Great Idea for a Story


by Raymond M. Coulombe

Everyone has a great idea for a story. I mean absolutely everyone. If you’ve every written and published anything anywhere people will be more than happy to share their ideas. Many will think they’ve done you a huge favor. Worse yet, some may even think they deserve their name on the book cover.

If people want their name on the cover they should take that idea and write it themselves. Ah, there’s the rub. It turns out having that great idea is rarely enough inspiration to actually write the book. As it turns out that great idea is maybe 0.01 percent of the process. I may be a bit too generous here.

Somewhere between the first line and the sixth complete rewrite the joy of that brilliant idea is long gone. In fact, the great idea that launched the story is often replaced by better ideas. Stories grow as a writer tells them. The great idea that launched the story may become nothing but a minor subplot along the way. It’s not uncommon for the original book idea to be completely thrown out along the way.

Another sad fact is that there are depressingly few really new ideas. People have been basically the same for thousands of years. Our motivations and experiences are common property. Good story tellers know this. A story that the reader cannot relate to will not be very popular. For that matter, in this connected world, even rare experiences and ideas can be shared by fairly large groups of people.

Have you ever heard someone lament that a writer “stole their idea.” Then you find out that the idea was about a couple of young people who fall in love even though their families are enemies. That idea was old back when Shakespeare stole it. The vast majority of ideas are common property. Even the vast majority of Science Fiction ideas are just dressed up regular old ideas. Ideas about how a technology changes the world is not necessarily new. The real story is not about the technology. It’s about how something new changes old ways. Once again -a familiar tale.

Of course, you actually need that story idea to get going. In fact, I’ve freely suggested a few ideas that writers have taken and turned into full fledged stories. I take great joy in being able to contribute that 0.01 percent. To put it in perspective, I think a good copy editor provides between five and fifty percent to a published work.

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