I have a head full of good ideas, or at least they look superb provided they stay in my head. It’s like when we have to take our huge fluffy cat to the vet for his recurring eye problem – in the controlled environment there, he stays still, perhaps purrs, and eye-drops go in. Away from the vet, in the wilds of our kitchen, he wriggles, wails and scratches, defying the firm embrace of a towel and ensures that most of the eye-drops land on the floor, in his ear, in my eye… anywhere except where they are supposed to go.
Good ideas are just like that from the moment I let them out of my head. In fact, even the rubbish ideas do the same. The moment I want to wrap words around them, the ideas wriggle, bite and scratch so that what comes out is nothing like that perfect, purring super-good idea that was in my head.
So, what’s the problem? Was the idea faulty, or just the words I dressed it in? And why did I ask the question the wrong way round? The fault, dear Reader, is not in my ideas, but in my writing.
You know, I’m sure I’ve heard something like that before. Never mind. Back to The Idea…
The good (or even great) idea is an illusion. Hold up a great idea to a mirror and see its reflection, the equally mythical original idea.
How about this one? Girl meets boy, their families disapprove, everyone dies. I can see it in my head. The killer line – Romeo, Romeo, where’s your damned hashtag? Are people going to be still quoting me in four hundred years, or is my work destined to be composted at the bottom of the slush-pile from hell? Perhaps if I come up with a killer name for the girl, it will work, and maybe throw in a really posh location to draw in the audience – that might make it a winner. I’m thinking Helen sounds good, and I’ll set it in a great ancient city, something like Troy… then the family disapproval, a big war, and everyone dies…
Once you start poking at it, people have been telling stories for thousands of years with a basic plan of boy meets girl… and everyone dies. Or hero goes out, slays the monster and marries the girl. Or… well, there’s a good catalogue of great ideas that storytellers have been taking and recycling over the centuries. Ooh, no wait, what about pauper child turns out to be the rightful king…
It’s not the idea that matters, but the words. That’s the real point of being a writer – finding the right words to wrap an idea and make it ready to face the world, fresh and bright, new and interesting enough that people will be amazed at what you can do with boy meets girl and they work together to create mass slaughter.
The great idea that looked so good in my head is really an expertly photo-shopped super-model, and the trick is to get it out and ready for the world, new clothes, new style, strutting its stuff down the literary catwalk.
Forget the great idea – go stitch your words into a great presentation.
OMP Admin Note: Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.
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