Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Original Idea + Storytelling Ability = Good Book

Hollywood is out of ideas.  The stories I see are re-creations of old stories, or the 14th sequel on the one original idea some writer had 20 years ago.  Many books, unfortunately, are the same way, rehashing the same plot over and over again.  This provides a great opening for writers who can truly be original.

Unfortunately, an original idea isn't enough.  Bookshelves are rife with great ideas that never amounted to anything.  I've picked up plenty of books myself that appeared to have great potential, only to toss them aside in disgust because the storytelling wasn't up to par.  Without the ability to convey your idea in a way that makes it interesting to the reader, you may as well just stand up in a crowd and started yelling, "GROOP BLORK MAJENGCA GROB!  YEDDA YEDDA - WEEEEEEEE!"

This is why great books are so rare.  Lots of people have terrific ideas - everyone I meet is writing the next great novel - but their ability to convey that idea...well...it sucks.  Stories will meander and get needlessly complex, or they'll be presented by characters that are wooden and unbelievable.  Readers who got sucked in by a blurb on the back cover will throw down the novel and curse the day the author wasted their time because they couldn't make head or tail of what was being said.

Likewise, I know lots of people who can tell great stories.  We've all seen them - they stand around the water cooler going over last night's Laker game, or they're that goofy grandpa who can take you on a bombing run over North Vietnam.  Folks can become enraptured by such talk...until it turns into the 20th time they've heard the same story.  For all the charisma some can put into a great story, they can't seem to find an original idea.  Maddening.

As a writer, your job is to marry the two.  I feel confident in every novel I've written(Yes, that's arrogant, but I think you have to be a bit arrogant as a writer to think you have what it takes to capture someone's imagination).  That's because the ideas aren't ever present in the world, and I know how to tell them so people stay engaged.  That's not to say I hit on every single thing I've ever done - I've written a few stinkers that have since been discarded - but I never stop working on the craft of writing, and my imagination will go to some wild places if I let it.

And that's what you must do - let your imagination wander.  Follow it and copy down the events it takes you to.  Ask yourself, "Self, how does this stack up to writers I enjoy?"  If you can do those things, then perhaps others will find you just as interesting, and that's where storytelling goes from self aggrandizement to a magical place that people willingly go to with you.

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