Writing Tips / Why a Good Idea Isn’t Good Enough

Since moving to California, for some reason, Brian and I have been going to a lot of movies. Maybe it’s because I’m very white and the sun is very bright. And as much as I love the glassy water and endless mountains with which we are surrounded, I quickly tire of being red, blotchy, and fussy.

So, here is a visual of us on your average Friday: One large popcorn, which he chomps unabashedly throughout the two hour feature. A kombucha for me, brutally shaken from its time hiding in my purse, and thus exploding all over the floor. A box of vegan chocolate chip cookies. Hand holding, but no necking.

God bless Brian, he always sees the movie I want to see. I love that guy. But, God bless me, I love movies where stuff gets blown up, preferably in space. I’ve never dragged him to a chick flick. This may be why we get along so well.

The other evening, we saw Allegiant. And before you panic, yes, I’ve read the books. I’m basic, but I’m not that basic.

I get a total kick out of the movies. They’re action packed, visually exciting with all their CGI, all that crap I expect when I pay ten dollars to be mindlessly entertained. Now, please refrain from stoning me, but I really disliked the Divergent book series. I said no stoning! Allow me to explain.

I thought the initial idea was stunning. The world, the simulations, especially the faction system. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this was a case of an underworked idea. This is something I strongly caution any fellow writer against. If you get a good idea, don’t get excited. Let it simmer (this is the phrase Brian always spews when I tell him I have a new tattoo idea).

Okay, you can get your rocks in a second; stay with me for now. Here are three stellar book series ideas:

  1. A boy doesn’t know he’s a wizard, and winds up going to wizarding school. Little does he know, he is the chosen one, the boy destined to defeat the powers of evil.
  2. In a futuristic America, every year twenty four children are randomly selected to fight in an arena to the death. It’s up to one free-thinking teenage girl to turn over the totalitarian Capitol.
  3. In a dystopian world, five factions representing five different values exist to separate the people into groups that define them. The system, however, breaks down, and chaos ensues when the truth about the system is revealed.

Sound familiar? Without knowing anything about Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or Divergent, if I were to simply read these three prompts, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea which would turn into the best, most well worked series.

In my opinion, Harry Potter is pure, indulgent, childlike genius. It is its own universe, filled with facts, opened and closed loops, perfect logic. Despite its incredible length, it spirals into an intensely climactic conclusion, a conclusion to which every detail of every novel has propelled the reader.

The Hunger Games is a significant step down. I thought the first book was the best, which is a sure sign, at least to me, that it was the idea, not the actual writing, which was so interesting. The obvious idea was to have Katniss in the games, and to portray the horrors of them. This was the most compelling part of the series, and the ending was, therefore, somewhat of a letdown. That said, I definitely enjoyed the series as a light, quick read.

And down we go on the ladder to Divergent. The writing of the series was frank, short, and clinical. While it was a brilliant world to create, and I certainly applaud Veronica Roth for her creativity, imagination, and success, I felt it was missing a final layer. The layer I find comes from the very last edit, the one so many writers don’t have time or energy for. It was missing a beating heart. It was missing theme strength and justification of character choice, areas in which the other two series soared.

The differences in the quality of these series has nothing to do with their initial ideas, but the time and energy expended, and the willingness to let the plot spin upward and outward, not downward and into itself.

My final appeal to avoid death by bludgeoning is this: If you love the series, love it! You do you, boo. I’m not trying to be a reading snob over here. Read what makes you happy; it’s why we read in the first place. These aren’t tips for readers to stick to, but thoughts for writers to mull over as they pursue their own creations.

Thanks for thinking it through with me!

Happy reading, and smart writing!

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