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I feel like my ideas are way too generic

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ewolf20, Dec 14, 2018.

  1. Ewolf20

    Ewolf20 Minstrel

    I had this document where i record every single idea i got in my head. Each idea i've written was some flavor of "has been done" or "overly generic". If you don't get what i mean here's a few pitches from that doc.

    honestly, stuff like this has been done before and though that feels comforting, I fear my executions of them won't do them justice. The deadly sins one especially since that's been overplayed to death. I'd went as far as shelving it for being crap to me honestly. naturally, the rest of them were either discarded, forgotten, or put on the backburner until I feel ready to tackle them. But I wanna ask, how did you stumble upon an idea that you knew was surprisingly interesting and....dare i say kinda original?
  2. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

    All original stories have been done before. How many times has King Arthur been redone? Robin Hood? Batman? Spiderman? Strive for distinctiveness, not originality. Originality is too rare to base a career on.

    Don't worry about doing them justice. You can't improve your writing without trying.

    Ira Glass on Beginners:

    "Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone has told me. All of us who are in creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is a gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.

    "And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do something interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all got through this.

    "And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece.

    "It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through."
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I said in chat earlier that ideas don't matter, and that it's what you do with them that counts. That's a bit of an oversimplification.

    I also mentioned that it's not the idea, but your passion for the idea that matters. It's the passion that drives you to write.
    Now, working up that passion is the tricky part.

    One thing I thought about when looking through your ideas is that they're all interesting concepts, regardless of whether or not they've been done before. There's not much in the way of information about who the story is about though. The first two ideas mention individuals who could be the protagonist, but in the other three ideas, it's about groups of people.

    Take the 3rd idea, the one with the seven princesses.
    You can do a number of different things with this.
    • Is it told from the king's/queen's perspective as she measures all the young girls against thei ideal of a wife for their son?
    • Is it about the prince who gets the attention from all those princesses?
    • Is it about one of the princesses? - Specifically, there are 7 princesses and 6 kingdoms, so perhaps two princesses are sisters, and one of them really hopes the prince will choose her sister instead of her?
    • Maybe it's about the chamberlain who needs to account for keeping all of the 7 princesses happy as they visit the castle to court the prince.
    These are all variations on the same idea, and they're based on who the story is about. You can probably do the same for the other ideas as well. In doing so, you might find one of the characters you come up with interests you more than the others. You can tell the story of that character and their experience of the circumstances dedicated by the original idea.
    Night Gardener, Penpilot and goldhawk like this.
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    For me, when I start developing a story, a lot of the ideas are kind of generic and have that been-done-before feel. But then, I work the story, develop the characters, and thing change. As I write, I discover new aspects to a character, and it makes me reevaluate and revise what I've laid out. Rinse repeat and by the time I'm finished, more often than not, the story is uniquely mine with my personal spin on the base ideas.

    But if the story doesn't end up as anything special in my eyes, then oh well, I hope it was at least an interesting read, and I move on to the next thing.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'll add my voice to those above. Ideas are just ideas. Everyone has them by the bucketful. The ideas listed feel generic because they are generic; that is, they do not tie to specific individuals in a specific setting, individuals who have motives and goals peculiar to themselves. You might try this as an exercise. Take any three ideas and add people. I'll offer this as an example, not as a suggestion.

    >a horror geek ends up getting possessed by an age old vampire prince and has to deal with an order of vampire hunters out to kill them both.
    A young director gets his first big break: direct a horror movie. Everything about the project is weird, though. The producer is a wealthy eccentric with an unidentifiable accent who insists the movie must be shot at night. The script is bizarre, but only slightly less normal than the crew. The actors are either secretive or obviously completely lost. Strange things happen on set. Then someone claiming to be with a special government agency shows up and everyone's on the run. The young director doesn't care. He just wants to finish the movie.

