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RichardGarfinkle
10-30-2012, 04:47 PM
It is a general principle of writing (and indeed of all art) that it is not the idea but the implementation that matters. This is absolutely true but it implies something that is not true: that all ideas are therefore equal and valueless.

This is false for two reasons:

1. A good idea is backed up by the other ideas, observations, facts, etc, that spawned it. A good idea carries with it a whole context of precursors that can be brought to play in implementation.

A good idea for a historical story takes account of and draws in the history and societies in which it is set.

A good idea for an SF story will carry with it the how and why the idea can come about.

A good idea for a character brings with it the life and circumstances of that character etc.

Generating a good idea of this kind usually involves a lot of knowledge and possibly research on the part of the writer before the idea itself can even exists in a coherent form.

2. A good idea has implications that make the fleshing out of stories with that idea easier. A weak idea needs to have more and more ideas piled on to it. A good idea will provide its own subsidiary concepts that can be easily implemented in the story because the concepts flow naturally and inherently from the initial idea.

A good idea for a setting has implications about how things work in that setting, what the safe and dangerous aspects of it are and therefore what tensions and relaxations can easily be crafted.

A good idea for a character implies enough of the character's ways of thinking to make it easy to figure out how the character will react in the circumstances of the story.

A good idea for a world carries how the world works down to the smallest level so that, to take an example from reality, one can, using an idea like gravity, figure out both the shapes of stars and worlds and how rocks behave when thrown.

Good ideas therefore have a past and a future, what they draw upon and what they produce. They are more than single sentences, single motes in a free floating space of disconnected concepts. They imply and are themselves implied.

Developing good ideas and exploiting them requires different skills from the skills of transforming ideas into writing. Ideas with a past require imagination and learning, ideas with a future require imagination and reasoning. The practice of these internal skills is of great if hidden value to all writers.

NeuroFizz
10-30-2012, 05:24 PM
It is a general principle of writing (and indeed of all art) that it is not the idea but the implementation that matters. This is absolutely true but it implies something that is not true: that all ideas are therefore equal and valueless.

This all depends on context. Within the context of this writing site, and within the context the execution of actual writing based on those ideas, the ideas themselves are not forms of intellectual property that can be assigned any monetary value. A fool can have great ideas, but without producing something original from those ideas, there can be no claim to rights based on those ideas. I think this is the basis for the many statements here about ideas being valueless.

On the other hand, and on a more philosophical basis, ideas certainly can have significant value to an individual since they can involve an originality of thought, can be based on and produce additional compounded ideas, and can lead to formation of anything from personal opinions to absolute motivations. In this sense, the ideas have tremendous value to the individual. I don't think many would argue against this.

But at a site like this, there are always examples of claims of stolen ideas, or a general fear of such. Without some documented execution of an idea, it can be impossible to prove that two people didn't have a very similar idea at the same time. We've seen such issues with Harry Potter books and recently with a story about a villiage cat. So, in some contexts, the quoted statement is indeed false, but in other contexts (the ones usually addressed here at AW) it can be just the opposite. The issues arise then the value of ideas within the two contexts collide, and the originator of an idea tries to enforce that his/her personal value is worth monetary value when someone else produces a tangible work from a similar idea.

And from the long list of examples in the OP, the ideas are not equal because of how the originator acts on those ideas, but that is still a form of execution, even though nothing may be documented. If the originator has two ideas and acts on one as detailed in one or more of the statements in the OP, the originator has placed added value on one of the ideas and not on the other. One could argue that before that added value, the two ideas were, indeed, of similar value. This is comparing an original idea to an elaborated one, which is another contextual issue.

bearilou
10-30-2012, 05:32 PM
:LilLove: I really love it when AWers get their writing geek on.

:nothing

RichardGarfinkle
10-30-2012, 05:36 PM
I didn't mean to imply that ideas are intellectual property. But even without implementation two ideas need not be equal. An idea that carries a solid load of scholarship and implication when transferred from one person to another still carries that load.

That's why we teach some ideas and not others, because the ideas we teach have such valuable loads and uses. In teaching it is the idea that must be brought across and the implementation of that is completely flexible and ideally is tailored to the student. While a textbook is an intellectual property, a good teacher will ignore it in favor of bringing the idea across precisely because the idea itself is valuable.

Indeed, we have such ideas on this very site. We try to communicate ideas of grammar, of character development, of plotting, of storytelling overall, and we do not regard all ideas about writing as equal. We know that writers who have mastered these ideas have a better capability of producing good, communicative, and interesting stories (with or without Oxford Commas).

These principles are not intellectual property, they are the means of creating intellectual property and therefore can be considered even more valuable in the classic give a man a fish, teach a man to fish dichotomy of value.

The same applies to well crafted ideas used in stories. A good idea while not itself intellectual property makes it easier to create an intellectual property and thus has its own value even if that value is not given a price tag.

kkbe
10-30-2012, 05:37 PM
Whoa. I need some caffeine. :D

Random thoughts. . .

Without implementation, an idea is non-substantive. Democracy may be a good idea but it means diddly until it's put into action and proven effective. One may have a great idea for a character, but until that character is drawn, fleshed out, put on paper as they say, that idea means squat. Same goes for setting, blah blah.

One may develop a story idea sans knowledge and research, and write that story down, and it may be a coherent story, and it may pretty well suck. Translating one's story idea onto paper (as it were :)) is writing, but not necessarily good writing. Exploiting one's knowledge and skill-set relative to story-telling and writing potentially transforms a crap story into something special.

Ergo, imo, ideas get you so far. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Think of all the crap books you've read, books that were nothing special. Mediocre at best. Knowlege and writing skill are what elevate a 'good' book from those adrift in a sea of mediocrity.

Jamesaritchie
10-30-2012, 05:40 PM
Not even close. An idea is just an idea, and one is as good as another. It isn't the idea that contains anything you mention, it's the writer.

Developing good ideas and exploiting them requires different skills from the skills of transforming ideas into writing.

Yes, the skill you need to develop an idea rather than transforming it into writing is the skill of procrastination.

An idea is just an idea. They have no past and no future. And why would an idea be good for a character? Characters aren't real. I create the character to match the idea, not the other way around.

A good idea is any idea that makes you want to plant your ass in the chair and write the story. A bad idea is any idea that makes you sit around thinking about the philosophy of ideas.

RichardGarfinkle
10-30-2012, 05:42 PM
Whoa. I need some caffeine. :D

Random thoughts. . .

Without implementation, an idea is non-substantive. Democracy may be a good idea but it means diddly until it's put into action and proven effective. One may have a great idea for a character, but until that character is to be drawn, fleshed out, put on paper as they say, that idea means squat. Same goes for setting, blah blah.

One may develop a story idea sans knowledge and research, and write that story down, and it may be a coherent story, and it may pretty well suck. Translating one's story idea onto paper (as it were :)) is writing, but not necessarily good writing. Exploiting one's knowledge and skill-set relative to story-telling and writing potentially transforms a crap story into something special.

Ergo, imo, ideas get you so far. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Think of all the crap books you've read, books that were nothing special. Mediocre at best. Knowlege and writing skill are what separates great books from that sea of mediocracy.

Not all ideas are as easy to implement as others. My point was that some ideas carry their own ease of implementation because of what they carry with them from their pasts and their implications.

It makes no more sense to say that all ideas are equal then it does to tell a gardener that all seeds are equal because they aren't yet plants or tell a sculptor that all materials are equal because they haven't yet been sculpted.

Ease of implementation depends on the materials one is working with and ideas vary greatly in ease of work, not to mention benefits of working them.

Susan Littlefield
10-30-2012, 05:52 PM
All ideas are equal. It's the execution of ideas that is not.

RichardGarfinkle
10-30-2012, 05:57 PM
All ideas are equal. It's the execution of ideas that is not.

Why do you say that?

robertbevan
10-30-2012, 05:59 PM
this thread might benefit from some examples of what the OP considers to be a 'lesser idea' and a 'greater idea'.

jeffo20
10-30-2012, 06:08 PM
We try to communicate ideas of grammar, of character development, of plotting, of storytelling overall, and we do not regard all ideas about writing as equal. I think this is different, though, from what so much of the other arguments have been about. Grammar, character development, plotting, etc., are skills and tools for the writer to convert an idea - Tobermory cats, for example, or 'last survivors of earth land their spaceship on a new planet', into something people are going to want to read.


Not all ideas are as easy to implement as others. My point was that some ideas carry their own ease of implementation because of what they carry with them from their pasts and their implications.
Ease of implementation depends on the materials one is working with and ideas vary greatly in ease of work, not to mention benefits of working them.Does that make them 'better,' though? And different writers have different capabilities. What might be a difficult idea for me to turn into a good story may be a piece of cake for you.

shadowwalker
10-30-2012, 06:39 PM
It makes no more sense to say that all ideas are equal then it does to tell a gardener that all seeds are equal because they aren't yet plants or tell a sculptor that all materials are equal because they haven't yet been sculpted.

Of course it makes sense to say both of those things. Seeds are equal in value - it's only when a specific gardener decides what s/he wants to plant that the seeds differ in value. The same with the sculptor - until it's decided what is to be sculpted, the material doesn't matter. Ideas are equal until the writer decides whether or not they like an idea - after that, it's all up to writing (planting/sculpting).

An idea that one writer has absolutely no interest in or no direction to go with will be the idea that another makes into a half-assed novel that never gets published and that yet another builds into a Pulitzer.

RedWombat
10-30-2012, 07:06 PM
Of course it makes sense to say both of those things. Seeds are equal in value - it's only when a specific gardener decides what s/he wants to plant that the seeds differ in value.


Weelllll....

*gets out pedant hat*

There really are good seeds and bad seeds. You get the high quality ones that farmers buy and the crappy low-germination sweepings-off-the-floor you get in seed packets for the home gardener (who will blame low germination on their own fault, whereas farmers tend to get very grumpy when a third of the crop doesn't come up.) Big meaty seeds tend to do better than half-sized off-color ones.

But I actually think that seeds are a poor analogy for writing (Possibly because I know too much about seeds and too little about writing, I grant you!)

A master gardener can't do much with dead seed. It's just dead. No power on earth will move it.

