Saturday, 18 January 2014

Ideas, and their importance (or otherwise)

Thanks to an incident I won't go into, I find myself thinking about ideas. As in "Where do you get your..." No, I'm not going to answer that, because we've all got better things to do, but I did want to ask the question people often don't bother with: how important are they, really?

Obviously, people generally seem to think they're important. The popular image of an author is of the idea getting being the hard part. Hence the thing you sometimes hear about writers being pestered with, where people offer authors their ideas for a share of the profits.

And on one level, ideas are important. It's ideas that create that initial buzz, that excitement. That moment where you go what if. That moment that gets you excited enough to write something in the first place. So what if I could relentlessly make fun of the standard "someone is secretly a faerie noble" plotline? What if I did a kind of vaguely humanist take on angels and demons, with a fake psychic as the lead character? What if I write some urban fantasy where the lead character happens to be a changeling, whose main power is her ability to lie? What if I did something vaguely Arthurian, set in the modern day?

Those are all ideas I've had. Three of the four are ideas I've written. The fourth, I'll probably get round to shortly. And here I am, putting them up on the Internet. Why? Because the world isn't as full of idea thieves as people think. Because in UK law, it's the execution of an idea that's protected rather than the idea itself when it comes to creative works. And because this is one area where the law actually has it right.

You see, I would be perfectly happy if someone who read this chose to go down one or more of those routes. Because I'm sure they wouldn't write it the same way I did. I'm not saying there that I will write it the best way, but I will write it my own way, just as you would write it yours. Because ideas aren't as important as people seem to feel they should be. It's not the idea itself, but what you choose to do with it that matters. Indeed, in a lot of literary fiction, where big plot is distinctly frowned upon, it's the way in which you choose to make the journey rather than the overall point of the book every time.

People don't read ideas, but books. They read those marvellous characters you've created (good job there, by the way), and that snappy dialogue. They're excited by the sudden plot twist, or at least gripped by the panache with which you did it if they saw it coming. They might get swept up in the sheer beauty of the language, or in my case by the fact that someone can try to cram quite so many jokes into the first chapter.

They might even, at some point, say "what a great idea", but don't let that fool you. There are probably another hundred authors who've had the same idea you've had, at least. But none of them, none of them, has ever written your book. It's what's so beautiful about writing. And what's so weird about people who get completely paranoid about their ideas.

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