I do a lot of brainstorming with writing clients. (At the risk of sounding immodest, I am a champion brainstormer. If there were an Olympic event, I would medal. I adore brainstorming.)
Let’s say I have two clients, who have both emailed me that they want help with their next projects.
The first says:
“My next book is going to be about a girl who was cloned from a holy relic.”
The other client says:
“My next book is going to be about a woman who contacts her college ex, who is now a powerful attorney, for his help because she’s being framed for murder… only he’s starting to think she might somehow be involved, and that she’s developed this Count of Monte Cristo plan to get revenge on him.”
Now, if you look at both of these statements, you’ll see that there’s a fatal flaw in the first one. It’s not a story premise. It’s just a cool idea.
People pop up with cool ideas constantly. (If you’ve ever been approached by a non-writer at a party or family function, they often say: “I have this cool idea for a book – you write it, and we’ll split the profits!” As the idea spews forth, we usually realize that one, it’s not a cool idea – and it’s really not a story. And two, there’s no way in hell you’re going to write this.)
But a cool idea is just a wisp of a concept. It’s not even the seed of a story. It can involve an intriguing character: a hitman who quits and becomes a KonMari Organizer. It can involve a compelling setting: an ensemble story about people who all live in a farm cult in Wyoming who believe in UFOs. It can involve a twist: a woman who discovers our mirror reflections are actually real and different people.
These all may have interesting elements. (Personally, I want to find out about a hitman who helps people “spark joy” and whose experience with cleaners probably has a different context.) But they’re not actual story ideas. They don’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s like saying you want to build a house, and when pressed for a blueprint, you say “it will have stained glass windows!” That’s a nice detail. Love me some stained glass. But what is holding the house up? [Read more…]