A master writer, though, is a different beast, and might even be able to make "Jesus comes back as a teenage girl with a telepathic unicorn and fights Satan through the power of kung-fu and rock music!" into something palatable.

My apologies if this is not actually what the topic was getting at, but the original post is a bit word-salad for me, and I'd need some concrete examples to work from.

leahzero
10-30-2012, 07:13 PM
But even a bad creative seed could grow into something amazing.

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that someday, someone will write about a young girl who has to choose between love with a vampire or a werewolf, and produce a stunning, moving work of art.

It really is in the execution.

Buffysquirrel
10-30-2012, 07:26 PM
Good ideas therefore have a past and a future, what they draw upon and what they produce. They are more than single sentences, single motes in a free floating space of disconnected concepts. They imply and are themselves implied.

Maybe there are bad ideas and good ideas for stories. I don't know. But the suggestion that a bad idea is one that lacks context strikes me as having no meaning.

For surely all ideas, whether good or bad, have a context. How could they arise, except from context? How could you even formulate an idea that had no antecedents and no cultural references from which to draw meaning?

Imaginative storytelling is a byproduct of processes in the brain that enable us to imagine the future based on our experience of the past. That experience can of course include imagined experience, our own or that of other people. All ideas have precedents. Often the act of creation is merely taking two precedents and putting them together in a new way.

victoriastrauss
10-30-2012, 07:29 PM
1. A good idea is backed up by the other ideas, observations, facts, etc, that spawned it. A good idea carries with it a whole context of precursors that can be brought to play in implementation.

...

2. A good idea has implications that make the fleshing out of stories with that idea easier. A weak idea needs to have more and more ideas piled on to it. A good idea will provide its own subsidiary concepts that can be easily implemented in the story because the concepts flow naturally and inherently from the initial idea.

I think that these observations are generally true...with the proviso that how they will be true for any individual writer is not how they will (or won't) be true for another. What to me is a good idea, with context, implications, etc., would not necessarily seem a good idea to someone else, and vice versa. I am constantly coming up with ideas and casting them aside because, to my mind, they don't work well enough, or don't suggest a plausible story; but for someone else, the ideas I'm jettisoning might be just the ticket, and might result in a really great book.

For instance, I recently read If Jack's In Love, by Stephen Wetta. It's about a thirteen-year-old boy, his eccentric family, and his first desperate experience of falling in love, set against the background of a murder that his brother may or may not have committed. It's a wonderful book, beautifully told (a book for adults, not YA, despite the young narrator), and I enjoyed every word. Yet this is not an idea that I, myself, would ever follow, if I came up with it at all; it's just not the sort of thing I'm drawn to write about. As a reader I loved Wetta's execution of it, but as a writer it doesn't spark my creative imagination. For me--as a writer--it is not a good idea.

And, speaking of execution: it's Wetta's wonderful writing that makes If Jack's In Love a wonderful book. The idea behind the book isn't terribly unusual or original. A less talented writer might take a very similar idea and come up with a dull, derivative book. Conversely, I've encountered any number of high-concept books where the idea was fascinating but the execution was flawed, and the whole thing just fizzled. (The third book in the His Dark Materials trilogy comes to mind.)

Complicating all of this: reader perception. You might think The Amber Spyglass is a transcendent achievement (enough critics certainly did)--a "good" idea well followed through. You might find If Jack's In Love, where not much really happens, horribly boring. What got into this guy Wetta, you might think, that he came up with such an uninteresting idea for a book? All of which, for me, points up the futility of trying to come up with objective standards for "good" and "inferior" ideas.

Ideas aren't valueless, but that value is not intrinsic. It's what is done with the idea that creates value--not the idea in and of itself. This is one of the things I love about reading: seeing how other writers take ideas I would never have been able to conceive, or would never have been able to open out into a story, and make them live on the page.

- Victoria

victoriastrauss
10-30-2012, 07:33 PM
But I actually think that seeds are a poor analogy for writing (Possibly because I know too much about seeds and too little about writing, I grant you!)

I agree it's a poor analogy. A cucumber seed will always produce a cucumber, no matter who plants it or what soil it's planted in (assuming it grows at all). An idea seed will never produce quite the same thing twice.

- Victoria

Phaeal
10-30-2012, 08:52 PM
this thread might benefit from some examples of what the OP considers to be a 'lesser idea' and a 'greater idea'.

Definitely.

shadowwalker
10-30-2012, 09:10 PM
There really are good seeds and bad seeds.


I agree it's a poor analogy. A cucumber seed will always produce a cucumber, no matter who plants it or what soil it's planted in (assuming it grows at all). An idea seed will never produce quite the same thing twice.

- Victoria

Agreed it's not the best analogy, but I think it still holds true to a point. Bad seeds can still be coaxed (I've gotten lovely results from seeds a couple years past their 'prime'), and depending on the fertilizer/water/soil given, it could be a tiny cucumber or a prize-winner. So it still points out that it's what the 'gardener' does with them that's important.

bearilou
10-30-2012, 09:15 PM
I think that these observations are generally true...with the proviso that how they will be true for any individual writer is not how they will (or won't) be true for another. What to me is a good idea, with context, implications, etc., would not necessarily seem a good idea to someone else, and vice versa. I am constantly coming up with ideas and casting them aside because, to my mind, they don't work well enough, or don't suggest a plausible story; but for someone else, the ideas I'm jettisoning might be just the ticket, and might result in a really great book.

I'm sitting at the lunch table with the cool kids like Victoria.

This was how I was reading what Richard was saying.

Then again, I think I'm suffering from one of those days where I'm just not 'getting' the conversations around me and talking like some weird moon man language while everyone else speaks Terran.

quicklime
10-30-2012, 09:19 PM
as shadow said, it isn't a horrible analogy....over-water a cactus seed, or even your cuke seeds, and let them smother in the mud. Treat them with care, and they bloom. Their handling is execution, and like writing a novel, the execution will vary, but if you had no idea if your gardener lived in Sedona or Michigan, if they were growing in a hothouse, if they'd ever even touched dirt, and he said "which seed is better?" it would actually be very much like the notion of asking which is a better idea.

there are perhaps ideas which have a better chance of hitting the jackpot, because they are a tear-jerker, for example, but you can't say "A hard-hitting revenge story about a guy with twelve hours to live is a far better idea than writing about a boy finding a unicorn in his back yard" without knowing if the author is Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, ernest Hemingway, or Danielle Steele. All ideas are not strictly "equal" but we don't have the luxury of climbing into the poster's head and seeing what makes them tick, how they write, and determining how it would dovetail with a given idea. So, all things being equal, ideas really don't matter.....not within the confines of our (in)ability to understand the writer's ability to execute them.

kkbe
10-30-2012, 09:26 PM
Hi, RichardGarfinkle. You have certainly piqued interest with your posting. Thank you for firing me up on this rainy, windswept day.
It makes no more sense to say that all ideas are equal then it does to tell a gardener that all seeds are equal because they aren't yet plants or tell a sculptor that all materials are equal because they haven't yet been sculpted. I have to agree w/ comments relative to your seed analogy. I reiterate, ideas have potential, as do seeds, as does a hunk of clay. That potential may or may not be realized, and if so, that realization will carry with it certain inherent parameters. As mentioned (and to paraphrase), an acorn may sprout and grow into an oak, because it is genetically built to become an oak and not a squash or a piglet. A hunk of clay is a better analogy, as it can be molded into many forms, as unique as the person working it. Whether it becomes a simple coil pot or a magnificent object d'art has more to do with the sculptor, his/her knowledge of the material and what it can do, and that person's level of skill, than with the material itself. In my analogy, clay is Tabula Rasa, primed for becoming something. And so are ideas.

Ease of implementation depends on the materials one is working with and ideas vary greatly in ease of work, not to mention benefits of working them. That might apply if you were talking of, say, sculpting materials. I imagine it's easier to sculpt David from clay than marble. Even so, one's interpretation would depend on many things: his/her knowledge of David, of sculpting, his/her level of sculpting skills--wait, am I disagreeing with you or . . .



Not all ideas are as easy to implement as others. My point was that some ideas carry their own ease of implementation because of what they carry with them from their pasts and their implications.

Nope. It's not the idea. It doesn't matter from whence it came or what it may possibly imply. What matters is what you do with the thing. Tell a five-year-old kid to write a story about a guy who turns into a bug, you're going to get a hell of a different story than the one Franz Kafka came up with. It's not the idea. It's what you do with it that counts.

buz
10-30-2012, 09:26 PM
you can't say "A hard-hitting revenge story about a guy with twelve hours to live is a far better idea than writing about a boy finding a unicorn in his back yard" without knowing if the author is Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, ernest Hemingway, or Danielle Steele.

But, all things being equal--surely a revenge story about a boy with twelve hours to live who finds a unicorn in his backyard is better than both of those? :D :D

(Not serious.)

But for me personally, and not objectively, as Victoria said, it would be true. :D

quicklime
10-30-2012, 09:29 PM
But, all things being equal--surely a revenge story about a boy with twelve hours to live who finds a unicorn in his backyard is better than both of those? :D :D




only if written as erotica.

ishtar'sgate
10-30-2012, 09:29 PM
This discussion reminds me of art. A full palate of colors and a single idea for subject matter yields very different things in the hands of individual artists. Same for writers.

rugcat
10-30-2012, 09:42 PM
Ideas and execution are inseparable. Bad execution can ruin a good idea. Great execution cannot save a boring or mundane one.

Dan Brown took a great idea and made it into a huge success with less than brilliant execution.

On the other hand, John Updike made a great career from brilliant writing. Any plot can provide the opportunity to shed light on the human condition in the hands of a good enough writer.

One of the reasons I write genre is simple. I like bringing ideas to life. And I believe that if you're going to write 700 pps about a failing marriage in Connecticut, you'd better be a hell of a writer. Far better than I'll ever be.

But this is all about the balance between conception and execution. None of it negates the proposition that not all ideas are equally worthy.

Suzanne Collins reportedly sold Hunger Games on the basis of a four page proposal covering three books. Admittedly, she had a track record and editors had confidence that the execution would be top rate. But it was the idea that sold the proposal.

If she had written a four page proposal for a trilogy that basically consisted of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, I very much doubt that publishers would have jumped all over it.

