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by
Sarah Hoyt

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March 19, 2013 - 2:00 pm

Don Quixote, Walter Crane, 1880

It’s still not an idea.

The problem I run into most often with beginning writers or, heaven help us, people who try to give me their ideas, is that they are not ideas – not complete ideas. Say you approach me and say: “I have this idea for a story. There is a magical shop around the corner, and it disappears.” I’ll say, “Yes?” Why? Because that’s not an idea. It’s at best a seed.

In the same way – and this happens just as often – if you come to me and say “there is this girl and this boy, and they fight over the boat he’s taking,” it’s not an idea. Not even if you then add in a revelatory tone: “It’s the Titanic.” (Though that last one comes close, and I could probably start with that and write a pretty good romance or paranormal mystery short story.)

If you think J.K. Rowling’s idea for Harry Potter can be summed up with “there is a magical school” or “there is a boy and he lived,” then you will have to think again.

To make sure you have a story idea, you need to count the elements:

a) You must have a genre-appropriate spark. (That vampire-school idea is a genre-appropriate spark. That is, if I wrote it it would fit in either vamp lit or YA vamp lit. A spark for a mystery might be: “Man killed by shark. It’s murder.”  It’s a spark because before you write, you have to figure out how to engineer a shark attack on command of the murderer.)

b) You must have a character, and there must be a reason why we – or at least you – give a hang about this character. This partly implies …

c) conflict, or a hint of danger or something the character desperately wants. (“There is Bob, and he’s happy and nothing happens” might be a nice thing for Bob, but it’s not a story idea.)

Note that the spark can be a setting or a twist on an old story.

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All Comments   (8)
All Comments   (8)
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Please continue,with my busy days i have little time for complete thoughts.I have devolved into an at home janitor who carries around a notebook,catching partial sentences only,and distractions scatter thoughts.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The universe I want to write stories in/about is about 400 years in the future. There is one huge back-story problem: Mid-to-Late 21st century genetic engineering creates telepaths, more or less by accident. By the late 25th century this is all normalized. How to get from here to there is a huge hole. Seems like a perfect thing for a 13 week challenge (not to mention excellent practice since I've only written vignettes, so far).

So, here's the idea: Some relatively widely desired trait (is red hair too obvious?) has the side effect of making the children engineered to have it telepathic at puberty. These children are spread around through time (it does take 14 or so years to notice) and space (mostly rich countries where parents can afford to genetically engineer their children). Some government agency (is the CIA too obvious?) notices and begins scooping up the kids, who will be the protagonists (or perhaps the protagonist should be an attorney or a reporter). By the end of things, they need to be not-all-dead and telepathy is not a sentence to an internment camp or a secret government lab.

I suppose an outline to clear up who the story is about is the next order of business...

BTW: The hardest thing for me (other than finishing anything) is naming characters.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Protagonist problem solved: Big brother saves little sister.

Method of resolution solved: Business leaders start bring telepaths to meetings, creating a market for honesty and reliability.

Important side note: It's hard to exploit a telepath when any other one can be "told" or "overhear" what's going on without the normals, who would be doing the exploiting, knowing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I decided to go with red-heads. Here are some interesting factoids (yay! Intertubes!):
a) about 1% of births are currently IVF.
b) the birth rate is currently about 13/1000.
c) red-heads are about 3% of the population.
d) about 3 times that number use red hair dye (I assume mostly women)

Given all that, about 5,000 births per year are potential "red hair" genetic engineering IVF customers (esp by 2050). Much higher than I expected - and makes for a much better story (how to work in that this number is not insanely high is another question).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've got an idea for an agency that can be hired to chase and harass someone to make them believe they are a victim in the center of some conspiracy and must run for their life (only to be revealed, in the end, that a friend paid for it to bring excitement to the protagonists life).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Total Recallish!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thanks for writing these. It's something of a comfort to know that some of the ideas I have are really close to being actual "ideas." And the ones that aren't, well, they're close. Now to do something with them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What wonderful advice. Thank you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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