    Now, yes, that takes more work than writing down the one-liner. And there's really nothing wrong with one-line ideas. I've got a file of those myself. But they are hardly more than a brainstorming version of a writing prompt. A place to begin thinking. Every one of them needs specific (not generic) characters, and every one of them needs motives, goals, setting, and plot sketched, even if it's only a phrase for each.That's how we move from the generic to the specific, by putting flesh on bones. When we're skeletons, we all look pretty much alike.
  6. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

    Whenever I think I'm not being original enough I think back to the Wheel of Time series where the first book rips off Lord of the Rings so hard that I'm surprised there was never a lawsuit involved. Yet it soon became its own unique thing.

    I guess the best way to think of it is that there are millions of unique looking plants in the world, but when you think of it, most seeds they come from look pretty similar.
  7. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    I'll add to this thread: It's all about perspective. It doesn't matter how original or unoriginal an idea is (not the same as copyright infringement) it's all about a new, or fresh, perspective. If you wanted to get broadly hyper-critical, almost every trope, every type of story, every theme, has been written. So, whatever the idea is, try to make it yours as you go.

    If it helps, think about it this way: There's an exponential amount of musical notes and combinationd available on the electric guitar. Most guitar music only uses six to twelve chords. Somehow, we can all mostly manage to tell songs and musicians apart. What's the difference? The lyrics, and the singer's voice. Same handful of notes arranged slightly differently still manage to offer a sense of diversity and distinction, when technically speaking the differences are minimal.

    I fear my WIP is going to start "feeling" too LotR. I'm aware of the fact that two people being persued across vast landscapes by multiple opposing advesaries has already been done. I'm writing it anyway, because it's a simple logistics problem: my characters have to get to point A to point B on foot.
    It's my job to make that logistics problem interesting and endemic to MY story.

    Or, think of it this way: Frodo and Sam have to go on a helluva hike to return some cursed jewelry to Mt. Doom. What if that task were set in oh, say, the political turmoil of 1850s through 1870s America, and they had to toss that thing into Mt. St. Helen's? Trying to sneak through the warring/ defeated South, not get captured by Union forces, and get to the Western U.S. territories, only to out maneuver hostile tribal forces caught up in Manifest Destiny... Only to face the Rocky Mountains and/or the Grand Canyon? Maybe Strider/Aragorn is a fur trapper from Canada they meet on the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Who would the "elves" be? The "orcs"? Would Jefferson Davis... be Sauron, or Sauroman? Neither?

    Would those characters, Frodo and Sam from the Shire, (let's say the Shire is... Pennsylvania) in that U.S. time period setting, still really be the same story by the time you adapted it to a human-centric historical-esque setting with a bit more fantasy sprinkled in? It's still about 2 dudes on an expedition to return some spooky evil willful jewelry on foot to a volcano. Would it be the same, rip-off story as LotR?

    If you can answer that question to yourself honestly, then you can accept that "originality" isn't exactly as important as your choices in executing your specific ideas.

  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Agreeing with the above. There are no generic ideas. Only generic implementations of ideas.
    TheCrystallineEntity and Malik like this.
  9. Ideas are just...ideas. They're everywhere. We're standing in a perpetual snow of ideas all around us. Literally everyone has had that idea that they feel would be a bestselling novel if they wrote it, but the thing is, few write that idea down, and even fewer actually get to writing the story. Those who finish the story? Almost unheard of. Who becomes a published author is overwhelmingly decided by who decides to write their story and sticks it out rather than who gets the "good" ideas.

    And really? Stories with near identical concepts get published all the time.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I am going to disagree with the above for a moment.

    Good ideas are not commonplace. Ideas are not interchangeable. It is not all about execution.

    But nor is it about the idea. What I think people always seem to miss in this conversation is that it's not about one single idea, but about your ability to generate an idea, after an idea, after idea. Or to put it another way, you've got Idea Level 1, and a great brilliant idea needs to hit idea level 100. You need to continue building good ideas on top of a good base idea. You can't just stop with a sentence or two.

