Ideas, I’ve Had a Few

Ideas, I’ve had a few, but then again, too many to matter.

About… oh, dear lord, 15? years ago now, I was at a conference, with a bunch of my old friends (and a few enemies) and this kid on the front row of a panel, young as yesterday and green as a leek, wanted to ask us about an idea he had and its viability in the market.

But before he asked, he swore the panel of three writers and two editors to honesty. “Promise me you won’t steal my idea!” he said, because his idea — he said — was that original, that fresh, that amazing.

We rolled our eyes so far we saw the back of our craniums and we solemnly pinky swore.

And then he started with “Okay so there is this mysterious shop, that has all sorts of magical or perhaps alien artifacts.”

Friends, writers, countrymen…. The groan resulting from that could be heard from Jupiter. And probably from a little curious shop in Jupiter.

It didn’t matter of course. And none of us said the kid shouldn’t write the story.

What makes a story is not the idea — which is why ideas aren’t copyrightable — but the execution: characters, setting, actual words from a work that are stolen to another work. That is infringement.

But the more general the idea the less copyrightable. You can run out tomorrow and write a series of novels about an outfit that hunts monsters. I wouldn’t call it Monster Hunter International, and I wouldn’t give the characters the same personalities, because that would be sailing too close to the wind.

But you could write an outfit that hunts disguised aliens among us. Yes, I’m telling you about it, even though the Alien Hunter series is in my idea file. And I have characters and everything for it. (Imagine Dyce Dare’s twin recruited — accidentally, need I say it — to an outfit that hunts disguised aliens among us.) Why am I telling you that? Because you could write it tomorrow, and it would bear no relation to the idea in my head.

The problem is not coming up with ideas (or making them ultra special.) The problem — in my case — is stopping the ideas from surfacing.

And I’m special, as always, so I don’t get an idea for a story or a book. Oh, no. I get ideas for series.

I have more of these waiting than I can tell you.

I overheard someone at a party say “I think a story with a guy like Harry Dresden, in space, going around in a beat up spaceship, solving magical mysteries would be amazing.) And boom, I had a series. I just haven’t written it yet. But I have three books already in my head.

Someone invited me for a “strange heroes” anthology, and Rhodes was born (and yes, there are others started, but the last year has been interesting.)

Then there was the night my older son was helping me do dishes and said, out of nowhere “What if hell got taken over by a six year old girl, and festooned with everything pink, and–” And Deep Pink appeared.

It’s not easy living in my head, with all these ideas. sometimes I can’t sleep for all the characters arguing with each other.

I don’t want to steal your ideas. No working writer does. What we would like is a way to give Valium to some of ours, so they wait quietly.

There is an old joke about sending a SASE to some small town to get back a list of ideas.

I’m not doing that. I just with the idea central would love my address. Or at least have the decency not to beam them straight into my head.

Don’t give me your ideas. I’m on the run from mine.

46 thoughts on “Ideas, I’ve Had a Few

  1. I have this story idea about a cranky old beta reader and copy editor waiting oh so patiently while all his stable of authors keep promising that they will have their latest to him any day now.

    1. Oh, dear Lord. Yes sir. See, the problem is I got this massive allergy to…. mosquito repellent. It refuses to settle down, and if I don’t take benadryl at night it gets worse, and if I do it makes me dopey.

      1. When I took the job on it was understood that the occasional nag and whip crack were an essential part of the duties. Does it work? Of course not, but I do it just to let the precious darlings know I still care.

          1. Very Trying? [Very Big Crazy Grin While Flying Away Very Very Fast]

  2. Hm. I don’t have a whole stable of ideas. I have ONE idea, but it’s such a big badass wonderful idea trailing a company of lesser ideas in its wake, each of those leading a horde of picky little details, that it’s hard to get out. I’m working on it. I’m working, or so I like to tell myself.

    1. This is how it starts. Then somewhere in the process of that Idea. Another one will sneak up on you, and bring a trickling trail of other things. And somewhere in there another one will sneak up on you. And so it goes until you look behind you and realize the ideas are gaining, and they brought friends and now would be a really good time to RUN.

    2. So, you’re Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehog, instead of a fox. (The fox knows a bit about many things. The hedgehog knows one big thing.) *Looks at Confutus’ Gravatar image* Yep!

      1. Well I wouldn’t carry that generalization too far, While I also lay claim to being a generalist who knows a little bit about a great many things, my big thing is the unity of knowledge. As far as the Gravatar image, well, I *am* a 4th generation native of Arizona. (said in best Crazy Cora accent)

  3. I’d imagine in other people, the phase “Granny samurai vs the planet of the Aztecs” probably conjures up a different image than fifty pounds of very wet otter wrapping itself around her face cheerfully shouting “People!”