Ideas do have intrinsic value. And we all know that instinctively we writers often flounder around, not getting anywhere, until suddenly, (hopefully) inspiration strikes. An idea emerges if we're lucky, a great idea. We're excited and can't wait to get started on it.

Well, if all ideas are equal, what is it we're so excited about?

RichardGarfinkle
10-30-2012, 09:43 PM
I guess I wasn't as clear on a number of points as I was trying to be. I can't even parse the cool kids thing, but moving on.

An idea of the form person A gets revenge on person B for action C is generic and does not carry either past or future and is therefore equal to any other such idea. It is a piece of a skeleton of a story. It can be fleshed out by adding a great many other features (such as a setting in France during the post Napoleanic time period to produce the Count of Monte Cristo) or fleshed out with completely different features to become the Punisher.

The revenge idea itself lacks inherent growth potential. It carries only questions that need answering. Because of that it is quite transportable.

Other stories are more fixed in their sources, more inherently part of their context. The Three Musketeers arises from its context with the interplay of a particular time's conflicts: political, spiritual, and personal. The character of D'artagnan is a particular portrait of ambition within that society. The characters of Athos (the fallen nobleman), Porthos (the worldly seeker after riches who is yet a portrait of loyalty) and especially Aramis (the soldier, lover, and poet whose ambitions turn toward becoming a Jesuit priest in a context where such a character implied political interest and machinations) allowed for not just the original book but several sequels to arise, owing to the nature of the progress of history.

If this is insufficient, I can provide SF, Fantasy, and modern examples as well as mysteries, also non-fiction if anyone wants.

shadowwalker
10-30-2012, 10:15 PM
But are you saying that some ideas come with vast complexities already built in? That these grandiose and complex ideas popped into the writer's head in just that form - grandiose and complex? Or did they really start out with "I think a story about this period in history would be interesting."? Or "I'd like to write a story about this revolution."?

Every idea, IMHO, starts small and simple. Where it goes from there depends on who has it.

RedWombat
10-30-2012, 10:17 PM
Are you saying that revenge plots aren't as good an idea as the Three Musketeers?

Or are you trying to say that "I want to set a book in the fascinating historical intersection of Time Period X with Y" is better than "I want to write a book where Bob kills Other-Bob for stealing Bob's girlfriend, Girl-Bob?"

What are you calling a GOOD idea here?

kkbe
10-30-2012, 10:19 PM
You're comparing apples and oranges, RichardGarfinkle. In your revenge example, the story lacks complexity only because the writer translated the idea simply, for whatever reason. Add a plethora of unique and compelling characters, add pathos and deceit, add a sweeping backdrop of war or famine, add a fantastical setting, and your simple idea of revenge becomes an amazing, unforgettable story.

Edit: Or not, depending on the writer.:)

A story idea is only as good as the writer transcribing it to paper. It is the writer who pulls from history, imagination, knowledge, experience, etc., who sits down and puts that all together, infusing it with voice, emotion, tension, conflict and resolution, and all that other good stuff. It is the writer who molds all that into something of value. Without the writer, an idea is just an idea.

victoriastrauss
10-30-2012, 10:26 PM
Other stories are more fixed in their sources, more inherently part of their context. The Three Musketeers arises from its context with the interplay of a particular time's conflicts: political, spiritual, and personal. The character of D'artagnan is a particular portrait of ambition within that society. The characters of Athos (the fallen nobleman), Porthos (the worldly seeker after riches who is yet a portrait of loyalty) and especially Aramis (the soldier, lover, and poet whose ambitions turn toward becoming a Jesuit priest in a context where such a character implied political interest and machinations) allowed for not just the original book but several sequels to arise, owing to the nature of the progress of history.

I think this is one reason this discussion is going to bog down: the difficulty of separating idea from execution. The details of The Three Musketeers arise from the setting, it's true--but only because Dumas chose that setting, and expanded his ideas within it. The ideas themselves--and the character types--are completely abstractable, and just as portable to a different time and setting as the generic revenge plot you described first.

Take Seven Samurai, a story that's quintessentially Japanese, yet the basic idea behind it was easily transported to the American West in The Magnificent Seven. Or Emma. What could be more of its time than that novel, whose plot hinges on social mores that are almost completely alien to us now? Yet the idea--of an overconfident girl meddling in the life of a friend, falling for the wrong guy, and finding that true love was right in front of her all along--was transported entirely successfully to present-day California in Clueless. There are dozens of examples like this.

- Victoria

RichardGarfinkle
10-30-2012, 11:01 PM
Look folks. Please note what I have said, that some ideas because of what they carry with them are easier in execution because their past and future implications grow into the story. I'm not saying that a story arising from such an idea is inherently better than a story arising from an idea that doesn't carry those elements, I'm saying that the ideas are not equal.

Of course it's possible to create a great story from a simple transportable idea. It's also possible to create a terrible story from a complex rich idea. But that doesn't make the ideas themselves equal.

Victoria I'm willing to argue your examples. The Seven Samurai is an inherently better story than the Magnificent Seven (and not just a better movie) because the characters and the events arise deeply from the time, place, and culture. Each of the characters reflects an aspect of the circumstances of the Samurai at the time and reveals much of the changes in what was happening. I would point to the vivid meaning of the death of the expert swordsman at the hands of a bandit armed with a gun as a meaningful element that does not translate at all into other versions.

The Magnificent Seven is a fun movie (I loved Yul Brynner's performance), but a far less meaningful one. The roles were more artificial. The gunslinger who's the son of farmers has no contrast to Toshiro Mifune's character of a farmer's son who pretends to be a Samurai and earns that by the film's end. James Coburn's hot shot knife wielder has no cultural meaning although he is fun to watch.

In the transplanting of Emma (a Jane Austen novel that I don't like) to Clueless is highly effective (I like Clueless more), but neither the original story nor the characters are as strongly of their time and place as other Austen characters.

In any case, fun though this is, it misses my point, which is that the ideas themselves are not equal rather than one set of ideas implicitly creates better stories, only that some ideas carry more with them and therefore make the creation of a richer story easier.

RedWombat
10-30-2012, 11:43 PM
Look folks. Please note what I have said, that some ideas because of what they carry with them are easier in execution because their past and future implications grow into the story. I'm not saying that a story arising from such an idea is inherently better than a story arising from an idea that doesn't carry those elements, I'm saying that the ideas are not equal.


Bear with me, because I'm trying to translate this into something simpler for my own comprehension, but can you explain what you mean by "what they carry with them are easier in execution because their past and future implications grow into the story"? Because the last bit just turns back into word-salad for me, and I'm not sure what you're going for.

Are you saying that it's easier to write the Three Musketeers because there's all that history and setting there to work with, whereas Revenge of The Bobs doesn't have that, so it's not equal?

kuwisdelu
10-30-2012, 11:47 PM
So I'm guessing all those who are saying that all ideas are indeed equal have never once thought "I wish I'd thought of that!"?

shadowwalker
10-30-2012, 11:50 PM
I don't know. It seems the more you try to point out how one idea provides for a better story, the more you actually point out how one writer wrote a better story using the same idea, which to me supports the belief that ideas are not better or worse, richer or poorer - it's still in the execution.

quicklime
10-30-2012, 11:52 PM
can't speak for everyone, kuwi, but i said they're equal in the absence of any real knowledge about the writer....so yes, there's been twists and things I wish I had thought of, because I felt they play to my strengths. A lot depends what the real question is, maybe--in absolutes, all ideas are not equal--I'm certainly not as likely to win the National Book Award for a comedy about a guy obsessed with singing to his penis in the shower as with a multigenerational epic of some sort. But the "ideas are a dime a dozen" or "ideas don't matter" HERE on the site is usually in response to a complete stranger, in knots, asking which they should write.

In that case, I do believe they don't matter....or, more correctly, that we don't know enough about the writer to weight them appropriately. Since I happen to think you're pretty bright, I'd be interested in your take.

penny for your thoughts on it.

RichardGarfinkle
10-30-2012, 11:56 PM
Bear with me, because I'm trying to translate this into something simpler for my own comprehension, but can you explain what you mean by "what they carry with them are easier in execution because their past and future implications grow into the story"? Because the last bit just turns back into word-salad for me, and I'm not sure what you're going for.

Are you saying that it's easier to write the Three Musketeers because there's all that history and setting there to work with, whereas Revenge of The Bobs doesn't have that, so it's not equal?

I'm saying the ideas aren't equal because of that. I'll also say that The Three Musketeers is better because of better execution.

Please note that I contrasted the Three Musketeers with the Count of Monte Cristo. Two great books by the same author. The contrast I'm pointing out is how much more there was to draw out of (as opposed to impose into). The Three Musketeers employs the history and setting in all aspects providing history, circumstance, motivation etc. It also allowed for several natural sequels which The Count of Monte Cristo did not.

Weirdmage
10-30-2012, 11:59 PM
In any case, fun though this is, it misses my point, which is that the ideas themselves are not equal rather than one set of ideas implicitly creates better stories, only that some ideas carry more with them and therefore make the creation of a richer story easier.

I think I see where you are coming from. But that would only work on an individual level. When you say "some ideas carry more with them and therefore make the creation of a richer story easier", that wouldn't be transferable from one person to the next, but be dependent on the individual's experience.

Take for instance the idea of a town in a valley being cut off from the rest of the world by snow, for six months, in the middle of a war. (Whether the war is WWII, another historical war, or an Epic Fantasy war doesn't matter.) The town is a border town, and there are factions who want both sides in the war to win and take control of the town.
Let's put aside the politics of the story for a bit. I, as a Norwegian, is very well acquinted with snow in large amounts and everything that goes with that. So it would be an "easy" idea to work with for me, because I would have very little research to do on that. However, someone who has lived all their lives in for example Kuwait would have lots of work to do with getting the snow part of the story right.
And going back to the politics, someone who has lived in a border community during a war, in for instance Ex-Jugoslavia, would have an easier time of getting the politics right.