    Everything in your novel is an extension of the same idea chain.

    I'm going to repost one of the ideas I listed in my Trope Reboot series, for the Mentor, and I want you to consider the difference.

    To be clear, this isn't a novel that I'm writing. This is an idea I came up with for an article, posted and done with, developed in just a few hours. (To directly answer the question in the OP, I talked about how I developed this idea in the article itself.)

    Now it's too easy to say, "Well the two sentences are just a starting point." No, this is the reflection of a philosophy that I believe holds people back. "I've got my idea, what's the next step? Right, characters..." You've now shifted mindsets, you've jumped to the next task, and now you're going to be stuck finding a compelling character because you've got your idea, when you should be looking at ways to continue to develop your idea chain with your character. The character, the plot, the setting - it's all part of that idea, still developing, still percolating.

    The idea isn't finished until the book is done.

    Okay, Ewolf, why don't you pick one of your ideas, and let's see if we can develop it into a higher level idea.
    Night Gardener and skip.knox like this.
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Very good advice from Devor. I echo the request: Ewolf, pick an idea and let's see how to move it along the idea chain.
  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I wanted to say that the idea is a bit like the bones of a story, but that would be wrong. A single idea as presented above is kind of like an inseminated egg, it might hatch, it might not, it could die quietly, or half way out of its shell... if we find it laying there in the grass, we might not even know what the hell kind of critter is inside, unless we’re an egg expert. Now you say, aha! a chicken egg! But funny thing is, there’s a stupid number of different breeds of chickens and then factor in crossbreeding... Yikes! What starts out a plain white egg could be turned into an omelet, hatch into a very plain chicken, perhaps even a sickly chicken, or into a beautiful bird worthy of awards and for breeding more great chickens.

    It’s the details that count.

    What you have above are essentially movie loglines, which say almost nothing to anyone but you, because hopefully those loglines bring a deeper story into your head. At best they’ll tell us what genre the chicken is, heh heh. In movie terms, what you need is a pitch, that’s when a single idea is expanded and invariably combined with other ideas. For novels, a query letter performs a similar function. A novel is, depending on how you define “idea”, the combination of a million ideas of varying sizes surrounding a throughline story/plot/idea. Sure, it’s still possible to end up with a generic chicken, but your odds of creating a beautiful specimen increase with every character, action, subplot, etc.
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >because hopefully those loglines bring a deeper story into your head.

    This is key. If the logline (your story idea) doesn't immediately resonate with you, doesn't immediately suggest--however vaguely--more story, then one of two things are operative. One, there's no story here. It's just an idea. Store it, because sometimes ideas can come back from the dead.

    Two, there is a story here and you need to give it more thought. The thing is in danger of dying. If you neglect it long enough, that resonance will evaporate and you'll just have another dead logline. Water the poor dear. See if it grows.

    Not to divert the discussion, but I have a devil of a time coming up with a pitch. Or, rather, if I have a pitch before the story, the story never winds up like the pitch. I have to write the stupid story and *then* figure out the pitch. How movie and theater folk manage to have a pitch first and then write the script is one of the sacred mysteries of art. Anyway, I'm not sure you need to plan to move from idea to pitch. You could also go from idea to outline, or even just to character sketches and plot points. And setting. Don't forget setting!
  14. Ewolf20

    Ewolf20 Minstrel

    I do sometimes develop the ideas I have in this secure document or a notebook. For one of them, pitch some short story ideas here and there and maybe make some of them a reality. Again i'm none to proud of how I write and it's been a long time since read a novel (as i'm more into modern works than bog standard fantasy and sci fi).
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Er, what is a "more modern work" in relation to a novel. Novels still do appear, now and again. <g>
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I just noticed none of us really addressed your question.

    >But I wanna ask, how did you stumble upon an idea that you knew was surprisingly interesting and....dare i say kinda original?

