Ideas are cheap

Dearest Great Wizard of All That Is Snark:

Although, like many ladies, I work full time out of the house, and surely to God (it feels like) full time in the house, and must also tend my pesky muse who refuses to give up on my perhaps unfortunate dream of publication, still I don't have hundreds......thousands........millions.............of hopeful writers hanging onto my every keystroke and flooding my office with queries, partials and fulls. Yes, I realize that even in the day of the great Snark, there are only 24 hours.

But.........there had to be a but............it would be grand if there were a way for your faithful snarklings to run STORY IDEAS by you. That could save us from the fate of having agents reject the manuscripts pulled from long months of effort because it has been "done to death." In essence, you hold the power to stop the train wreck before it happens.

I know that folks always worry about the theft of "their" great and glorious concept, but in the balance of things, if you were willing to consider ideas, it would surely be not only a real life miracle for all the snarklings in the land, but surely some of the agents and editors who begin to see better concepts will laud your greatness with gin, diamonds, or cash.

Is there any way you could make a bit of room on your already crowded plate for this?

Well, no.
Sadly, when someone says "done to death" it means NOT that the plot is hackneyed but that you haven't done something fresh and new with your work.

There are only seven ideas in the world, as the old rubric goes.
It's the execution that counts.
Thus you, and Miss Snark, must beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


Bernita said...

"Only the game fish swims upstream,
The sensible fish swims down..." the writer quoted mournfully, unable to resist the urge to spawn.

Cornelia Read said...

"Snarksby believed in the green light..."

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,

Should we take your response to mean that it's not having a brand new plot that is most important, it's how the writer actually implements the plot that matters? So it's possible to take an old plot (like a wife finding out her husband has cheated on her) and write it well as long as the plot is implemented in a "fresh and new" way?

bordermoon said...

In my younger and more vulnerable years...I, too, thought Ideas were the thing. But writers know ideas are a dime a cliche -- it's the execution of said idea that's important. Let's talk movies for a moment. A while back, there was a movie no one thought would amount to anything because the idea was stupid. Bomb on bus--? Yet oddly enough, SPEED was well-done enough to earn about a gazillion dollars.

It's usually "civilians" who are obsessed with "ideas", and they will often offer writers the the following enchanting deal: they will let you write the novel from their Great & Unique Idea, and split the enormous money that will inevitably follow 50/50. (The Totally Unique Idea is usally one that's only been done about seven million times, too.)

Uh, thanks, but no. I have enough trouble beating off the constant flow of new ideas that buzz around, pretending they're better, stronger, faster, and more brilliant ideas than those in the book I'm currently writing.

Or, as the late great Robert Benchley so cogently put it: "A man is capable of doing any amount of work, PROVIDED ONLY that it is NOT the work he is supposed to be doing at the time."

Anonymous said...

There are only seven ideas in the world, as the old rubric goes.

I too have heard this, however, I've never been able to find out what these seven universal plotlines really are.

They don't somehow correspond to the Seven Deadly Sins, do they?

But seriously, can anyone shed some light? Is "boy meets girl" one of them?

John Donald Carlucci said...

"That could save us from the fate of having agents reject the manuscripts pulled from long months of effort because it has been "done to death." In essence, you hold the power to stop the train wreck before it happens."

Um, that's what being a writer is all about. Working ideas until something comes out that make people respond.

King Kong is an old idea that the execution is now bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars.


sarah said...

I've heard the number is actually thirty-six stories. That's how many Georges Polti found, at least.

Google "Georges Polti Dramatic Situations".

Alina said...

Really? The way I've heard it said was, "There are only five plots in this world, and Shakespeare wrote all of them."

Rick said...

Alina, Shakespeare stole all of them. Later, half of all Star Trek plots were stolen from "The Tempest."

Everyone gives a different number for "only X many plots." Heinlein claimed there were only three: the little tailor, the man who learned better, and "if this goes on." A little mix & match, like a Hollywood pitch, will cover the rest of the bases. "It's an English boarding school, you see, but it teaches magic ..."

kathie said...