My point being that whether an idea is easy to work with has nothing to do with the idea itself, but with the person working with it. And that would be even if we didn't take into account what value we put on the story the idea ends up as.

buz
10-31-2012, 12:35 AM
The point that I can't figure out is where idea stops and where execution starts, or where one layer of an idea overlaps with another--or is it all one idea? But the point (no. 2, was it?) that, with a less complex base idea, you must then layer ideas, leaves me wondering where you separate them--why isn't it all just one idea, those layers?

Take, for example, Hunger Games. I could summarize that with "love triangle" or I could say "battle royale" or I could say "government murders its enslaved children," but it's all of those things, isn't it? So are they separate ideas, or is the whole thing one idea?

If what you're saying is that some ideas are more complex than others--of course that's true, but I'm not sure what the point is (I'm not saying that there isn't a point, but that I don't understand). But, again, where is the division between the simple base of an idea and the next layer--or should they be divided at all? Kill Bill and the Count of Monte Cristo and Sweeney Todd or even The Cask of Amontillado (in which we don't know what the slight is) are hardly the same stories, but they are all "A seeks revenge on B for act C." Or are you arguing that an idea that is grounded in historical background and leads to sequels is therefore more...what? Better? Complex? Sequelly? Broader? By what measure is "equal" or "not equal"?

Of course "a horse masturbates endlessly" is an unequal idea to "girl thinks she hears the voice of a benevolent demon trying to escape hell, and commits all manner of sin so that he might subvert it and redeem himself, and in so doing condemns herself and unbalances power in the country, and the whole book we're not sure if the demon is real or she's having brain seizures or what" in that it's different. And the last thing actually has a plot. But note that the last thing is longer; I didn't stop with "girl thinks she hears the voice of a demon". If I layer stuff on "a horse masturbates endlessly" with, say, "because the soul of a deposed and effete god of creation is transported into its body one day and years to create a new race to rival the insubordinate humans with his seed, the way he did when the world was new, and..." it starts to take on a different cast... right?

I'll agree wholeheartedly that I've thought some story ideas were really good and some not so great. For me. For me to write, for me to read. I have no way of evaluating them outside of that, of separating them from how they're written, of separating an idea layered on another.

I'm not saying that I disagree, mind you; only that I don't think I understand. :D

I also wonder if uniqueness fits into all of this. A major facet in how I'd evaluate an "idea" is how often it's been done and in how many ways and a) am I likely to bring something new to it (if writing) or b) is this book likely to bring something different (if reading). Not that any idea is totally unique, or that an idea that's been done a lot is "worse," but talking about "ease of execution"--it's harder to bring something unique out of an idea that already has thousands of executions. Not impossible, certainly, just harder.

kkbe
10-31-2012, 12:38 AM
kuwisdelu: So I'm guessing all those who are saying that all ideas are indeed equal have never once thought "I wish I'd thought of that!"?
As one of those people, I suppose I'm qualified to respond. Sure, I've thought that. Your point is what, though? I'm not seeing the connection between RichardG's comments and yours, or between yours and mine. He's saying some ideas lend themselves better to story-telling than others. You're saying, some of the ideas people get haven't been considered by others.

I'm saying, it doesn't matter. You can have a great idea, one that a bunch of other people didn't have (your scenario); or a fantastic idea--a unique, amazingly complex idea, potentially rich in character development, plot, and setting (RichardGarfinkle's scenario), but without the knowledge and skills to bring that idea to fruition, what good is it? Does it matter if a writer has a unique and/or complex idea, if that writer is crippled by lack of vision, knowledge, skill, creativity?

Short answer: Nope, it doesn't.

Medievalist
10-31-2012, 12:56 AM
Vladimir Propp (http://mural.uv.es/vifresal/Propp.htm)

Stith Thompson (http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/ANTH/find/motif.html)

Bakshi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lord_of_the_Rings_(1978_film)) vs Jackson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lord_of_the_Rings:_The_Fellowship_of_the_Ring)

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 01:20 AM
To try to answer some of the confusion, I fear that I may be about to get more confusing. People differ in their understanding and knowledge, thus two people may have what they might think are the same ideas but because of those differences those ideas may differ radically in implication between those two people.

A person very knowledgable about a particular time and place who thinks of an idea involving two people of that time and place meeting, arguing and having a duel would have a denser deeper idea for that than someone whose exposure to that time and place came from one viewing of a poorly researched badly acted movie supposedly set in that time and place.

To take a somewhat odder example, my background in math (with logic as a hobby) means that I see the seemingly simple idea 1 + 1 = 2 is incredibly dense with implications and I could write an entire book about it,except other people already have.

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 02:47 AM
Thank you for the clarification! (I really do appreciate it, since I was losing my mental footing there.)

I guess the problem now is that I don't really agree with one of your points--Three Musketeers may indeed be a bigger story with a more complicated setting, but "easier in execution" strikes me as depending entirely on the author!

Me, I could write a Count of Monte Cristo about a hundred times easier than I could write a Three Musketeers,* because even reading about political intrigue makes me twitch. It all dissolves into a mash of minor characters whose names I can't keep straight and whose motivations I can't follow. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of books with dense political maneuvering that I've managed to follow, and they mostly end in "Bujold."

If I attempted to write something mired in historical politics, beyond a vague hand-waving in the background--it's the Blitz, that's why they're all out here in the country, it's the Regency, that's why the Prince Regent is playing cards in the back--they'd find me curled under my desk, weeping softly.

A really rich setting, either geographically or historically, can certainly add a lot to a story, but I think you have to be able to keep up with it. (And if it's an actual real historical setting, you have to get it RIGHT, or god help you.) Some authors are great at that. Some would sooner stick their hand in an enraged yak.

...if, on the other hand, I have veered off from what you were intending to say again, please let me know!


*With the obvious caveat that what I actually write is mostly very small stories about dragons going to middle school and lost wombat heroes and so am unlikely to write either.

Weirdmage
10-31-2012, 04:10 AM
To try to answer some of the confusion, I fear that I may be about to get more confusing. People differ in their understanding and knowledge, thus two people may have what they might think are the same ideas but because of those differences those ideas may differ radically in implication between those two people.

A person very knowledgable about a particular time and place who thinks of an idea involving two people of that time and place meeting, arguing and having a duel would have a denser deeper idea for that than someone whose exposure to that time and place came from one viewing of a poorly researched badly acted movie supposedly set in that time and place.

To take a somewhat odder example, my background in math (with logic as a hobby) means that I see the seemingly simple idea 1 + 1 = 2 is incredibly dense with implications and I could write an entire book about it,except other people already have.

I think the confusions comes from your definition of what an idea is.
In the example above, I would argue that the basic idea is: "Two people at a specific time and place, meet, argue, and have a duel".
The knowledgable person in your examle will have an easier time developing that idea further, but that doesn't mean his idea is better, just that he will have a somewhat easier time getting to the final product of the story.

Going a bit further with that example, the person seeing the movie may have an easier time writing the story because he's not limited by his knowledge of the time and place. If he then goes and does his research, he may end up with a better final product.

On a general note, you seem to be arguing that an idea is better if it's easier to develop. And you even mentioned that an idea that has sequel potential was better because of that.
I don't actually understand that argument at all. Some ideas start with a single scene, some with just a setting or character, and some may come almost fully formed. But however the idea starts there's a long way to a finished story, and I highly doubt there's any objective way to judge whether an idea is good before you try to construct a full story with it.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 04:15 AM
What I mean by a single idea is what an individual mind can hold as a single concept. A single idea is therefore relative to an individual mind.

It's pretty easy to demonstrate that the more one learns in various fields the more sophisticated and in depth our ideas become. Thus what is a single awareness or piece of understanding to one person is elaborate or confusing to another. The deeper the individual idea the more one can get out of it, thus the more potential for usage.

James D. Macdonald
10-31-2012, 04:23 AM
There are no good or bad ideas. There are, however, good and bad writers.

Weirdmage
10-31-2012, 04:49 AM
What I mean by a single idea is what an individual mind can hold as a single concept. A single idea is therefore relative to an individual mind.

It's pretty easy to demonstrate that the more one learns in various fields the more sophisticated and in depth our ideas become. Thus what is a single awareness or piece of understanding to one person is elaborate or confusing to another. The deeper the individual idea the more one can get out of it, thus the more potential for usage.

OK, that was pretty clear. I understand what you mean now.
However I am still left with the question of where you draw the line between idea and development? Or even more specifically, precisely when the idea phase ends?
For instance, if I get the idea of a story set during the Crusades, go and read about the Crusades for six months, and then start writing the story. Would it still be at the idea stage until I start writing?

Amadan
10-31-2012, 04:52 AM
What I mean by a single idea is what an individual mind can hold as a single concept. A single idea is therefore relative to an individual mind.


Dude, I'm trying to grasp your point, but I don't. Or rather, I think I do, and I just disagree with you.

Take your comparison of The Count of Monte Cristo with The Three Musketeers. You claim the former is based on a simpler idea because fundamentally, it's just a generic revenge story. Whereas the Three Musketeers is about political intrigue and honor and the contrast between the three musketeers... well, no. It's a generic swashbuckling bromance.

See how easy it is to recast any "complex" idea into a simple one, or vice versa? Saying The Count of Monte Cristo is about revenge is like saying Madame Bovary is about adultery, Gone with the Wind is about the Civil War, and Dickens just wrote a bunch of variations on a bildungsroman. All superficially true, but those "simple" ideas were not just the one-line summary, they were everything else that went into the author's conception of them. I could think of an idea like "A man escapes from prison to avenge himself on those who put him there" as easily as Dumas could. I can also come up with ideas like "A man encounters a talking cat and gains magical powers by communicating with his subconscious at the bottom of a well," but that doesn't make me Haruki Murakami.

kkbe
10-31-2012, 05:43 AM
The deeper the individual idea the more one can get out of it, thus the more potential for usage. Your take, RichardG. Mine is this: the deeper (e.g. more knowledgeable, skilled, blah blah) the individual, the greater potential an idea, any idea, has of becoming something. . . possibly great.

Newton watched an apple fall from a tree. The idea is simple: an apple fell from a tree, from tree to ground. How many before him had seen that happen, and always, that way? Yet it was Newton who extrapolated from that, who twisted and turned that simple idea into something the world had never considered, and it became Newton's Law of Gravitational Pull (or something to that effect, I'm not a scientist, don't quote me please, or call me out on it for mispeaking, I could look it up but I'm sleepy and shall soon be going to bed).