  4. Ideas? I also have a few.

    One I labeled “Star Trek Done Correctly” which started from all the problems I saw with the Star Trek series (original) and how interstellar exploration would work. This one went through several changes but I lost my notes during moves.

    Second was “what if aliens had discovered Earth (in our past) and decided that humans would make good servants/slaves”. For reasons of plot, Earth isn’t aware that aliens are kidnapping humans and Earth’s history is different. Oh, the aliens (or a specific group of them) will learn that humans are “too much like them” to be good servants/slaves. 😈

    The third one is still rattling in my brain and is about super-beings starting to be common around 1900. It’s about how governments/society adjusts to these “Ultras” especially a group of Ultras that ruled Earth pre-history and are afraid that the events leading to their fall will occur again.

    For me, settings & characters are somewhat easy but creating a story around them is harder.

      1. Some of my characters would do worse than Bite!!!! [Very Big Crazy Grin]

  5. “What we would like is a way to give Valium to some of ours, so they wait quietly.”

  6. I keep thinking, “I’m out of ideas.” And then I read something, or see something, or chat with someone, and *BOOM* I’m attacked by a plot bunny. Or worse, a character drops a comment in a story and the Evil Muse smiles evilly and whispers, “You need to write that . . .” And so I have two stories set in Transylvania in the Middle Ages trying to make me write them. (One would fix a huge gaping plot FAIL in an otherwise OK Dracula film.)

  7. I know you guys wouldn’t have discouraged anyone from writing it, but I do wonder, did any of you subtly point him to the TV tropes page for “The Little Shop That Wasn’t There Yesterday”?

  8. I get story ideas having you under siege.

    I do not grok how series can arise from this.

    1. It works a bit like this:
      Story A chugs along, okay this divides logically into 3 related, but distinct chunks. (Yes, I commit trilogy, regularly)
      Along come stories B (probably 3 books), C (one maybe 2 books, but there’s a C2 side thing out there from an off handed comment by the Handsome Prince about his brother. So there’s another branch.), D (singleton, character history romp for support character in C), and E (deep history standalone or duology for A).

      Then all of the above inform me thier Evil Empire is the SAME evil empire and things get squirelly.

      My stories usually bring cool worlds with them. Cool worlds tend to have more stories than one.

    2. What happens after granny samurai has dealt the the planetwide Aztec problem?

      Wait, how did she get to be granny scary in the first place? That implies kids, and before that dating, like with actual boys.

      Also, grandkids tend to get up to things too.

      Zuko and Iroh may be different points on the same spectrum, but there’s a lot of events and growth between those points. And there’s always another Zuko coming.

    1. Oooh, wait, I think I have an idea for the mysterious shop story.

      The Little Shop That Wasn’t There Yesterday is actually run by a writer trying to get rid of all the excess ideas in her head. Sometimes the ideas manifest themselves as little toys, sometimes as paintings, but as soon as the buyer takes possession, he/she is filled with the urge to write about it. It’s great for someone who wants to start writing. However, the shop keeper warns you that you must only write about them while the sun is up. If you keep writing as dusk falls, the ideas will start to multiply…

      The only problem is that I think this is a dystopia. I can’t see it ending in any way other than the entire human race going insane.

  9. But…what if I share ideas so someone WILL steal them and do a better job than I can and then I both get to write mine and read theirs?

  10. Thanks to someone on Dave Freer’s post Monday, I was mugged by a plot bunny this afternoon. What if the Grey Man (the spirit of mines in Poland and parts of Austria) is tossed a child after her parents are killed by an evil mine manager/greedy shift supervisor? *whimper, whimper, whimper*

    1. ..and the Grey Man knows she’s been saved for a reason, but he doesn’t know WHAT reason, because he’s fey/otherworldly and doesn’t grok human morality… *doesn’t help at all*

    2. If that was the one Foxifier and I were hurling ideas around on, I’m terribly sorry. Well, not really 🙂 It would be very interesting to see just how different the ideas turn out 🙂

      1. It would be. Yours will probably be lighter on the Habsburg mining law and Styrian folk-lore than mine would be.

        1. Quite likely. Definitely need to write that.

          Just need to get through figuring out how to do a conversation between six different characters without using the word ‘said’ and maybe wrap up that other short idea I had half done. The structure is there, just need to research some stuff about moon phases and constellations to get the technical details right.

  11. And inducing them to play nicely together to make a good story. And to not get out of hand if they are the background of the story.

  12. Personally, I just have an all-consuming idea for an overarching story universe that has been living in my head for the last twenty years. My problem is that I can never seem to connect the bits and pieces into any kind of coherent story, I just end up with more and more bits and pieces with more and more gaps.

    1. One of the dangers of RPGs is that you can take the settings, history, characters and scenarios and use them for games. It really helps one not commit fiction.

      Nothing stops the pictures, though.

  13. Btw, Agatha Christie’s Peril At End House is currently available in KU….of course I borrowed it 🙂

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