagonist, but it is bitter sweet’.
This is just an example, but as you can tell, this gives me a general direction to keep in mind while writing.
Beyond these four things, write the story YOU want. So the idea is sort of like a TV show you were watching last month? Okay, who cares? Unless you intend to copy another writer’s work by-the-letter, you cannot duplicate the exact same story. Our creativity is as individual as our DNA.
Let’s not forget our job, folks: we write to entertain. There’s no reason you can’t have as much fun writing the damn thing as your fans (or future fans) will have reading it.
Good luck and happy writing!