You get my point, though, right? If so, good. No, wonderful! If not. . . perhaps I shall think of another brilliantly simple idea for illustrating it on the morrow. :D

Bogna
10-31-2012, 05:50 AM
All ideas are equal. It's the execution of ideas that is not.

I agree. I've always thought that both Paranormal Activity and Twilight had excellent ideas/plots but absolute shit execution.

buz
10-31-2012, 06:09 AM
What I mean by a single idea is what an individual mind can hold as a single concept. A single idea is therefore relative to an individual mind.

It's pretty easy to demonstrate that the more one learns in various fields the more sophisticated and in depth our ideas become. Thus what is a single awareness or piece of understanding to one person is elaborate or confusing to another. The deeper the individual idea the more one can get out of it, thus the more potential for usage.

I'm completely lost.

So one idea is objectively...more something than another (you say "not better" but what? deeper?), but it depends on the individual's grasp of said idea, and how it is developed (i.e. one plus one equaling two, which to me would be a horrible idea to write a book about because I know fuck all of math and don't care to delve into it further, but to you is a good idea and worthy of book-length expounding, thus proving that the idea itself has no objective quality?)...so it's not objective?

What about the evolution of ancient Egyptian notions of chaos, or the natures of polytheistic deities juxtaposed with the monotheistic, such that it illustrates that our understanding of the word "god" today is not equivalent of that of ancient polytheistic religions, or about the evolutionary adaptations of the penis in various animals, or the practical applications of animal venoms... ? I could write about such things for hundreds of pages (probably, with more research), and to me all of those ideas are deeper than one plus one, but that doesn't make it so. :D

So...I'm confused. Something is deeper, somehow, but as Amadan said, you can cut off or layer on that depth at any point and make it look simple or complex; and as others have noted, individual perspective means a whole lot here. I'm unclear as to the point that supersedes such factors.

Lyxdeslic
10-31-2012, 06:45 AM
The consensus seems to be: all ideas are equal.

So will it be a good idea or a bad idea to call bullshit? Hmm, wait, a good idea to some, but a bad idea to others. Good idea. Bad idea. Good. Bad.

Nope, I just asked a four-year-old and she concurs that ideas are not equal.

Shouldn't the argument be that regardless of a good or bad idea, ideas are trumped by execution? Of course, execution is just a conglomeration of hundreds--if not thousands--of implemented ideas. So...

Christ, I wish I'd taken the blue pill.

Lyx

Susan Littlefield
10-31-2012, 07:25 AM
Why do you say that?

Because an idea is really nothing without execution. Ideas are a dime a dozen and everybody has plenty. Ten people can have the same idea about a love affair on a deserted island, but it's the writing of that idea that is important.

GiantRampagingPencil
10-31-2012, 07:57 AM
I'm glad I've gots me some percocet and Jack Daniel's because I'm having a bad flashback to my graduate student in philosophy days.

An anecdote: Jim Butcher said he could weave a good story from any two bad ideas. Someone gave him Pokemon and lost Roman legion. The result was the 6 book Codex Alera, a decent fantasy epic.

Anyway, I'm inclined to deal with this empirically--if I could figure out how. (Or why, for that matter.)

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 10:45 AM
Because an idea is really nothing without execution. Ideas are a dime a dozen and everybody has plenty. Ten people can have the same idea about a love affair on a deserted island, but it's the writing of that idea that is important.

That's a restatement, not an explanation.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 10:53 AM
I'm completely lost.

So one idea is objectively...more something than another (you say "not better" but what? deeper?), but it depends on the individual's grasp of said idea, and how it is developed (i.e. one plus one equaling two, which to me would be a horrible idea to write a book about because I know fuck all of math and don't care to delve into it further, but to you is a good idea and worthy of book-length expounding, thus proving that the idea itself has no objective quality?)...so it's not objective?

What about the evolution of ancient Egyptian notions of chaos, or the natures of polytheistic deities juxtaposed with the monotheistic, such that it illustrates that our understanding of the word "god" today is not equivalent of that of ancient polytheistic religions, or about the evolutionary adaptations of the penis in various animals, or the practical applications of animal venoms... ? I could write about such things for hundreds of pages (probably, with more research), and to me all of those ideas are deeper than one plus one, but that doesn't make it so. :D

So...I'm confused. Something is deeper, somehow, but as Amadan said, you can cut off or layer on that depth at any point and make it look simple or complex; and as others have noted, individual perspective means a whole lot here. I'm unclear as to the point that supersedes such factors.

No point supercedes those factors. Everything you mentioned was a deep idea with a lot to it. Each of them was an idea with its own history and implications.

Let me try this one more time.

1. There are ideas in ones mind that when you try to figure out the execution overflow with aspects and implications and you find yourself trying to figure out how to put all that lies inside the idea into the execution. Work needs to be done in order to control the amount coming out of the idea.

2. There are ideas that in execution keep needing things added to them in order to flesh them out. Work needs to be done in order to add things to the idea.

Either of these can lead to good books. But the first kind of idea can be seen as better then the second on a scale of idea fecundity, not on a scale of can you make a story out of it.

blacbird
10-31-2012, 11:21 AM
I didn't mean to imply that ideas are intellectual property. But even without implementation two ideas need not be equal.

Astrology is not equal to astronomy.

caw

Satsya
10-31-2012, 01:20 PM
I'll take a shot.

The term 'idea' isn't being used as I'd normally expect. I think of ideas as referring to the most base level of building blocks, not the higher-level concepts that are built from those ideas. Ideas are usually stated as being equal because, at their most basic level, it's like stating atoms of carbon are equal.

Does your theory boil down to: more idea equals more idea than less idea? But the value of idea is indeterminate, and more idea does not equal a better story -- just more potential for one.

In that case, I'd argue that the value of the idea is a negligible part of the equation compared to the skill of the writer and the way the idea is executed.

...Which I guess circles right back around to what everyone else was saying.

Cramp
10-31-2012, 01:38 PM
No point supercedes those factors. Everything you mentioned was a deep idea with a lot to it. Each of them was an idea with its own history and implications.

Let me try this one more time.

1. There are ideas in ones mind that when you try to figure out the execution overflow with aspects and implications and you find yourself trying to figure out how to put all that lies inside the idea into the execution. Work needs to be done in order to control the amount coming out of the idea.

2. There are ideas that in execution keep needing things added to them in order to flesh them out. Work needs to be done in order to add things to the idea.

Either of these can lead to good books. But the first kind of idea can be seen as better then the second on a scale of idea fecundity, not on a scale of can you make a story out of it.

Seems to me you are saying that some ideas are more inspirational than others - in that they cause more ideas around the original seed idea to emerge readily. It is an easier process. That's probably true. I know that I've had flashes of inspiration that have led to whole storylines being plotted out and others that fizzle uselessly.

But that's a fairly trivial truth. Yes, there are more fertile ideas than others (depending on who comes up with them of course - a subjectivity that makes the scale pretty pointless), but whether that makes them better ideas than others?

I imagine that writers only really care whether or not they get a good, and written story out of an idea.

We'll probably never know how many of the books we think are genius required their authors to squeeze out every clever twist or ingenious creation. And vice versa.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 02:13 PM
Seems to me you are saying that some ideas are more inspirational than others - in that they cause more ideas around the original seed idea to emerge readily. It is an easier process. That's probably true. I know that I've had flashes of inspiration that have led to whole storylines being plotted out and others that fizzle uselessly.

But that's a fairly trivial truth. Yes, there are more fertile ideas than others (depending on who comes up with them of course - a subjectivity that makes the scale pretty pointless), but whether that makes them better ideas than others?

I imagine that writers only really care whether or not they get a good, and written story out of an idea.

We'll probably never know how many of the books we think are genius required their authors to squeeze out every clever twist or ingenious creation. And vice versa.

Your definition of trivial is very different from mine. I don't regard inspiration, interconnection, learning, implication, and understanding as unimportant aspects of ideas. Indeed, in most endeavors those would be regarded as the hallmarks of importance.

Cramp
10-31-2012, 02:44 PM
Trivial in the sense that it is obviously and uncontroversially true. So yes, you might say that some ideas are better than others (in that they produce more inspiration of their own). But that does not change the truth of 'there are no bad ideas' for us, as the measurements are on different scales.

Alessandra Kelley
10-31-2012, 02:53 PM
Trivial in the sense that it is obviously and uncontroversially true. So yes, you might say that some ideas are better than others (in that they produce more inspiration of their own). But that does not change the truth of 'there are no bad ideas' for us, as the measurements are on different scales.

Oh, for Set's sake.

If it is "obviously and uncontroversially true" that not all ideas are equal
WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE ARGUING THAT ALL IDEAS ARE EQUAL?

Cramp
10-31-2012, 03:04 PM
Because the notion that is uncontroversially true is that some ideas easily lead to more ideas. I don't think any one could argue with that.

Doesn't make them good ideas that produce worthwhile stories though.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 04:01 PM
Because the notion that is uncontroversially true is that some ideas easily lead to more ideas. I don't think any one could argue with that.

Doesn't make them good ideas that produce worthwhile stories though.

People aren't just saying: A good writer can take any idea and make a good story about it.

People are also saying: All ideas are equal or ideas are a dime a dozen.

These two statements do not mean the same thing.
Nor do they point toward the same course of action. Their implications are not the same; ergo they do not embody the same idea.

The former is an exhortation to skill in writing.

The latter is a dismissal of all learning and all thought; therefore it points toward rejection of learning, consideration, contemplation and seeking of inspiration.

To reiterate:
These statements do not have the same meaning, but people treat them as if they had the same meaning. Therefore pointing out that they do not mean the same thing and that the courses of action implied by them are not the same is not a trivial thing to do.

Cramp
10-31-2012, 04:08 PM
If a good writer can take any idea and make a good story out of it, then any idea can be turned into a good story by a good writer. It's just a restatement, yes, but this means that there are no qualities inherent to an idea that determine whether or not a good writer can turn it into a good story - those qualities are in the writer.

So in the reckoning we are interested in - whether or not an idea can become a good story, then yes, all ideas are equal.

