Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Currency of Ideas

Most writers, once the civilians around them discover they're a writer, will be treated to some version of the following:  "Oh, you're a writer?  Well, we should sit down and talk!  I have a great idea for a book!  I'll tell you the idea, you write it, and we'll split the profits!  Whaddya say?"

My stock reply is something along these lines: "Well, I only write ancient history."  That tends to end the conversation.  That's what I say; this is what I want to say:  "So, you have an idea, eh?  One?  That's precious!  I currently have a file sitting on my desktop that contains, at last count, seventy-eight ideas for full-length novels.  That's honestly more than I can write in my lifetime.  But, let me add your idea to the list, by all means.  Oh, and there's no frickin' way we're going to split the profits!  Let's say your idea is great and all, and let's say I go to work on it, spending two years -- at least! -- turning your chunk of marble into an exquisite statue.  For that minimal effort on your part, the genesis of the idea, I'd be willing to pay you, say, ten bucks.  And that's being generous!  What?  No?  You'll write it yourself?  Well, okay then . . ."

Gentle Readers, an idea for a novel is not some precious form of currency.  Every writer I know has dozens, if not hundreds, of them sitting in folders and notebooks, with more being added each week.  It's not the idea that sets one novel apart from its brethren, but rather the execution.  That's the boring part for most non-writers: the word choices and sentence structures, the techniques of characterization, the poetry of language, the shiver and hum of dialogue, the balancing act between static exposition and active scenes, the choreography of drama, melodrama, love, hate, violence and the human condition.  This is what sets the writer apart, and what non-writers don't really understand: the idea is nothing.  A novel is not an idea, but rather the technical and artistic expression of an idea.

So, please . . . stop this business of wanting to foist your ideas on us.  We have plenty of our own, thanks.

As far as A Gathering of Ravens, I'm still languishing at my pre-illness word counts.  I feel loads better, and now it's a matter of breaking the bad habits I accumulated on my sick-bed -- sloth and indolence and the desire for naps.  Time to move forward!

4 comments:

Tom Doolan said...

I have an idea...

You should write a book about an "orc" during the Viking age. Only, and here's the kicker, don't ever refer to him as an orc. I think it would be brilliant!

Scott Oden said...

Rubbish! Who would have an Orc and not call him an Orc? That's the silliest thing I've ever heard . . . :)

Tom Doolan said...

You're probably right. You better just stick to whatever paint-by-numbers schlock you're working on now.

Scott Oden said...

Yeah, it's about a biblical code hidden in the works of Michaelangelo, which an ancient secret society is hell-bent on protecting. The protagonist is a professor of art history who sometimes helps Interpol solve crimes. I think it'll be a great hit, and very original!