To me this thought is reassuring. Making a plot fresh is the fun part...knowing there are only so many centers from which to grow a story makes it that much easier...for me anyway.

Maria said...

I agree with Bordermoon. An idea is approximately 5 minutes worth of work. Writing it into a book is about a year's worth.

In the computer industry we call this the "designer." All the college grads used to say, "I don't want to be a programmer really, that's just what I took in school. What I really want to do is design." Translated: I want to tell someone else this great idea and have them figure out how to make it work. I don't want to sit home at night and try to figure out how to debug a problem, how to get around the hardware limitations, etc. Everyone wants to be a designer. Everyone has ideas. It's all in the implementation--whether it's hardware, software or plots.

John Donald Carlucci said...

From Wikipedia
The 36 Situations

1. Supplication
* a Persecutor; a Supplicant; a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.
2. Deliverance
* an Unfortunate; a Threatener; a Rescuer
3. Crime pursued by vengeance
* an Avenger; a Criminal
4. Vengeance taken for kin upon kin
* an Avenging Kinsman; Guilty Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim; a Relative of both
5. Pursuit
* Punishment; a Fugitive
6. Disaster
* a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger
7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
* an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune
8. Revolt
* a Tyrant; a Conspirator
9. Daring enterprise
* a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary
10. Abduction
* an Abductor; the Abducted; a Guardian
11. The enigma
* an Interrogator; a Seeker; a Problem
12. Obtaining
* (a Solicitor & an Adversary who is refusing) or (an Arbitrator & Opposing Parties)
13. Enmity of kin
* a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hatred or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
14. Rivalry of kin
* the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry
15. Murderous adultery
* two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse
16. Madness
* a Madman; a Victim
17. Fatal imprudence
* the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost
18. Involuntary crimes of love
* a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer
19. Slaying of kin unrecognized
* the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim
20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal
* a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
21. Self-sacrifice for kin
* a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
22. All sacrificed for passion
* a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed
23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
* a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice
24. Rivalry of superior v. inferior
* a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry
25. Adultery
* two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse
26. Crimes of love
* a Lover; the Beloved
27. Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
* a Discoverer; the Guilty One
28. Obstacles to love
* two Lovers; an Obstacle
29. An enemy loved
* a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater
30. Ambition
* an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary
31. Conflict with a god
* a Mortal; an Immortal
32. Mistaken jealousy
* a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake
33. Erroneous judgement
* a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One
34. Remorse
* a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator
35. Recovery of a lost one
* a Seeker; the One Found
36. Loss of loved ones
* a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner

Remodeling Repartee said...


I recently finished two books on the "wife discovers husband it cheating" theme, Revenge of The Middle-Aged Woman and Maeve Binchy's Tara Road. Both also had similar solutions to the way wife dealt with schmuck. Both are completely different, yet engaging and best-selling books.

It was tough on Mr. Remodeling Repartee that these reads occurred back-to-back.

Kate S. said...

I haven't read this one yet but it's on my list: The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker (London: Continuum, 2004). Several people have recommended it to me and it sounds intriguing.

Anne Merril said...

Much simpler:

Man vs Man
Man vs Self
Man vs Nature
Man vs Environment
Man vs God
Man vs The Supernatural
Man vs Machine

I think, though, you can simplify it even more. The ultimate plot:


kitty said...

Don't forget that Seinfeld was about NOTHING :-)

Sal said...

From writers/wrlinks-fiction:

CALLIHOO - Thirty-six (plus one) Dramatic Situations . Expanded descriptions of Georges Solti's thirty-six dramatic situations ... plus one.

Michelle Albert (Jerott) - Writer's "Cheat Sheets" - including Solti's 36, Five Basic Conflicts, Ronald Tobias' 20 Master Plots, Classic Romance Plots (e.g. Emotional Baggage or Internal Forces Keep Lovers Apart)