Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Making Good Ideas Great

One thing that gets asked at every writer's conference I've ever attended has something to do with how to get ideas. It seems that many people are convinced that if they could just get a great idea and go with it, the New York Times Bestseller list is only a matter of time. Maybe they're right. Who knows?

What I've found personally however, is that the idea for a book is hardly ever the problem. I've got tons of ideas. But ideas alone don't make a book. It takes work. Lots and lots of hard work.

True, it's not like working in a coal mine or catching fish on a trawler out of Gloucester or anything like that, but it is work, nonetheless. I know, I know. This goes against what many believe about art, that it is organic, that it should just be allowed to happen. Yeah. The truth is that all art takes work. It takes artists a long time to develop the skills to work a masterpiece.

Writing is no different.

So, ideas aren't everything. But they do have their place. So how do you turn good ideas into great ideas and make them work for you?

Mix them with other ideas.

It sounds simple, but it really works. That's what writing is all about after all. It is about taking something familiar and adding in something new, something we haven't experienced before. Fiction can take us to places that literally only our imagination can carry us to.

The other thing that I've learned is that when you're working on a book, don't hold back. If there are two many ideas floating around in your book, you can always cut them back as needed later. But when you are putting your story together don't hold out some of your best ideas for other books. Especially if you are writing a series. That's fine if you have a bunch of ideas that will make a killer ending to your trilogy. But if there isn't enough going on in the first two books, if the reader has to wait until book 3, well, then you've failed. Besides. Ideas are infectious. One leads to another and so on. And if your reading as much as anyone hoping to become a published author should be, then ideas will always abound.

For a writing exercise, try this: Take two ideas, make them as different as possible. Trivial things, you name it. Just make them very different. Now combine them. That will give you a basis for your story. Then take another idea. This will be added in to raise the stakes, exacerbating the conflict. Now, finally, take a fourth idea and find a way to work a solution from it. Have some fun with it and see what you come up with.

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