The Myth and Reality of the Great Idea

In writers groups I've heard a similar sentiment over and over again, one I didn't expect to hear, "If only I could come up with a great idea." I find interesting ideas easy to come by, but there's more to it than that.


There are 129 million book titles in existence. Completely new ideas are going to be rare, they always are. In order to have a new idea you need to integrate information from a variety of sources and innovate them. Usually the innovation small, many times just a small change in style, and only when the change is large will it be considered a new idea.

What and how you try to innovate will depend at least partially on your goals. Some writers write to entertain, others consider it an art. The entertaining write writes to keep attention. An artistic writer writes to communicate something of significance. A great writer does both.

A few weeks ago another one of these posts popped up in a writers group I am in. The woman gave a couple of examples of stories she likes, J. K. Rowling and Rick Riordan, and asked for someone to give her a great idea for a story to write. I offered two ideas, along with the idea that coming up with an idea is rather easy, while execution may prove rather hard. The ideas I offered were to write about a dragon tamer in Ancient Greece, or about a thief that steals something from a museum that gives him the powers of Achilles. You may or may not like these ideas, but a good writer could make great stories out of them.

Jim Butcher decided to prove this once after an online debate featuring this same myth. Butcher told the person he was debating that he would take two of his bad story ideas and make them into a book that he would write and publish, just to prove the myth a falsehood. The two ideas that Butcher was given were the 13th Legion of Rome and Pokemon. Butcher wrote the "Codex Alera" series based on those ideas, a six book best selling series.

I will take this opportunity to pontificate about some of my own bad ideas.

Real vampires, that could be a thing. Take vampires from fantasy and make them science fiction. Maybe a genetic mutation that causes the need for a specific substance that can only be found in the blood of humans. Maybe only of certain humans.

Recovering lost hopes and dreams from the River Styx in Hades, a classic myth from Ancient Greece that someone finds to be real, or it could be magical realism.

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." An interesting quote from Thomas Jefferson. What if it was literal. Some country has a tree that keeps it safe, or something, and it can only stay alive when it is given a certain amount of blood. Some from patriots, and some from tyrants. That idea has so much conflict built in with a continuous ticking clock.

Robert Sapolsky studied baboons in Africa for over 30 years and is the only person to ever observe a baboon tribe become peaceful. It occurred when the most violent males, half, died from tuberculosis by eating bad meat from a nearby resort. It's an interesting story, especially when you get more details than I'm giving you now. With the most peaceful males being the only males still alive the tribe became peaceful until it was wiped out a decade or two later. Let's translate that over to humans, which are pretty similar to baboons. If you kill the 1.75 billion most aggressive males on the planet maybe humanity would be fairly peaceful. You could have this happen and see how that goes, or you could have a group or person trying to make it happen.

I have a short little impromptu speech at my Toastmasters club last month. The question was about the diamond-water paradox in economics. Instead of actually explaining the economics involved, look into Austrian Economics if you're interested, I took it in the dark fantasy direction and said that there was a De Beers conspiracy that they actually collected diamonds by killing Leprechauns because the diamonds are formed from their blood.

People like to think of past golden ages, and to a large extent they are myths, but can be somewhat true as well. Florence in the Renaissance really was a hotbed of artistic and intellectual talent that developed in a unique way because of the unusual context. What if it was for a different reason? For some reason there was a genetic modification of some of these greats at that time which made them superior. Now that blood has been diluted, but some people try to keep the blood pure by . . .

A few other general ideas intrigue me. Feral kids are an insane reality. I think they demonstrate a lot about the adaptability and imitative nature of humans. Cults and charismatic personalities interest me. The mysteries of Mithras are very interesting. An ancient secret society that was large and powerful, we know it existed, was large, and we have a bunch of the pictures that they used and show some of their myths, but we have nothing written, nothing. So much could be done with Mithras. Hannibal being baptized in the blood of children and sworn to dedicate the rest of his life to the destruction of Rome with the god Ba'al on his side is an interesting origin story that usually isn't talked about.

I also think the phenomenon of God being on everyone's side is interesting. It would be interesting to write a book alternating between two character viewpoints, each of which you develop as the main protagonist in their own story, but they are in conflict, colliding narratives. If you want both sides to win, or at least come out well, but they can't, it could be such an emotional story.

Some of those bad ideas sound pretty good.

You are welcome to explore writing with me at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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