Everybody is on the ideas kick. Both Alan and Nathan have riffed – either seriously or otherwise – on the ideas question. Where do we get our ideas? How do we turn them into works? Where do ideas come from? Will we ever run out of ideas?
It’s crazy to think we’ll run out of ideas especially if you consider the widely-circulated belief that there are only like seven stories in the world and every story is just a variation on telling the same thing. New character, new setting, new villain, same story. Over and over. So really we get our ideas from the same. The same that forever perpetuates itself in repetition ad nauseum. Just with new details, you know, for a slicker cover or slightly weirder ride. Add sex if you want it to be an adult variation of the same. Add violence instead if you want NBC to broadcast it.
You can’t run out of an infinite loop, is what I’m saying.
So if all ideas are already ideas that have been written, how do you make your story unique? It’s a mind-boggling problem. If you think about it too hard you’ll enter bizarro worlds and alternate universes and time will fold in on itself and you’ll be a babbling mess of incoherence muttering already-written narratives in staccato. The best writers simply acknowledge that things have been before and will be again and just put their own voice and spin on a story. Some even use other stories to make their story work, thus sort of imploding the infinite loop in on itself. My scientific knowledge is limited and will eventually collapse if I keep these analogies up so I’ll stop. A more concrete explanation of this theme follows. Ray Bradbury wrote a story called 'The Exiles' which contains Shakespeare’s witches from 'Macbeth' as well as Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Charles Dickens, Algernon Blackwood and various and sundry characters from their works as characters in Bradbury’s story which is about the eradication of ancient texts by astronauts on Mars. It’s a beautiful piece. And it’s original despite containing references and peoples already well established. That’s where ideas come from: others. From before. From the beyond that was already. And those things that have already happened and have already been written about collide with our own unique consciousness to hopefully, ideally, emerge as a brand new variation on an old theme.
How do you combine those ideas?
Oh come on, really? Reporters always want things distilled down to essential soundbytes. These mythical radio interviewers who are plaguing us in our minds just want to use us to strip away the poetic and the exploratory and the vague to get the skeletal truth laid on them. Except there is no skeletal truth and there is no formula and even if there was, as Nathan so rightfully notes, no writer in their right mind would actually divulge that formula. Next thing you know it would end up on Pinterest and a thousand and one people would be Xeroxing it poorly and posting their increasingly-distressed copies as originals.
So why is plagiarism so bad if there are no new ideas? Plagiarism takes the compound mixture out of the equation, see. Every idea comes from somewhere else and every story has already been written so it stands to reason that nobody needs duplicates of those things that already exist foisted on them repeatedly. If a story has already been told as is, it’s already told. Plagiarism takes that other already-done piece and tries to pass it off as somebody else’s own unique spin. But it isn’t. It’s a copy. And you’re a thief if you claim it. The key to surviving the infinite loop of idea repetition is the compound mixture component. You take the previously-done ideas and already-told stories, combine them with your own voice and experience, shake them around in your own imagination, and then create your own version of the tale. See? It’s different.
Some combinations of imagination and ‘tale as old as time’ are not great but some are brilliant and that’s how you write. You keep combining ingredients until something magical emerges. But that’s not the formula so don’t post that. In fact, forget I told you.
I think - if I may be both bold and bossy enough to speak for my fellows on this site - I think the greatest compliment of all would be to have yourself and one of your characters immortalized in a Ray Bradbury story. After all, we writers are all interconnected. The idea for this post came from Nathan who had the idea simultaneously to (and separately from) Alan and this became the week of posts about ideas and their conception. We are all one, all us writers under heaven, and we’re just dog-fighting over the telling of seven stories as it turns out.
There’s an idea for you.
- Corinne Simpson