EDIT: I think I would go to say that the latter of your two statements is not a dismissal of learning and thought. It tells us that it takes more than just a good idea to create a good story - it needs skill and care, research and creativity. All the things you talk about. Anyone can come up with an idea - it takes hard work and craft to make something of it.

Satsya
10-31-2012, 04:22 PM
The former is an exhortation to skill in writing.

The latter is a dismissal of all learning and all thought; therefore it points toward rejection of learning, consideration, contemplation and seeking of inspiration.

To reiterate:
These statements do not have the same meaning, but people treat them as if they had the same meaning.

These conclusions rely on the assumption that everyone's using the exact same definitions and perspective as you.

Amadan
10-31-2012, 04:30 PM
These conclusions rely on the assumption that everyone's using the exact same definitions and perspective as you.


Exactly.

At the point where RichardGarfinkle claims that anyone who thinks ideas are all equal is dismissing all learning and thought, I think our harmonics are not even vibrating beneath the same celestial spheres.

Mr Flibble
10-31-2012, 04:43 PM
People are also saying: All ideas are equal or ideas are a dime a dozen.Those two statements do not mean the same thing. Or they don't to me anyway.

All ideas are equal means just that - and I'm not sure I agree

Ideas are a dime a dozen means, well, that ideas abound, and that they aren't worth anything till you do something with them. It makes no reference to how good any of those ideas actually are. And I'm not sure how it dismisses learning either - I have to learn how to sift those ideas to find one that I can turn into something I want to write. I have to learn how to write that story, etc etc

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 04:45 PM
Amadan and Cramp:

Then tell me please what the meaning of the sentence "All ideas are equal" is.

If it does mean the same thing as "a good writer can make a good story out of any idea," how is that a viable judgement of ideas at all?

A good cook can make a good meal out of any ingredients. That's the skill of the cook. But chefs don't think that all ingredients are the same, and are happier to have good ingredients.

Why shouldn't writers judge the quality of ideas, rather than being dismissive?

Mr Flibble
10-31-2012, 04:49 PM
But an idea is simply a potential. It's not concrete, like butter or flour.

Until I or whoever actually use it, it has no value at all. An idea is nothing without execution. The same cannot be said for flour.

Cramp
10-31-2012, 05:00 PM
Exactly. An idea tends to lack any context. As an idea becomes a story, then we begin to be able to judge its qualities.

EDIT: I guess it comes down to what counts as an 'idea'. Someone asking if their one sentence story idea is any good probably won't get many useful answers, but a person reading over a three page summary might be able to come up with a more substantive value judgement. And this says nothing of the subjective power of inspiration.

shadowwalker
10-31-2012, 05:16 PM
But an idea is simply a potential. It's not concrete, like butter or flour.

Until I or whoever actually use it, it has no value at all. An idea is nothing without execution. The same cannot be said for flour.


Exactly. An idea tends to lack any context. As an idea becomes a story, then we begin to be able to judge its qualities.

Which is why ideas are a dime a dozen and are also equal. An idea gains value only when it is coupled with a writer who will develop that idea into a story.

How many times do we see someone on this forum asking if "This" is a good idea for a story? And how many times is the only possible answer "Write the story and we'll tell you."? And that's because until we see the story that came from the idea, no one knows if that idea is a good one, a bad one, or just a plain, simple idea.

Mr Flibble
10-31-2012, 05:25 PM
Which is why ideas are a dime a dozen and are also equal. An idea gains value only when it is coupled with a writer who will develop that idea into a story.


I'm still not convinced that dime a dozen = equal value (some ideas are better than others, though still pretty damned cheap. One idea might be worth half that dime, while the rest of the dozen are worth about 1/22 of a dime), but I agree with that second part.

The value of an idea is inherent in part on the person who is using it. An idea that is crappy in my hands might turn into gold in someone else's.

But I can't argue that some ideas aren't better than others, because I think they are (for a given value of 'better', and I think perhaps that value of what is better is the crux of the argument)

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 05:41 PM
Goodness, we took the long way around, didn't we?

Throw me in the "the worth of an idea is entirely subjective" camp. I might think "Nigh-unstoppable monster invades city, havoc ensues," to be a stupid idea, but in three different hands--Godzilla, Cloverfield, and Perdido Street Station, say--it's three different stories with, one imagines, three different worths. Clearly those people didn't think it was a stupid idea, and clearly their enthusiasts agree with their particular execution.

And if the potential of something depends entirely on who picks it up--on their research, on their mood, on their ability to execute it--then I don't know how we can possibly quantify the worth of an idea.

In the end, I come to "equal" by default, because I don't particularly believe that anybody's qualified to call an idea "good" or "bad" on anything but a subjective level. I know that lots of ideas are, for me, utterly terrible--but I'm not arrogant enough to project that on any other writer.

(Would it help if we use "unquantifiable" instead of "equal?")

What's better--true love, corn, or gravity? And are any of them deeper than angels?

Susan Littlefield
10-31-2012, 06:00 PM
That's a restatement, not an explanation.

Richard, you seem dead set on this view of yours. :) What I said is not a restatement, it's an answer. Many other people say the same thing.

An idea is something as simple as boy meets girl, man meets nature, children go on an adventure, guy comes into forum with an idea. Everything outside of that basic idea is in how well it is executed.

It's kind of like getting an idea to bake a cake. All the ingredients are the same, but I will tell you nobody will come near my cake while everybody devours my cousin's cake. Why? Because her execution is a heck of a lot better than mine will ever be.

The ingredients of a good story are the same, but it's all in the execution. A story does not start without an idea.

Alessandra Kelley
10-31-2012, 06:04 PM
What makes you think any idea is better than any other?

Please read the thread.

I believe the OP covered this in post #1, followed by further explication.

kuwisdelu
10-31-2012, 06:09 PM
An idea is something as simple as boy meets girl, man meets nature, children go on an adventure, guy comes into forum with an idea. Everything outside of that basic idea is in how well it is executed.

I'm going to have to disagree with that. The idea involves a lot of the details as well.

The idea for Star Wars includes the Jedi, the Force, lightsabers, the rebellion and the Empire, the Death Star, etc. It's not just "boy goes on an adventure and saves the galaxy."

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 06:10 PM
Richard, you seem dead set on this view of yours. :) What I said is not a restatement, it's an answer. Read other people's answers, because many of them say the same thing.

An idea is something as simple as boy meets girl, man meets nature, children go on an adventure, guy comes into forum with an idea. Everything outside of that basic idea is in how well it is executed.

It's kind of like getting an idea to bake a cake. All the ingredients are the same, but I will tell you nobody will come near my cake while everybody devours my cousin's cake. Why? Because her execution is a heck of a lot better than mine will ever be.

The ingredients of a good story are the same, but it's all in the execution. As story does not start without an idea.

Why do you limit ideas to mental constructs that small and simple? By that reasoning, the theory of gravity is not an idea. Addition is not an idea.

Indeed just about nothing that the human mind has in it would be an idea. If those are not ideas what word would you use to describe them?

Susan Littlefield
10-31-2012, 06:18 PM
I'm going to have to disagree with that. The idea involves a lot of the details as well.

The idea for Star Wars includes the Jedi, the Force, lightsabers, the rebellion and the Empire, the Death Star, etc. It's not just "boy goes on an adventure and saves the galaxy."

The details have to do with how you will execute the idea.

As for star wars, I think the initial idea was probably pretty simple, such as a war in space.

Mr Flibble
10-31-2012, 06:19 PM
I'm going to have to disagree with that. The idea involves a lot of the details as well.

The idea for Star Wars includes the Jedi, the Force, lightsabers, the rebellion and the Empire, the Death Star, etc. It's not just "boy goes on an adventure and saves the galaxy."


The idea can involve all the details. Or it can be as simple as 'boy saves the galaxy'. 'Ideas' encompasses both extremes.

Are we talking about the initial idea - I think I shall write a spy story involving octopi.

Or the development of that - and my main character will be a pirate, only he's spy as well, ooh and the magic does XYZ! Amphibious people! And a Death Whale!

Because it seems to me, that once you start developing it, that's when the idea stops being potential and starts becoming your story. It's no longer just an idea.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 06:25 PM
The idea can involve all the details. Or it can be as simple as 'boy saves the galaxy'. 'Ideas' encompasses both extremes.

Are we talking about the initial idea - I think I shall write a spy story involving octopi.

Or the development of that - and my main character will be a pirate, only he's spy as well, ooh and the magic does XYZ! Amphibious people! And a Death Whale!

Because it seems to me, that once you start developing it, that's when the idea stops being potential and starts becoming your story. It's no longer just an idea.

What if your idea is not a simple one to begin with. The initial idea for my first novel came from reading Aristotle and running into a single line: All motion proceeds by either force or nature.

In that one line I saw a way to create world that worked by Aristotelian and Taoist physics allowing me to have a world war between Greek and Chinese civilizations.

That was the initial concept. I then had to create an actual story with characters, history, etc out of it.

Amadan
10-31-2012, 06:25 PM
Why do you limit ideas to mental constructs that small and simple? By that reasoning, the theory of gravity is not an idea. Addition is not an idea.


You seem to be using a wide and varied definition of "idea" depending on how it suits your argument.

If "the theory of gravity" (complete with all the math and proofs and testing involved) is a single idea, obviously it is not the same as the context we're talking about: a premise for a fictional story.

When writers say "Ideas are a dime a dozen," they are not saying that every scientific hypothesis, for example, is equally valid.

You're shifting context and the frustration in this thread is largely because you're playing a shell game with your definition of "idea."

Susan Littlefield
10-31-2012, 06:29 PM
Why do you limit ideas to mental constructs that small and simple? By that reasoning, the theory of gravity is not an idea. Addition is not an idea.

Indeed just about nothing that the human mind has in it would be an idea. If those are not ideas what word would you use to describe them?

How many people write books about love, hate, adventure, revenge, etc. etc.? Those ideas are old and well recycled. Add in the details, and you are moving your idea forward into a story.

Comparing gravity and math is like comparing apples to oranges. Gravity has been proven and just about anything can be solved with math. You don't prove ideas, you write them into interesting stories.

