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Your Most Hated Tropes Explained: Instalove

Every once in awhile a poll comes around on book and writers groups. “What trope do you hate the most?” the poll will inevitably ask. The responses are varied, although there are a few that are nearly universally reviled. This made me wonder — if these tropes are so hated, why do they keep appearing in fiction? Where do they come from? And is it possible, that despite our protestations to the contrary, we don’t actually hate these tropes as much as we claim to?

So, let’s start with the much maligned romantic trope “instalove.” Instalove is particularly common in Young Adult fiction, and basically, involves a couple falling in love, well, instantly. Instalove doesn’t necessarily mean love at first sight, but it does involve an accelerated relationship trajectory. Perhaps two young people who have only barely met each other are professing their deepest love by the midway mark. Sometimes they are thrown together by outside forces — a school project, a magical quest, a murder mystery — that require them to work closely. Sometimes it is indeed love at first sight — a soulmate bond or just a feeling, butterflies in the stomach, a tingling. Whatever the scenario, instalove is a popular trope.

The reason most people cite for hating instalove is that it is unrealistic. But is it really? Think back to when you were a teenager, in the throes of your first crush. I remember my first boyfriend well. We went from friends to lovers within the space of a weekend. No slow burn for us, we decided we liked each other, and by the next month we were exchanging “I love yous.” As young people we are often reckless when it comes to love, and that’s what makes young love itself such an enduring theme. Even grown adults feel nostalgic for that heady rush of first love, (which probably accounts in large part for why YA literature is popular even among adult readers), and young love would not be the same if it were the product of careful and logical planning. First love makes us irrational, it makes us impulsive, it makes us ultra-focused on our relationship, and in turn, our significant other, and magnifies their importance in our lives. First love, for many of us, may be our one and only “epic love story.” Is it any wonder that adults look back upon it nostalgically, and teenagers (those who desire romantic relationships, that is) look forward to it impatiently?

So do we really hate instalove? Of course not. Many of us have experienced instalove ourselves. When we say we hate this trope, what we are really saying is that we hate it when we are told two characters have a connection but we just aren’t feeling it. This mostly arises from an over-reliance on telling, constantly telling us that the characters love each other but never actually showing it. Consider, however, the insta-love relationship in Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star. The entire narrative, which is primarily a love story (but also so much more), takes place over the course of one day. The whole premise is instalove, but The Sun is Also a Star takes the trope and flaunts it when the male lead, Daniel, declares that he can make the female lead, Natasha, fall in love with him in just a day, and proceeds to do so. Yoon makes us believe in these characters and their love. Daniel says, near the end of the book, “I didn’t know you this morning, and now I don’t remember not knowing you,” encapsulating the speed and intensity of young love. Throughout the book, Yoon doesn’t simply state that her characters are falling in love, she takes us on their journey,  and as we run through the streets of New York with Daniel and Natasha, we witness their love story unfold. By the end of the book we are as “all in” as the characters themselves are.

With instalove, as with many other tropes, the trope itself is not actually the problem, but rather, the execution of it that makes the story fall flat. When instalove is executed correctly even an adult reader like myself, who is several decades removed from the experience, can easily remember those first few days in a new relationship and the intensity of those feelings. It’s not unrealistic, in fact, it’s almost too realistic. When we grow up, most of us realize that a whirlwind romance is not always the best basis for a lasting partnership, but there is still something enchanting about the idea, something that can evoke all sorts of feelings, from fondness to longing. Writers with good instincts for romance writing will create a natural feeling relationship regardless of the length of time the characters have known each other, and those without good instincts can always learn how to create more believable relationships. In short, instalove is not the problem, poor writing is.

General Writing

The Spine of the Story

For me, one of the key concepts of writing is the spine of the story: what the story is about, or the theme, if you’re an English major. William Goldman the author of The Princess Bride, named the concept in Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell? He was referring to screenplays, but the concept holds true for fiction as well, whether for entire novels, or for chapters, individual scenes, or even paragraphs. Until you discover the spine, your writing is apt to be directionless or colorless, except by accident.