    Hm. Well, lessee. Most weren't. Maybe that's because I'm doing alternate history, so I begin with established material. So, with Goblins at the Gates, it's really true there was an invasion of the Empire in the late 300s. I just swapped goblins for Goths. Pretty sure swapping monsters for some historical event isn't original, though I didn't have any model in mind. The originality in that book came at the more micro level, in having specific characters in specific situations that I'm quite sure has rarely been done. That's something to keep in mind: originality comes into play in many different aspects of story telling. It'd be unrealistic to suppose one can be original in *every* aspect.

    My short story, The Carrotfinger Man was in one sense not at all original, since I got the character himself from an old Breton folk tale.Related third-hand, no less. But having pixies dress up as the Carrotfinger Man to frighten unwary travelers, that was original. How did I know it was surprisingly interesting? Because I found it so. That's really it. The more I developed the idea, the more the pixie bit made me giggle. At which point I didn't really care if it was kinda original, though I was pretty sure few Breton folk tales find their way into fantasy books.

    In short, I don't look much at being original. I do look at whether the idea, as I look it over, feels like a story and feels like a story I should tell. There are plenty of stories in Altearth that I know I'll never write. Mainly because I have too many others that I *do* want to write.

    It's the wanting that's key. I have a file of story ideas and some of them look promising, but none of them clamor. None of them push their way forward, demanding to be written. Not all have been because I felt the need to say something, either original or interesting. Goblins, for example, is essentially the origin story for Altearth. I felt it was important to tell that story first, even though I barely had a cast and almost nothing as a plot. Goblins invade, get to the gates of Constantinople, are turned back. Yeesh. But it was my first novel and I knew that if I couldn't turn an invasion of the Roman Empire by a quarter million goblins into a story, then I wasn't a story teller. So it was sort of a personal challenge. IOW, there can be many different motivations for telling a particular story, but there must, absolutely must be a motivation for the author. Even if it's just to fulfill a contractual obligation. Without the motivation, the idea will remain an idea. Generic, original, has nothing to do with it.
  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Most pitches are developed after the screenplay, unless you have a track record. Pitches to sell unfinished works are one of the reasons for so many bad movies, heh heh. However, you can have a pitch length spiel about what you think a story is going to be about. Lots of folks will find this useful in boiling their story down. When working on the query letter for Eve of Snows, something hit me... and I went and added a small but key element. Getting to the essence can be useful, before, during, and after writing the work. It doesn't need to be formal.

    I am absolutely not a figure out the entire story before I write it kind of person, LOL.

  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    That's an important thing to say, Demesnedenoir. Any story will benefit from the author trying to get at the essence before, during and after the writing. A common mistake, imo, is to lose that focus (or never to have gained it).

    Fan: what's your new book about?
    Author: about 120,000 words.
    Firefly and Demesnedenoir like this.
  19. I'm not sure you're actually disagreeing.

    The OP gave a bunch of basic story concepts and expressed concern that they were too generic. But it's my opinion that story concepts don't really have any inherent merit or lack thereof. Hence my post.

    What you're saying is that all the subsequent steps in the story development process are also made of ideas. But when we say "story idea," that's not really what we're referring to. What you're referring to would fall under execution imo.

    I mean, what about writing *doesn't* fall under a broad interpretation of the word idea?
  20. Anyway, my point was that what OP has is some *extremely* early stage stories, not even baby stories, maybe not even seeds, maybe just the bare ingredients/genetic material/whatever stops this metaphor from totally breaking down. And you really can't even attach judgments to them at this point past whether you see a way of developing them and whether you like them. Nothing about this state can predict much. A "bad" story concept may not really exist. After all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a thing. Slots of books have been published that could be pitched identically but that still are distinct and have their own audiences.

    I can come up with a hundred pitches that could be turned into good stories under the right circumstances in a day. I think the most important thing at that point is figuring out what makes you excited and what makes you want to go further.

    Not to mention that more often than not, what you think of as the basic concept often evolves a LOT over time...

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