So You Have an Idea

Tuesday Tips (1)

Welcome to my new series of blog posts that I am calling “Tuesday Tips and Tricks,” where I will be trying to give you some instructional/informational ideas for using with your own writing to help you learn and grow your craft.

And, since we learned in “The Sound of Music” that the very beginning is a very good place to start… let’s begin there… with those first glimmerings of ideas that spring to life in an author’s brain.

This moment of idea is crucial, because it is the moment right before many great books never get written.

One of the common statements I have heard over and over again from aspiring writers is this idea of “original thought.” Many beginning writers seem to have this belief that they need a perfect and completely original, never-before-seen-or-tried IDEA before they can even start writing. A couple of years ago, I was a vendor at a comic-con and one young man approached my table and proceeded to tell me about the book he wanted to write. It was an interesting premise, and the story itself had a lot of potential. But then he ended his pitch with these words. “But… I can’t write that. Because it’s already been done.”

I had certainly never heard of this particular premise for a story before (but, admittedly, I haven’t read all the books there are) so I asked, “Oh? It has?”

He nodded and looked discouraged. “Yeah. The new Hobbit movie.”

This confused me, because what he had just described sounded nothing like The Hobbit. My confusion must have shown, because he continued to elaborate.

“The whole idea of an elf and a dwarf falling in love. Tauriel and Kili? It’s been done.”

Okay, yes, that was one part of his story. But this young man was ready to toss out his entire plot and give up on it because one aspect of it had “been done before.”

And he’s not the only one I’ve heard this type of mentality from.

Dear Author… your story does not have to be The Most Original Idea on the face of the earth. If that’s what you’re aiming for, you’re going to end up disappointed. Or you’re never going to begin writing. Plenty of stories borrow from other stories. (And there are quite a few out there that do quite a lot more than just borrow… some skirt plagiarism… not that I’m in any way recommending you do THAT). But the point is this: will there be aspects of your story that resemble other stories? Sure. Of course. But what is it about your story that is different? What new twist can you put on an old trope? What new characters can you bring to the table? How is YOUR story relatable in a different way than other stories that are similar? The fact remains that nobody can write YOUR story the way that YOU will write it, and that makes it original and unique. Even if your story doesn’t start out super unique… that’s what editing is for. Some of my best ideas don’t come until I’m in the last round of edits. (Which can be super annoying, especially when it necessitates some serious re-writing like it did in Minstrel’s Call in the eleventh hour… but it just goes to show that a story can be extremely fluid right up until the very final draft)

So you have an idea?

That’s fantastic.

Now… go write it down! That rough draft will be messy and need work, it may not be the most original idea ever… but that is what editing is for. You can polish it up and change it around multiple times before you even let anyone read it. But until you have that first draft down on paper (or screen) you have nothing to mold, nothing to rearrange. Until you write that idea down, you will only ever just have an idea.

How do you go about writing down that idea? That’s up to you. It’s going to look different for everyone. But I’ll give you a few pointers in the next installment of this series. Until then, dear Writer… dream away… and WRITE!

~ jenelle

15 Comments

sarahtps

Thank you, Jenelle, for the encouragement! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want to do with some of my older writing— the Berstru Tales, which involve dragon Riders and attempts to take over the world (or, the known bit of it, at least), and quests and whatnot. And I think the basic premise isn’t that unusual for the fantasy genre. But there are things that make it unique, like my characters and particular aspects of my world and the fact that I focus a lot on family— one might even say that family relationships drive most of the plot, and I don’t think that’s standard in fantasy novels. And I feel like how the overall plotline plays out isn’t that standard for fantasy novels? Though I could be wrong on that one. But yeah. This post makes me feel better about wanting to do stuff with the Berstru Tales, so thank you once again!

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Christine

Oh wow, Jenelle, this was insanely timely! Like…SO TIMELY. Because with Realm Makers looming and thoughts of pitching my story, I’ve been super worried about my idea not being “unique” enough. I mean, do we need another Beauty and the Beast story in the world???? But I have to remind myself it’s MY idea, and though there are a million B&B stories out there, there’s not THIS one. Only I can write it.

I needed this post today, you just have no idea. THANK YOU! This was absolutely wonderful. <3

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jenelle

The answer to your question is YES. YES, WE DO NEED ANOTHER BEAUTY AND THE BEAST STORY IN THE WORLD!!!!!

I’m so glad that this post could be an encouragement to you today. {Hugs}

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DJ Edwardson

Thanks for starting up another series from your perpetually prolific pen!

(as an aside, and a bit of a counter point, just because an idea is original, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, the elf-dwarf romance in the Hobbit being a case and point)

But this post brought to mind a quote from Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories”. Though he was talking about fairy stories in particular, I think the same truths hold for for all writers, so I offer it for your ponderance (and because it’s just that beautiful)

“It is easy for the student to feel that with all his labour he is collecting only a few leaves, many of them now torn or decayed, from the countless foliage of the Tree of Tales, with which the Forest of Days is carpeted. It seems vain to add to the litter. Who can design a new leaf? The patterns from bud to unfolding, and the colours from spring to autumn were all discovered by men long ago. But that is not true. The seed of the tree can be replanted in almost any soil, even in one so smoke-ridden (as Lang said) as that of England. Spring is, of course, not really less beautiful because we have seen or heard of other like events: like events, never from world’s beginning to world’s end the same event. Each leaf, of oak and ash and thorn, is a unique embodiment of the pattern, and for some this very year may be the embodiment, the first ever seen and recognized, though oaks have put forth leaves for countless generations of men.”

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jenelle

Definitely true that just because an idea is original doesn’t make it good.

(I love Tauriel. I stand by her.)

Ahem.

I just used the illustration because it was an actual conversation I had, though… :-D

That is a beautiful quote, and does a great job encapsulating what I was driving at. Thank you for sharing it!

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sharonkconnell

Jenelle, In all the books I’ve read through the years, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that hasn’t been touched on in a story before. It’s all in the way you present the story, and the little changes you make to it. I’m so glad you wrote this encouraging blog.

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Tracey Dyck

Love this, Jenelle! Thank you! (Also I am very much looking forward to the continuation of this series.)

I’ve struggled with this so much, almost with every novel I’ve written. But I’m slowly convincing myself that, yeah, there’s nothing new under the sun, but because there’s only one ME, only I can tell my stories the way I do. ^_^

Been reading “Steal Like an Artist,” and I love how it encourages creatives to soak in their heroes and all the inspiration they can find, and then create something out of that mishmash of ideas. Our work really is the sum of our influences.

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jenelle

One of my favorite quotes of all time is this one: “To read means to borrow; to create out of one’s readings is paying off one’s debts.”
–George Christopher Lichtenberg
:)

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L. Palmer

All stories blend elements from other stories, but there are so many ingredients to use that each can take it’s own twist into a unique world.

I have several stories that began with watching a mediocre movie and thinking, “I would have written it this way,” and being taken on an unexpected journey.

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jenelle

It’s so true.

There are a lot of movies where my husband and I talk about all the ways they could have been better… and we generally conclude with, “Yeah… they should have asked us… silly them.” LOL

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