Susan Littlefield
10-31-2012, 06:30 PM
You seem to be using a wide and varied definition of "idea" depending on how it suits your argument.

If "the theory of gravity" (complete with all the math and proofs and testing involved) is a single idea, obviously it is not the same as the context we're talking about: a premise for a fictional story.

When writers say "Ideas are a dime a dozen," they are not saying that every scientific hypothesis, for example, is equally valid.

You're shifting context and the frustration in this thread is largely because you're playing a shell game with your definition of "idea."

I wholeheartedly agree with this.

Mr Flibble
10-31-2012, 06:30 PM
What if your idea is not a simple one to begin with. The initial idea for my first novel came from reading Aristotle and running into a single line: All motion proceeds by either force or nature.

In that one line I saw a way to create world that worked by Aristotelian and Taoist physics allowing me to have a world war between Greek and Chinese civilizations.

That was the initial concept. I then had to create an actual story with characters, history, etc out of it.

Actually your initial idea sounds fairly simple.

And I know when I talk about ideas being ten a penny, I'm not talking about the ones that have developed - I'm talking about the (mostly) simple, initial 'Ooh what if...?'

The value (and difference in value) comes when I take that initial thought and unravel a story from it. When I use it, in fact.

So, which form of idea are you talking here? The initial basic concept, or the growing of it in your head, the bashing together of perhaps a couple of ideas to see if they fit? The basic idea or the development of it? Because those are different things and until I know what it is, exactly, you're talking about, it is very difficult to opine on.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 06:33 PM
How many people write books about love, hate, adventure, revenge, etc. etc.? Those ideas are old and well recycled. Add in the details, and you are moving your idea forward into a story.

Comparing gravity and math is like comparing apples to oranges. Gravity has been proven and just about anything can be solved with math. You don't prove ideas, you write them into interesting stories.

Um, in math you do prove or disprove ideas. Here's an idea that's one sentence long and was a big deal when proven around twenty five hundred years ago give or take.

"The square root of two is not the ratio of any two whole numbers."

It sounds like you are restricting the word idea to mean only what is used to make stories. So are there no ideas in the sciences, or in painting, or music or anything but writing?

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 06:39 PM
Why do you limit ideas to mental constructs that small and simple? By that reasoning, the theory of gravity is not an idea.

I'd say it's a theory. Which is a bigger and more complicated beast, at least in my book, made of multiple ideas stacked together and ruthlessly pruned.

"Survival of the fittest" is an idea, in my book. The theory of evolution, though, is bigger and more complicated than one idea, and new stuff gets added and removed all the time. Punctuated equilibrium. Lamarck. Selfish genes. All ideas, pulling together, to make something bigger.

Now, to me, "boy meets girl" is an idea. "Boy-octopus meets girl-octopus" is two ideas having lunch. "Boy-octopus meets girl-octopus against sweeping panorama of the Cuttlefish Wars" is three ideas at the table. "Boy-octopus meets girl-octopus against sweeping panorama etc, rise from the deep and form a cabaret act at Sea World" is four ideas, but the last one is stupid and will be ejected from the restaurant.

But I'm kinda getting the impression that you think those things are all one singular idea apiece, and therefore because "Boy-octopus/girl-octopus/Cuttlefish Wars" has more going on, you feel it's greater? deeper? easier? than plain 'ol "boy meets girl."

Whereas I kinda think it's just farther along.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 06:41 PM
I'd say it's a theory. Which is a bigger and more complicated beast, at least in my book, made of multiple ideas stacked together and ruthlessly pruned.

"Survival of the fittest" is an idea, in my book. The theory of evolution, though, is bigger and more complicated than one idea, and new stuff gets added and removed all the time. Punctuated equilibrium. Lamarck. Selfish genes. All ideas, pulling together, to make something bigger.

Now, to me, "boy meets girl" is an idea. "Boy-octopus meets girl-octopus" is two ideas having lunch. "Boy-octopus meets girl-octopus against sweeping panorama of the Cuttlefish Wars" is three ideas at the table. "Boy-octopus meets girl-octopus against sweeping panorama etc, rise from the deep and form a cabaret act at Sea World" is four ideas, but the last one is stupid and will be ejected from the restaurant.

But I'm kinda getting the impression that you think those things are all one singular idea apiece, and therefore because "Boy-octopus/girl-octopus/Cuttlefish Wars" has more going on, you feel it's greater? deeper? easier? than plain 'ol "boy meets girl."

Whereas I kinda think it's just farther along.

Have a look a couple of posts up for the idea that I used for my first novel. It doesn't break down smaller than seeing a way to have two specific different theories of the world fit together and creating a story therefrom.

Mr Flibble
10-31-2012, 06:41 PM
Whereas I kinda think it's just farther along. Exactly.

sciencewarrior
10-31-2012, 06:41 PM
If you define "idea" as something as broad as "any interconnected collection of thoughts," then it becomes a tautology that "ideas aren't all equal." You can't say the Theory of Relativity has the same value as "I think it's going to rain."

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 06:43 PM
If you define "idea" as something as broad as "any interconnected collection of thoughts," then it becomes a tautology that "ideas aren't all equal." You can't say the Theory of Relativity has the same value as "I think it's going to rain."

If you'll look up, a bit, you'll see me saying that an idea is something you can hold as a single thought. Different people can hold different things as single thoughts owing to differences in thinking and learning. To some people relativity is a single thought (or a few at any rate).

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 06:51 PM
Have a look a couple of posts up for the idea that I used for my first novel. It doesn't break down smaller than seeing a way to have two specific different theories of the world fit together and creating a story therefrom.

I dunno, "conflict arises between two opposing world-views" is a pretty small and often-done idea. I think it's up there with "boy meets girl" and "coming-of-age" for simple-with-a-lot-of-room-for-scaffolding.

kkbe
10-31-2012, 06:54 PM
If you define "idea" as something as broad as "any interconnected collection of thoughts," then it becomes a tautology that "ideas aren't all equal." You can't say the Theory of Relativity has the same value as "I think it's going to rain."

Ideas and thoughts are two different animals. Ideas give rise to action, I read that somewhere. Thoughts don't. So, in your analogy, I think it's going to rain is, indeed, a thought. But, Hey, I wonder if movement is relative to the observer? might prompt a person to consider and postulate, experiment, observe and record said observations, theorize, record theories, confer, debate, write a book. . .

I don't see the point of comparing values of thoughts v. ideas. Conceptually, they are as different as night and day.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 07:04 PM
I dunno, "conflict arises between two opposing world-views" is a pretty small and often-done idea. I think it's up there with "boy meets girl" and "coming-of-age" for simple-with-a-lot-of-room-for-scaffolding.

But that wasn't the idea I had. The idea was more specific, and it came in a moment. What you have there is a description of the idea, not the idea itself. At no point did I go through a mental process that amounted to:

1. I want to write a story about a conflict arising between two opposing world views.

2. Here are two world views that can be put in opposition.

3. I will write a story about these two opposing world views.

I had the idea in a single thought. If a single thought is not a single idea, what exactly do you mean by a single idea?

Furthermore, if I never had the idea you are saying I used, in what sense was it the idea behind the story?

sciencewarrior
10-31-2012, 07:09 PM
Still, one good idea won't save a bad book. I'm sure you have all read a book review that began with "The author had a few good ideas, but..."

A good idea today may be an awful idea in three years (YA dystopia, anyone?) but a good book today will still be a good book in twenty or a hundred years.

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 07:10 PM
At no point did I go through a mental process that amounted to:

1. I want to write a story about a conflict arising between two opposing world views.

2. Here are two world views that can be put in opposition.

3. I will write a story about these two opposing world views.



Not consciously, perhaps.

Look, words are made of letters. But I don't think "W-R-I-T-E" when I write the word, I think "write."

But my mental shortcut still doesn't change the bit where it's made of letters.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 07:10 PM
Still, one good idea won't save a bad book. I'm sure you have all read a book review that began with "The author had a few good ideas, but..."

A good idea today may be an awful idea in three years (YA dystopia, anyone?) but a good book today is a good book in twenty or hundred years.

Certainly true, but not something that anyone has disputed in this thread.

Amadan
10-31-2012, 07:11 PM
But that wasn't the idea I had. The idea was more specific, and it came in a moment.


It was still several ideas. Ideas can be infinitely granular.

If I conceive of the entire plot of Madame Bovary as a single idea, does that mean it's a more complex idea than "bored wife has affairs"? No, it means I had a whole constellation of ideas surrounding that single one.

I really don't know what your point is, unless it's to argue that you have Really Big Superior Ideas.

seun
10-31-2012, 07:23 PM
I was going to get involved in this thread but I was too busy writing.

sciencewarrior
10-31-2012, 07:30 PM
Let's say you started with a "shallow" idea: "Do you know what would be cool? Spartans versus kung-fu masters!" If you took this seed and created the same book, wouldn't both ideas be equivalent?

Amadan
10-31-2012, 07:33 PM
I was going to get involved in this thread but I was too busy writing.


I'm glad you took time out of your busy writing schedule to let us know what you think of the thread.

Weirdmage
10-31-2012, 07:38 PM
Um, in math you do prove or disprove ideas. Here's an idea that's one sentence long and was a big deal when proven around twenty five hundred years ago give or take.

"The square root of two is not the ratio of any two whole numbers."

But that isn't an idea, that is the end proof you get once the idea is tested.
Going back to Newton, the initial idea wasn't the whole theory of gravity, but something along the lines of "a force in nature made that apple fall to the ground".


It sounds like you are restricting the word idea to mean only what is used to make stories. So are there no ideas in the sciences, or in painting, or music or anything but writing?

I don't see anybody saying that. What I see is everyone, except you, putting a limit on what is an idea, a point where something moves from the idea stage and becomes something more.

In my opinion, it goes like this:
Idea-->development-->concept-->further development and research-->theory (or for a novel, first draft)

You seem to be calling all these steps idea. But when you do that your reasoning falls apart. You mention knowledge all the time. But if you call the development stage a part of the idea, it doesn't matter how much knowledge you have when you get the idea, you can just do the reasearch and end up with the same result. So the complexity of the idea will not have anything to do with the individuals knowledge, but with the individuals willingness to develop the idea by acquiring and/or applying knowledge.