As Goldman explains, the spine is not the plot. The plot is a sequence of events, with later event caused by earlier ones. Instead, the spine is what you want writers to think about the events of the plot. For example, imagine your plot is about how an unknown person of obscure beginnings rises to become emperor. The same events could have many different spines: how ambition corrupts, how humble people are to be relied on rather those in powers, how youthful dreams are corrupted with maturity, or any of a dozen others. Which one you choose is entirely up to you, and probably you won’t discover it until well into the first draft, or until the second. However, once you have found the spine, you know what to include and what to exclude. Sometimes, knowing the spine can also suggest new directions for the story. The same is true for sub-plots as much as main plots

Possibly, discovering the spine, it can take you out of the trap I fell into two-thirds of the way through my first draft. I kept writing, and each chapter read well in itself. However, reading my latest chapters together, I had to admit that they seemed directionless. I had lost all concept of where the story was heading, and each chapter became harder to write than the previous one. At last, as I ground to a crawl, I went back and thought about the story until I found the spine. I retreated several chapters, and I am currently re-writing with the spine in mind. So far, the result feels a far strong story. I even discovered a small sub-plot to reinforce the main one.

On a smaller scale, I wrote scene in which a small group was traveling, hoping to meet others going the opposite direction and faced with the possibility of pursuit. I told what happened, but the story had all the life of a breaded cod. So I considered the spine, and to me it was obvious that the group would be anxious– increasingly so as neither of the events anticipated happened. As simply as that, the scene had tension and was far more interesting to read.

There is a catch, however. Although Goldman did not mention the fact, I find that knowing the spine works best if your narrative never mentions it, or any near synonym. Instead, knowing the spine should be the criteria for deciding details. For example, I never once mention that my anxious group is anxious, or nervous or uneasy. Rather, the spine suggests details: everyone walks faster, they stop singing, and keep looking to their weapons. In other words, the spine I assigned tells me the kind of effects I want.

What I like about Goldman’s concept is that it is a way to think rationally about the creative problems of writing. It is not required, yet when I examine scenes I wrote without thinking about the spine, I find those that are most effective have a unity of detail similar to those written when I did. I find the spine a way around any difficulties, and a best practice as well. Increasingly, it is becoming a standard tool when I write.

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Defeat the Bad Guys: Portraying Colonization in Fiction

A group of scrappy rebels from an underdog nation bravely fighting back against their oppressors is a staple of fantasy and science fiction, to such an extent that in some cases, our views on colonialism and imperialism are shaped more by what we’ve seen in fiction than what we’ve experienced in real life. Let’s face it, most readers, particularly white readers, have little direct experience with colonization. Even those of us in former colonies are several generations removed from our own colonial experiences, and while our nations’ cultures were certainly shaped by our colonial past, citizens of today lack the direct experience of having our bodies violated, our land stolen from us, our languages obliterated, our customs and cultures marginalized.

Fictional portrayals of colonization and imperialism are, necessarily, tales of violence. Fiction does not err when it portrays the brutality of colonization, but these portrayals are, nevertheless, often lacking in nuance. The conquerors are bad, the people are oppressed, and they need someone to save them. While so-called “chosen one” narratives are a staple of fiction, and have been for as long as humans can remember, pairing chosen one narratives with narratives of imperial oppression simplifies complex issues and further, places the blame for a group’s continual oppression solely upon the oppressed. The people just need a hero, or so the story goes, and if they do not have one, they need to find one, even if it means looking to outsiders to save the day. This narrative forgets the fact that rarely, if ever, has revolution been accomplished due to the efforts of one individual, and empires are much harder to dismantle than most fiction gives the credit for.

History is filled with far more tales of failed revolutions than successful ones. It wasn’t until the Haitian revolution, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, for instance, that an entire group of enslaved people successfully and permanently cast off their oppressors. While enslaved people have, throughout history, rebelled in ways large and small, for the most part these rebellions ended tragically. Rebellion against colonial control is also, historically, a tale filled with more tragedy than triumph. Going back to Ancient times practically every nation conquered by Rome — Britain, Gaul, Judea, Mauritania — tried to rebel against it at some point or another. Indians in India revolted against British rule, the First Nations of the United States and Canada fought wars against their colonizers. Revolutions don’t always fail, of course, but when they succeed, timing is usually a key factor. Vietnam’s defeat of France and then later the United States came at a time when both countries were exhausted by war and unwilling to continue fighting. The liberation of Spanish colonies in South and Central America came at a time when Spain was in a general decline. Revolutions can succeed, but when they do not, it is rarely because the revolutionaries lacked a good leader, didn’t have enough heart, or even because they lacked military know-how. They failed because empires are designed to be self-perpetuating and toppling them is incredibly difficult.

