WRITER WEDNESDAYS: Ideas are not Stories

WRITER WEDNESDAYS: Ideas are not Stories

Good morning Rebels, and welcome back to my life.

Well, after doing Tolkien Tuesdays two weeks in a row now, I feel absolutely comfortable committing myself to another weekly scheduled thing.

Impulse control? What are you talking about? I don’t…I…*shrug*.

I actually had the idea for this one BEFORE Tolkien Tuesdays and it’s called Writer Wednesdays, and basically I want to talk about the art, the craft, the SCIENCE, of writing.

Today, since this is the beginning of Writer Wednesdays, I want to talk about the beginning of every series, book, short story, or essay: the idea.

No book happens without an idea. Indeed, no story happens without an idea. The idea is usually the first thing you come up with.

Especially in genre fiction, the idea is vital. In sci-fi we could imagine a society where space travel at relativistic speeds means everyone who goes world to world is decades out of date by the time they arrive at their destination.

Or we imagine a fantasy world where dragons are the predominant race and humans are their slaves.

In thrillers, you could have a special operation team-up with an ex-Gurkha and a Navy Seal.

In mystery, a man is found with his own hand wrapped around the knife that killed him—but the hand is severed, and the knife is in his back.

In romance, an unusual situation in Victorian times where a woman is the only legal heir to her father’s duchy.

Great ideas are all around us and there are a thousand variations on them and, to be completely and totally honest—they’re kind of the easy part.

They are in fact so easy, that if you are a writer and you happen to know other people who are NOT writers, you are probably assaulted with ideas at parties.

People will come up to you and say, “Hey, I’ve always had this great idea for a book. PHLEH.”

And you listen patiently, tell them it sounds great, and move on with your life, probably sitting in the corner of the room and wishing you were back home at your computer writing.

Why don’t their ideas appeal to you? And why, even when you think you have a good idea, can you find it so hard to get started on your novel?

The reason is simple: an IDEA is not a STORY.

An IDEA usually concerns your setting, or your main character, or your time period, or an unusual circumstance that forms the sort of packaging FOR your story—but it is NOT your story.

There’s one thing wrong with all the ideas I listed earlier, and with every idea people try to spout at you at parties: they lack the essential elements of a story.

Those elements are the protagonist, the antagonist, the protagonist’s goal, the obstacles (which usually include the antagonist), and the stakes—which lead you to your ending and tell you whether it’s going to be a happy one or a sad one.

Without those five things AT A MINIMUM, you do not have a story. You merely have an idea.

So if we take those same story ideas I said earlier and install our five essential parts of a story, you have the actual beginnings of some novels:

In a society with relativistic space travel, a man is shanghaied away from his lover’s planet and must find a way to return without light-speed travel, or she will grow old and die without him.

A human slave meets a dragon sympathizer and together they plot the overthrow of the dragon emperor Blacktooth, who will make an example of the slave’s entire clan if her plot is discovered.

An ex-Gurkha and a Navy Seal must join forces to stop a bloodthirsty tyrant from rising to power in Mongolia, or he’ll kill the entire Seal team as well as the Gurkha’s daughter, all of whom he captured in a raid.

Buck Bendig, ace private eye, must solve one last mystery of the backstabbed man with the severed hand, in hopes of winning back the wife who left him in disgrace—but the real killer may be closer than he thinks.

Elizabeth, the girl who inherited her father’s duchy, takes on a new and strapping stable boy Dante—only to learn Dante is an ex-duke, disgraced and stripped of his title, and together they must resist the rapacious lords who wish to encroach on Elizabeth’s holdings.

The original ideas were springboards, yes, they led us TO the story, but they were NOT the story.

And the thing is, those ideas could have been the framework for a thousand DIFFERENT stories, but without them—they’re just ideas.

I hope you’ve found this at least somewhat helpful, Rebels, let me know in the comments and whatnot. As always, thank you for watching and I will see you tomorrow. Maybe. Byyye.

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at garrettbrobinson.com.

Share This