Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Repeat After Me: Ideas Are Not Stories

So I'm reading the Tales of Enchantment and Fantasy anthology and I run across a story entitled "Graveyard Shift" by Andrea L. Peterson. Of course when I read the introduction editor's preface, I already suspected "Graveyard Shift" was a story that had a similar concept to a story that I was writing*. Suffice to say, if I had to pitch my concept while in an elevator, I'd combine the words "call center" and "vampires".

Anyway, moving back to the blog entry that's not supposed to be an essay**, panicking or getting downtrodden is a common reaction among aspiring writers (and, uh, some published writers that I know of). Here's a helpful mantra: ideas are not stories. Let me repeat: ideas are not stories!

First off, kudos to Peterson for her story. Second--and here's the important lesson--there's more to a story than just the idea. A well-written story isn't well-written solely because of the idea. Heck, even the most mind-boggling sci-fi idea won't make a good science fiction story. What makes a story work is the writing. Some people call it the discourse, the execution, etc. And you know what, even if me and Peterson were working on the same concept, we'd still end up with entirely different stories.

Two stories later, I'm reading "The Sniffles" by Carljoe Javier, which is this comedic story that involves a deal with the devil. Sounds familiar? The entire incident (two concepts of mine, not necessarily the story) gave me a big LOL. And again, it doesn't matter if the concept is similar to my story "The Devil is in the Details". Because Javier wrote an entirely different (and enjoyable) story. Kudos to him too.

So what happens when someone else comes up with a similar concept as you? Don't panic, take a deep breath, and remember: ideas are not stories.

*My story is crap. I've gone through my third or fourth draft and I'm still figuring out how to make it work.

**If I wanted to turn this into an essay, I'd expound at how people really enjoyed The Matrix (not the sequels!) not because of the ideas it presented but rather how it utilized those ideas in the film... and the cool fight scenes.

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