Fiction has a disturbing tendency to treat successful revolution as a fight of individuals, instead of institutions. While revolutions may need a figurehead, an empire is not like a snake, cut off the head and it dies. Nor either, is a successful revolution simply a matter of leadership, otherwise Tecumseh, one of the most talented strategists of the 19th century (and leader of a large multi-tribe confederacy united in fighting against the United States) would have succeeded. It isn’t simply a matter of heart, either, otherwise the native peoples of North and South America, who loved their way of life with all of their hearts, would have pushed back their colonizers. While the pretty speech in which the exiled ruler rallies the troops to take back their stolen home may sound lovely, it simplifies a nuanced problem.

Empires are complex organisms. They have multiple mechanisms in place that which serve to perpetuate oppression. Many fictional stories based upon defeating empires take the defeat of the evil monarch — an emperor, usually — as the objective. Kill the king and the empire falls, or so the story goes. In real life, however, empires are not constructed by one man, nor are they dismantled in the same way. The emperor dies, and a new one rises in his place. Heart alone does not defeat infrastructure, military might, and psychological warfare.

Empires are constructed with built in fail-safes which ensure that they continue beyond the lifespan of one person. A scrappy band of rebels defeating the big bad empire is a nice pipe dream, but it also dangerously ignores the insidious power or colonization. Colonization is often successful in the short term because when colonization occurs the colonizers immediately set to work winning over the hearts and minds of at least some of the colonized. The Romans brought roads and aqueducts to even the far flung corners of their empire. The Chinese freed the Tibetan serfs. The British brought political infrastructure and widespread education to India. It is not uncommon for colonizers to improve the lives of at least some of the colonized, thus winning over certain hearts and minds. In every colonized society, there are stories of collaboration, divided loyalties, and self-preservation. This is not at all to say that the colonized peoples are better off under their colonizers, but that rarely did colonizers exercise and maintain colonial control through unrelenting brutality. Colonies that were based upon abject brutality tended to fall quicker (such as that of King Leopold, in the Congo Free State) than those that maintained at least a facade of benevolence (a benevolence usually carefully meted out to the chosen classes, often, but not always, the elites).

Colonization is insidious. It replaces and erases native language, culture, political structures until it is often impossible to return to the original state, because that state has either been forgotten or dismantled to such an extent that it is impossible to recreate without massive societal disruption. While many in Tibet call, for instance, for Tibetan freedom, what Tibetan freedom would look like, after years under Chinese rule, is certainly a vastly different thing than what it would have looked like had the Chinese never arrived. Could all ethnic Chinese be expelled from Tibet? Could schools revert to the Tibetan language, even though there are generations of youngsters with only an imperfect knowledge of that language? Even among Tibetans, there are those now that advocate that the best thing for Tibet is to forget about independence and learn to make nice with its colonial masters. Colonization is insidious. A scrappy band of rebels may be able to over throw one leader, but can they dismantle the mechanisms of oppression and erasure? It’s easier said than done, certainly.

While a simple tale of a fight between good and evil, the oppressed against their oppressors, may be temping, consider the implications of simplifying these stories. A narrative that denies the nuanced way that empires exercise control and distills them into simple cookie-cutter villains is not a narrative that is helpful to the oppressed. It places the responsibility for their own oppression squarely on their own shoulders, ignoring the complex ways that erasure of identity, language, and culture are used as methods of control. This, along with the control of political structures and economic resources, often make traditional forms of resistance — the good old fashioned fight between the good guys and the bad guys — at best ineffective and at worst impossible.

Author’s note: I wanted to recommend a few books were colonization is handled well, and I actually rather struggled to come up with even a handful of titles. However, I do unreservedly recommend Tash Suri’s duology, Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash. These two books, and especially the second one, deal with complex and nuanced issues surrounding identity, erasure, and colonial control, set in a rich fantasy world inspired by Mughal India. 

Another book recommended by co-blogger Bruce is Malafrena, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which depicts an imaginary European country rebelling against the Austrian Empire. 

 

Fiction

The Non-Cliffhanger Cliffhanger

One day, I am going to write a book or blog about the basic strategies for ending a story. When I taught composition at Simon Fraser University, I had handouts on starting and ending strategies for essays, so if I research, theoretically I can do the same for short stories and novels. Towards that goal, I would like to comment on one of the most unusual conclusions I have ever seen: the end of King Chondos’ Ride by my late friend Paul Edwin Zimmer. At first glance, it looks like a cliffhanger, but, on closer inspection, it is a graceful economy of storytelling in which what happens next is obvious.

