This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Great Idea for a Book — So What?

            Coming up with a great idea for a book isn’t all that hard. Lots of people — maybe even most people — do it at some point in their lives. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s the ability to execute that matters.
            The problem is that a great idea is like a good seed. Planted and properly cultivated it can grow to majestic proportions, but it can also die underground without putting up the most meager of sprouts.
            Viewed in that light, the great idea is properly understood as but the beginning of a long-term project. What goes into turning a great idea into a compelling book is something like what goes into turning a piece of cotton into a sweater, only harder. Much harder. Anybody can have a great idea, but very few can develop credible characters, write good dialogue, pace a story effectively for 300 pages, or create a sense of atmosphere with the written word. There’s a name for those who can. We call them authors.

It’s The Middle That Kills You

            As one who writes mystery novels, I’m here to tell you I have more good ideas than I know what to do with. Typically, the great idea begins with a concept, followed, in most cases, with a beginning and ending for a book using that idea. Most of the time, that’s where the matter ends.
            Some author, I don’t remember who, once said that anyone can come up with a good beginning and ending for a book, but it’s doing the middle of it that kills you. That’s where the grunt work of keeping a story going and working out its details is hardest but most essential. And my experience has been that the more prepared you are going into it, the easier it goes and the more likely it is to turn out well.
            I marvel at the people who are turning out a book every couple of months now, to feed the ever more voracious maw of Amazon. A book a year is the best I can do, and half that time is spent developing a detailed outline that arranges the details of the story. To me, that’s more demanding than actually writing it once I know where the story is going and how it’s going to get there.

Edison Had It Right

            The great inventor Thomas Edison once said that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Even for a non-genius like me, writing a book is exactly like that. Getting the details of plot, character and language right — in other words, the things that make a good book — is where the rubber meets the road.
            A good idea or concept can get a book noticed or published, but such a book can only go so far if the rest of it isn’t up to snuff. The graveyard of unpublished and non-starting self-published books is littered with skeletons. They are all that remains of good ideas that were insufficiently fleshed out.