26 November 2012

Poor Little Ideas

I hope everyone had a lovely, lovely Thanksgiving.

If yours was like mine, it was filled with too much food, a couple of family get-togethers, and no actual work.  I guess that’s one of the benefits of having family close by during the holidays.

I’ve been mulling over a statement by Brandon Sanderson lately.  I’ll share it with you and then tell you my thoughts on it, and then if you feel so inclined you share with the rest of us.

Mr. Sanderson says: “A bad idea written well will almost always be superior to a good idea written poorly.”

I figure he knows what he’s talking about, considering his books are brilliant and he’s a writing professor at a university and all.

It’s difficult for me to even think of a book I’ve read that was a bad idea written well.  I don’t think I can even think of a book that was a truly bad idea.  There are no bad ideas, just as there are no stupid questions.   (Didn’t you ever hear that in school?)  There are only ideas I, myself, don’t like.  So, here’s what I thought of that fit in that category:  

“The Messenger” by Markus Zusak.  Summed up, the book is about a no-account young man, about nineteen, who is going nowhere, doing nothing, and only interested in footy and his best friend, who is a girl he happens to love.  Suddenly, he begins getting messages, telling him what he should do.  Sometimes the messages leave the doing up to him.  He begins doing these things.  SPOILER ALERT It turns out at the end, that Mr. Zusak drops the fourth wall at the end of the book and let’s us know that he was the one sending the messages just so he could tell the story.  

I really didn’t care for the surprise at the end.  It wasn’t someone sending our young man messages, it was all a plot twist.  Blech.

But the writing.  Ah, the writing!  I felt like I’d meditated my way to nirvana, if there could be a lot of cussing in such a place.  Every line in that book was brilliant.  Genius.  Beautiful.  I would read it again just to get into nirvana a second time.

As for the other end of the spectrum, there is story after story I could list where the idea was good, but the writing detracted from it.  I won’t give examples of this because one never knows who is reading, and I’m sure my meanness would get back to someone, somehow.  Suffice it to say, I know some.  You probably do too.  (P.S. I don’t count what I said about “The Messenger” as being mean because I wasn’t insulting the man’s skill.  He’s got skills!  I was disagreeing with his idea.  Big difference.)

Oftentimes, like with Louis L’Amour, the storyteller is a good enough writer to make the writing invisible and the story looms large in our minds.  Other times, like with Charles Dickens, his writing gets out of the way long enough for a story to be compelling.  

So, the big question a lot of people like to ask is: where do you get your ideas?  But I would like to submit this alternative (Lots of colons in use today):  How do you get your ideas to tell a well-written story?

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