Paul Edwin Zimmer was a founder of the Society for Creative Anachronism and the younger brother of Marion Zimmer Bradley. Given the revelations about his sister’s child abuse, I should quickly add that he was nothing like his sister, and would have been horrified had he known what she did. He published a handful of fantasies, all of which are sadly out of print, but deserve to be better known. King Chondos’ Ride is the second book of The Dark Border, following The Lost Prince. The story has too many battle scenes for my taste, but is brilliantly structured, with characters who contrast each other and together make up a study of what it means to be a hero that is unequalled anywhere.

Paul told me that the ending is inspired by William Morris’ “The Defence of Guenevere.” In the poem, Guenevere, King Arthur’s Queen, is on trial for adultery with Sir Launcelot. Guenevere mounts a spirited defense, insisting that she was put in the impossible position of having to choose between two splendid men, and implying that while she may have broken her marriage vows, she had remained loyal to Arthur. The last three verses are:

“All I have said is truth, by Christ’s dear tears.”

She would not speak another word, but stood

Turn’d sideways; listening, like a man who hears

His brother’s trumpet sounding through the wood

Of his foes’ lances. She leaned eagerly,

And gave a slight spring sometimes, as she could

At last hear something really; joyfully

Her cheek grew crimson, as the headlong speed

Of the roan charger drew all men to see,

The knight who came was Launcelot at good need.

There is no need to go on to describe Launcelot’s battle to rescue her. To do so would detract from Guenevere’s spirited defence. Besides, writing in the Victorian Age, Morris could take for granted that his characters would know that Launcelot would rescue her. The few who might not know the story could gather from the final verses that a rescue was on the way.

In his book, Paul set up a similar situation, making anything beyond his final paragraph redundant. Early in The Dark Border, Istvan and Martos, two of the main characters, are separately attacked on the streets by gangs of men. Both survive, although seriously outnumbered.

At the conclusion, the plot to replace the king of the land with his evil twin is discovered and foiled. The twin flees into obscurity. Through tragic circumstances, Istvan kills Martos, who has been deceived by the evil twin and believes he defends the rightful king. Istvan’s victory leaves no doubt that he is the greatest living swordsmen in the land. Istvan notices a door ajar and opens it to discover supporters of the evil twin who are in wait to kill the greatest in the land and create chaos, unaware that they have been abandoned. The supporters move towards him, thinking “it was only one man.”

The final paragraph reads simply: “Then the greatest of living warriors was among them, and his sword was singing.”

It’s an economic piece of writing that never fails to make my heart leap. Like Morris before him, Paul has stopped exactly at the point where what happens next is inevitable. Obviously, undeniably, Istvan is about to slaughter the supporters of the evil brother. With his twin gone, the true king will reign uncontested. Readers can fill in the details for themselves, so why belabor what they already know? Lesser writers like me would probably provide an epilogue to leave no doubt, and really bad writers might provide another chapter or even another book, but Paul knew better.

In order to work, this tactic requires careful setup. The story has to unfold in such a way that what comes after the final paragraph cannot be mistaken. Even then, readers may mistake it for a cliffhanger. After King Chondos’ Ride was released, so many came up to Paul at conventions to ask when the next book would be published that he took to wearing a button that said, “There is no third book” and would simply point at it when asked. I never could figure out what they expected, since all the plot points had been resolved, but it points to a possible weakness: unobservant readers conditioned by cliché.

So far, I have never dared to imitate Paul’s tactic. Still, I admire its chutzpah, and one day I hope to find a situation where it is appropriate.

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Quit Your Day Job

Despite the sea of advice that says “don’t quit your day job,” I have decided to do just that. I am going to quit my day job.

I’m also going to tell you how you can do the same.

For writers, it can be difficult to juggle a nine to five job and also get writing done. Trust me, I know. For the past decade or so, I’ve managed to write while also working as a teacher. Teaching is a mentally and emotionally demanding job, and sometimes teaching has taken its toll on my ability to write consistently. I have often lamented about how, if I only had a less demanding job, if I only had more time to myself, fewer outside stressors, fewer drains upon my emotions, I could write more, an write better.

Finally, this year, I reached a point where I decided that instead of lamenting this, I needed to get myself into a position where I could continue to make a livable income while also having the time and energy to focus on writing.

