Sunday, July 7, 2013

It Takes More Than A Good Idea

I've talked a lot about the dearth of ideas coming out of both Hollywood and the writing world.  I maintain that one of the reasons that folks are buying fewer books and going to fewer movies is because they seem to see the same ideas recycled over and over.  I continue to believe that truly original ideas can be blockbusters if they get the chance to be heard.  One of the biggest challenges we face as writers is coming up with that great idea.

Unfortunately, it takes more than a good idea to create a good story, and that's something that too many people forget.  Although most of you know how much I dislike the traditional publishing world and believe that many agents have a great deal of hubris, they do make the occasional point.  The biggest thing they say is that good writing will save a bad idea more than bad writing can be propped up by a good idea.  In other words, if you can't write well, it doesn't matter what wonderful ideas you get, for you still have to get them across to the reader.

I say this because I've read several books recently that sounded great on the back cover, but the writing ranks somewhere below what I put in my 4th grade writing journal when most of my action scenes consisted of yelling, "ZAP!  ZAP!  KABLAM!"  I report, with regret, that many of thee have been indie stories.

I realize that you have to sift through a lot of shit to find a diamond, and I'm also in no way saying that this phenomenon is limited to the indie world.  The traditional publishing world has its share of garbage, but I've been reading more on the indie circuit recently for two reasons - first, I'm not finding a lot of new stuff in the traditional world; second, to be blunt, I'm cheap and indie works are usually less expensive.

That said, I've started several books that had promise.  I read one about a demon that had regret and started praying in Hell, throwing that realm into chaos.  There was another about an invasion of the United States from an alliance of China and several Middle Eastern countries.  A third looked at Bram Stoker's Dracula from a completely different angle, while a fourth took on the popular concept of the Zombie Apocalypse and threw in a new supernatural force as a variable.  All of these sounded great when I looked at the synopsis, but they fell apart when I tried reading them.

First of all, most are full!  of!  dramatic superlatives!  Everything needs emphasis and they try so desperately to keep you on the EDGE OF YOUR SEAT!  I'm sorry, but if you have to try so hard to tell me how I should feel at certain points of the story, I become cynical real fast.  The action should build slowly, with the descriptions giving just enough to let me picture what's happening by myself.  The number of modifiers I've found in these works makes me want to barf, and it distracts from what the author is trying to get across.

Second, some of them want to get the picture across so desperately that they spend a page and a half describing what should take a paragraph to do.  Setting the scene is great...up to a point.  After that, people start skipping over all that mess and wondering when things will get moving again.  This kind of bullshit is why I hated things like Billy Bud, and it's one of the reasons even a great author like Stephen King can be hit or miss(seriously, do I really need him to spend two pages describing a toaster?).

Then there are those who spend all this time in the build up, but the payoff never matches.  Twin Peaks had this problem, where it never resolved anything, and lots of readers will eventually give up in frustration.  Johnny Carson put it right when  he said that the longer the setup, the bigger the payoff has to be.  If you're going to build things for the entire story, you better have one heck of a blockbuster for the reader at the end.

Finally, and this is huge, a writer must be able to string together a few coherent sentences.  If the meanings are haphazard, then the reader will come away from the page wondering, "What the heck did I just read?"  If the writer is lucky, the reader will stick around for the next page, hoping for improvement.  Most, however, will discard the book and move onto something that makes sense.

Please, please, please study the craft.  We can all come up with great ideas, but it means nothing if you can't communicate them in captivating and coherent ways.

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