I was reading yesterday, it being Sunday and me still being trapped inside by the winter snow like a caged beast. For real, am I ever going to see the lawn again? I can barely remember if we have a lawn.
Anyway, I was reading a book that had started off well but was losing me now. Eventually I gave up on it, but being a writer, I had to figure out why I gave up. Sometimes figuring this out is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle of preconceptions, expectations, and whatever bullshit I absorbed through trawling the internet lately. But this time it was pretty damn simple:
It was an idea, not a story.
There were some very interesting concepts, but they were driving, and it wasn’t a trip I wanted to take. Because in the car with me were the biggest collection of cardboard characters I’ve encountered outside a porno.* The ideas were in the driver’s seat, and no matter how fast they drove, they had no idea where they were going.
Nor should they. That’s what characters and plot do. Compelling characters and a decent plot make it a story, instead of an essay or a philosophical dialogue.
But, alas, in this story, the Ideas had taken over, and the story was dead. I felt like I was being shouted at, not being told a good tale. And who wants that?
You cannot let your ideas murder your story. Well, you can. You can do whatever you want, because I’m just a stranger on the other side of a monitor. Or possibly a voice in your head. Am I a voice? Do I sound like Bane? I hope I sound like Bane.
Anyway, you can do whatever you want, but so can your readers, and if they find out that you’ve taken them down Didacticism Lane instead of Story Road, they might get justifiably bored and bugger off to do something else. Something more interesting, probably.
No one likes to be preached at. That’s not to say that you can’t present points of view that you feel strongly about; you should, because if you don’t feel strongly about something then you probably aren’t writing. But be a little subtle about it. And don’t ruin the story in service to an idea.
The ideas should serve the story, not the other way around. If you find your ideas are what you’re really interested in, maybe switch to essay writing. Because no one wants to pick up what they thought was a novel only to find that it was a sermon.
*Inside a porno, at least it’s stiff cardboard, AM I RIGHT?
One thought on “Who Let The Philosopher Drive?: Keeping Your Ideas From Murdering Your Story”
I liken a story to a joke. You have the setup, you have the corner and you have the delivery. The ideas and the style are what make it have weight and depth. Guy has a hard time getting home from a war. That’s a Odyssey, which is so hard to spell you don;t wonder that Homer told it instead of writing it down–and yeah, I know he was blind, but the fucking Greeks invented everything so I assume they had Braille too. Anyway, boom. That’s what happened to the dude. Then you also talk about what happened inside the dude and you start adding more shit that’s impossible to spell but hella interesting like Demodocus and Polyphemus and cannibalistic Laestrygonians. Add some style and you have something worth reading.
I wonder if Homer had the who Cyclops backstory in his first draft. Why is Polyphemus so angry? Well, it was in chapter five, but my editor said it didn’t add so much as detract. so I cut it.