So, my first decision was to work at home. Over the years, with the help of the website Rat Race Rebellion(I am not paid for this plug, I just love this site that much!) I have found many “side-gigs” that I can do from home. Jobs such as freelance blogging, standardized test scoring, transcribing, have given me, over the years a nice little source of supplemental income, while also helping me build up a nice portfolio. The thing about these sorts of gigs is that they are abundant, and, if you’re good with words, as most writers are, relatively easy to land. They aren’t always highly paid, but they will pay better than a retail or service industry job, and can open the door to other, more well paying gigs.

For me, the bulk of my freelance income will come from academic editing. When I previously lived in China, I was a college applications consultant, helping Chinese students to craft their applications to American universities. I enjoyed the work immensely (I only worked for ethical companies, and never helped students cheat), and wanted to continue it in America. Luckily, I found several companies that I could collaborate with, and this turned out to be the the avenue which would eventually give me the financial confidence to quit my day job.

Of course, there is risk involved in giving up a steady income with benefits and insurance for the rather more precarious existence of a freelancer. And anyone who thinks that you’ll work less as a freelancer has clearly never freelanced. The difference, however, is that the work will be on your terms, setting your own hours, choosing your own tasks. The mental toll that modern employment takes on most of us is oftentimes entirely incompatible with long term and productive creative ventures. Our world has conditioned us to believe that we must work, we must have that full time job, that steady paycheck, and we must live our lives on someone else’s terms. It is entirely counter to our nature as human beings, who after all spent the vast majority of our time as a species on this planet living in egalitarian bands dividing labor among ourselves according to our skills and abilities. Shared economies — work from home opportunities, Uber, AirBnB, Etsy and others fill a gap that has been missing from modern capitalist life. That is to say, that desire you feel, to work on your own terms, to work according to your ability, to set your own worth — that’s natural. You’re not wrong for feeling that way.

This is all to say, if you have the urge to drop out of the rat race, don’t discount the possibility right away. While you may find, after research, that a stead day job is the best way for you to support your writing aspirations, you also may find that there are other ways to make a living for yourself without sacrificing time, energy, and emotion that could be better spent on your creative endeavors. I hope that reading my story might inspire some of you, those of you who wake up dreaming of quitting your job, those of you who wonder “what if I just didn’t go back?” those of you who know in your heart of hearts that you want more out of life than what you currently have, and show you that it is indeed possible. Be brave, think creatively, and it can happen.

General Writing

Vocabulary Gingerbread

I would have thought that George Orwell’s famous essay, “Politics and the English Language,” said everything about the importance of clarity in writing that is necessary to say. However, Orwell wrote seventy-two years ago, and his examples of bad writing seem dated today. Consequently, many people today have never read “Politics.” Even would-be writers often believe that the key to writing well is to expand their vocabulary — not to learn how to express themselves more precisely, but as an ornament like the gingerbread along the eaves of a Victorian house.

For those who have never read “Politics,” the essay takes the position that the purpose of writing is to communicate effectively. According to Orwell, any writing that helps that goal is worth developing, while any that interferes with that goal should be avoided, and is probably due to an additional motive, either to obscure an opinion or to impress readers. To aid in communication, “Politics” suggests these basic rules:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules are more flexible than they may appear at first glance. In particular, notice that Orwell does not suggest always replacing a long word for a short one — only when the short one will do. For example, in many cases, “big” serves well enough, but if you want to suggest largeness so exaggerated as to be humorous, “gargantuan” is more exact.

Orwell’s emphasis on clarity has always seemed common sense to me, perhaps because I worked for several years as a technical writer, whose job was to give steps in a procedure so that readers could understand a task and successfully carry it out without any danger. So far as vocabulary goes, it implies that the purpose of knowing a lot of words is to improve your clarity.

In contrast to Orwell, modern schools tend to teach vocabulary as an end itself. Students are marked for knowing the meaning of a word, rather than for using a word effectively, a practice that makes for easy marking, but does nothing to educate. Instead, people come away from school with the belief that a large vocabulary is the secret of writing well. If students are learning English as a second languge, this belief may be justified, because their vocabulary may be genuinely limited. However, even when the attitude makes sense, what students come away with is the conviction that the purpose of writing is to impress with their knowledge. Even when students remember their vocabulary drills, the knowledge does little good, because the purpose of communication is obscured.

In extreme cases, this basic purpose is lost altogether to aspiring writing. A large vocabulary, some writers insist, is part of their style, and to suggest that they change it (even for legitimate reasons) is nothing less than an attack on their freedom of expression. Implicit in this belief is that their style is precious, and the most important part of their writing — more important, even, than communicating with readers. On Facebook groups, I have even hear writers claim that, by using large words, they provide some sort of service by educating readers, as though their readers (often theoretical, at this point) clamored to be educated while reading.

Some even become more arrogant. Told that their purpose is to communicate, or adjust their vocabulary to suit the audience, some writers explode. They talk about how they are being asked to “dumb down” and sooner or later, words like “pander” or “prostitute” are apt to come into the discussion. So far as I can understand, they do not feel any obligation to reach out to readers. Instead, readers are supposed to come to them, while they stand by to receive worship and gaps of wonder.

I suggest that these motives are as corrupt as they could possibly be. Far from developing any style worth writing or admiring, the writers who holds them are seriously hampering any chance of developing into successful writers. After all, if you start by despising your readers, how can you hope to ever catch their attention? The chances are, would-be readers will sense your arrogance, and walk away from the unsung genius contained in your work.

Far from dumbing down, to be aware of readers and to write to the appropriate audience are skills that are far more challenging than spicing your writing with long or obscure words. As Isaac Asimov, another champion of simple language, once observed, stain glass has existed since classical times, but clear glass is only a couple of centuries old, and the product of an advanced technology.

Instead of defending your precious style, try to write more effectively. You will only increase your chances of publication if you do.

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Why No One Wants to Steal Your Idea (and if anyone does, why you shouldn’t sweat it)

 

Jump into any writer’s forum online and you won’t have to scroll very far to find newbie writers terrified that someone will steal their ideas (which are, of course, all very valuable and definitely worth stealing). How do you ever manage to get feedback, they lament, when the internet is just crawling with people ready to pilfer your precious ideas? The replies are invariably filled with plenty of validation for this belief: Never share an idea, they say! Put a copyright on everything! Don’t even tell people that you’re writing something!

I’m here to tell you this belief is not true. No one wants your idea.

No, not even yours, reader. Yes, I understand it is a Very Good Idea. Still.

Now, I know people will appear from out the woodwork with stories of how a friend of a friend had a Very Good Idea stolen. Inevitably, these Very Good Ideas will have gone on to become full blown novels, sometimes even Hollywood movies. Others will claim to have sold ideas, as if there was a market for such things. A subscription service, perhaps.

I’m sure, in the entire history of the internet, it has happened at some point or another. Ideas have been stolen, and grave injustice has been perpetrated upon innocent idea-havers who would otherwise have gone on to fame and fortune. “Wizarding school, that was my idea!” they cry.

Sad though these stories are, as writers, they should concern us not at all. We’ve all heard the saying “opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.” Well, ideas are a little bit like that too. Ideas are everywhere, available free of charge. However, an idea does not make a book. An idea is simply that — a vague notion, something that might, with time and effort, take shape and become a book, a movie, a work of art. An idea is worthless in and of itself. The polishing of the idea, the development of the characters, the worldbuilding, the plot, the tension, the stakes the research, the detail  — well, you get it. All of this is what it takes to turn an idea into a book. Needless to say, ideas are the easy part.

What’s more, two different artists can take one idea and turn it into two very different things. Look no further than the various adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays to see how an idea (or even an entire plot) can play out in various different ways. Disney’s The Lion King is Hamlet played out with animals, whereas Ten Things I Hate About You is The Taming of the Shrew set in a high school. So even if someone does steal your Very Good Idea, do not fret. Chances are their book and yours will come out entirely different in the end.

Finally, and most importantly, writers don’t need to steal ideas. Ideas are perhaps the one thing that most writers have in abundance. We might lack the time to write every idea that we’ve ever had. We might lack the skills to turn a complex idea into a competent novel. We might even lack the creative energy needed to turn a simple idea into a fully fledged work of art. Ideas are the easy part. Writing those ideas is what’s hard. Currently I have at least five different novel ideas (aside from my main work-in-progress) simply waiting for me to write them. My critique partners have similar backburner ideas. Every writer worth their salt is constantly getting inspired by their world and experiences. The ideas are not the hard part.

Here is a controversial opinion: The writers who believe that their ideas are the best part about their writing are the writers who will have a hard time ever completing a novel. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting inspired by new ideas, but I also know that the journey from idea to completed novel is a long and arduous one. I will have many ideas as I grow as a writer. Some will become books, and some will not. Worry less about the ideas, and more about what it takes to become the sort of writer that can transform ideas into works of art.