So I'll reiterate my question from earlier in this thread, when does the idea stage end?

I saw this before I posted:

But that wasn't the idea I had. The idea was more specific, and it came in a moment. What you have there is a description of the idea, not the idea itself. At no point did I go through a mental process that amounted to:

1. I want to write a story about a conflict arising between two opposing world views.

2. Here are two world views that can be put in opposition.

3. I will write a story about these two opposing world views.

I had the idea in a single thought. If a single thought is not a single idea, what exactly do you mean by a single idea?

Then you're back to what you said before that basically comes down to better=more complex=easier to develop, and that just takes the idea out of context with the development phase of it. And while that may work well as a theorethical philosophical construct, it falls apart when it encounters the real world apllication of it. Without development an idea is just an abstract, it takes development to make it something concrete.

The thought you started with encompasses several basic ideas, you seem to say that if those come into the mind combined it is a good/complex idea. And that it therefore is superior to an idea that needs to be worked with. But isn't that just according value to laziness? It certainly dismisses any value on the craft of devlopment of an idea.

shadowwalker
10-31-2012, 07:42 PM
This whole thing is going round in circles. But this really says what a lot of us have been saying:

"Different people can hold different things as single thoughts owing to differences in thinking and learning". So if the concept of an idea depends on the individual, then why should not the 'quality' of that idea depend on how that individual develops the idea? Why is it necessary for the idea to be multifaceted or complex in order for it to be better? Aren't you just saying that the starting point for one person's idea might be nanoseconds ahead of someone else's (considering the complexities of the mind and subconscious) and therefore, for some unknown and not understood reason, you think it's somehow better?

Or are you just trying to say that complex ideas are better than simple ones? Which really isn't true because it still depends on what the person who has the idea, simple or complex, does with it.

seun
10-31-2012, 07:42 PM
I'm glad you took time out of your busy writing schedule to let us know what you think of the thread.

My pleasure.

jeffo20
10-31-2012, 07:59 PM
It sounds like you are restricting the word idea to mean only what is used to make stories. So are there no ideas in the sciences, or in painting, or music or anything but writing?You're on a writing forum and you're surprised that a question about ideas is interpreted as being about writing? If we go all the way back to the beginning, this is how you framed all of this:


It is a general principle of writing (and indeed of all art) that it is not the idea but the implementation that matters.

Midian
10-31-2012, 08:44 PM
:LilLove: I really love it when AWers get their writing geek on.

:nothing

Word. Me too!

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 09:18 PM
You're on a writing forum and you're surprised that a question about ideas is interpreted as being about writing? If we go all the way back to the beginning, this is how you framed all of this:

There's a difference between applying and interpreting. I pointed out in a fair bit of detail and with examples why in the context of writing I thought the statement you quoted is in error.

To reiterate for something like the fifth time: An idea that carries a great deal with it can directly produce needed elements in writing that an idea that does not carry such will need to have added to it by the addition of other ideas. Thus the first idea has more useful in it than the second.

That both can be turned into stories does not make them equal.

To go even further, I have yet to hear anyone else tell me what they actually think an idea is or any positive argument as to why they should be considered equal.

victoriastrauss
10-31-2012, 09:26 PM
Astrology is not equal to astronomy.

Not now. But back in the 15th and 16th centuries, they were one and the same. Some of the most famous astronomers (Tycho Brahe, Regiomontanus) were also astrologers. Some of the most seminal astronomical discoveries and innovations were made in service of astrology.

It just goes to show how slippery and relativistic all these concepts are.

- Victoria

Amadan
10-31-2012, 09:30 PM
To reiterate for something like the fifth time: An idea that carries a great deal with it can directly produce needed elements in writing that an idea that does not carry such will need to have added to it by the addition of other ideas. Thus the first idea has more useful in it than the second.

You seem to be arguing that such "atomic" ideas exist - single concepts that cannot be broken into smaller components. Every example you've given has, in fact, been a composite of multiple ideas. And then you argue that it
is a single (superior) idea because you thought of it all at once.


To go even further, I have yet to hear anyone else tell me what they actually think an idea is or any positive argument as to why they should be considered equal.

What do you want, a dictionary definition? A literary definition? Our personal definitions? The problem is you keep changing the context, as I said.


Please provide an example of a single, atomic idea that inherently "carries a great deal with it," and contrast it with a similar atomic idea that does not.

ishtar'sgate
10-31-2012, 09:32 PM
It is a general principle of writing (and indeed of all art) that it is not the idea but the implementation that matters. This is absolutely true but it implies something that is not true: that all ideas are therefore equal and valueless.

This is false for two reasons:

1. A good idea is backed up by the other ideas, observations, facts, etc, that spawned it. A good idea carries with it a whole context of precursors that can be brought to play in implementation.

A good idea for a historical story takes account of and draws in the history and societies in which it is set.



Went back and had a look at your original post because I got totally confused after more reading.

IMO a good idea only becomes a good idea after it's been executed.

Two writers have a similar idea for a story drawn from the pages of history. They research and study the period in depth; so much so that they are considered experts in that period. They write their stories, using all the story ideas that arose from their research material coupled with their original idea. Both ideas are valuable and useable but one story falls flat and is dry and dull and readers throw it aside in disgust. The other story is lively and interesting and readers gobble it up.
Both ideas had equal potential but IMO ideas must be animated by an imaginative creative mind before they are accepted as good ideas.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 09:40 PM
You seem to be arguing that such "atomic" ideas exist - single concepts that cannot be broken into smaller components. Every example you've given has, in fact, been a composite of multiple ideas. And then you argue that it
is a single (superior) idea because you thought of it all at once.



What do you want, a dictionary definition? A literary definition? Our personal definitions? The problem is you keep changing the context, as I said.


Please provide an example of a single, atomic idea that inherently "carries a great deal with it," and contrast it with a similar atomic idea that does not.

My point is not that atomic ideas exist but that high density ideas exist. That an individual person can have a single thought that packs a great deal of understanding in it.

If you want one. Here: I give you the entire universe in one single high density idea:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/math/3/f/5/3f50fd206f2fe543a6a8a3e687cf74c3.png

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 09:47 PM
To reiterate for something like the fifth time: An idea that carries a great deal with it can directly produce needed elements in writing that an idea that does not carry such will need to have added to it by the addition of other ideas. Thus the first idea has more useful in it than the second.


To reiterate for yet another time, though, I don't agree. I think your "idea that carries a great deal with it" is really just a couple of ideas added together.

That the addition happened very quickly and not entirely on the conscious level doesn't change matters. It's still a couple of ideas stuck together. It's just farther along in development.

...and then I started in about atoms and now I see Amadan has beaten me to it. But I think the analogy holds. You're claiming that your idea is an atom, and I say it's a molecule that can be broken into atoms. It may look like a thing complete unto itself--like wood looks like a thing complete unto itself--but get down in there and it's all just a bunch of atoms of various elements crammed together in a form that looks very snazzy and complete.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 09:53 PM
To reiterate for yet another time, though, I don't agree. I think your "idea that carries a great deal with it" is really just a couple of ideas added together.

That the addition happened very quickly and not entirely on the conscious level doesn't change matters. It's still a couple of ideas stuck together. It's just farther along in development.

...and then I started in about atoms and now I see Amadan has beaten me to it. But I think the analogy holds. You're claiming that your idea is an atom, and I say it's a molecule that can be broken into atoms. It may look like a thing complete unto itself--like wood looks like a thing complete unto itself--but get down in there and it's all just a bunch of atoms of various elements crammed together in a form that looks very snazzy and complete.

And for the second time. No, I don't claim it's an atom. I claim it's a thought. Thoughts do not appear to have an atomic or molecular structure. They seem to appear whole and can be fit together to create more thoughts. But often what one day was a batch of separate thoughts becomes a single thought later on. That's part of how learning works: enough practice and thought and work can make the complex simple.

But suppose we take your atomic theory, which I don't believe in, but let's run with it. Could you give me an example of an atomic idea: that is an idea that cannot be broken down into smaller parts.

Amadan
10-31-2012, 10:15 PM
My point is not that atomic ideas exist but that high density ideas exist. That an individual person can have a single thought that packs a great deal of understanding in it.

If you want one. Here: I give you the entire universe in one single high density idea:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/math/3/f/5/3f50fd206f2fe543a6a8a3e687cf74c3.png


That's not a single idea. That formula did not strike someone like a bolt of lightning, nor did everything it encapsulates come to anyone whole and complete.

And showing off your mathematical learnings has nothing to do with the context in which you brought this up: the value of ideas to writers.

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 10:21 PM
But suppose we take your atomic theory, which I don't believe in, but let's run with it. Could you give me an example of an atomic idea: that is an idea that cannot be broken down into smaller parts.

Revenge.

shadowwalker
10-31-2012, 10:25 PM
Sigh...

What math and atoms have to do with writing ideas I still don't understand. Baffle with bullshit, perhaps, but it seems to have little to do with writing. So I repeat myself (like so many in this thread!) what difference in quality does it make if the basic idea becomes complex within seconds or hours or days or weeks or whatever? It's the basic idea that started the whole train rolling; without it, no story will be written.

And I have yet to see Richard refute the idea (omg, should I try to explain my definition of that horrid word in this context?) that any idea depends on the individual writer as to whether it was worth pursuing/writing, and that any idea, however basic or complex, can be poorly executed. It seems to me (if I've made any sense of the "word salad", as someone so aptly put it) that he has not, but rather has shown this to be true. That to me proves that the idea itself has no value until it is developed into a story.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 10:31 PM
Sigh...

What math and atoms have to do with writing ideas I still don't understand. Baffle with bullshit, perhaps, but it seems to have little to do with writing. So I repeat myself (like so many in this thread!) what difference in quality does it make if the basic idea becomes complex within seconds or hours or days or weeks or whatever? It's the basic idea that started the whole train rolling; without it, no story will be written.

And I have yet to see Richard refute the idea (omg, should I try to explain my definition of that horrid word in this context?) that any idea depends on the individual writer as to whether it was worth pursuing/writing, and that any idea, however basic or complex, can be poorly executed. It seems to me (if I've made any sense of the "word salad", as someone so aptly put it) that he has not, but rather has shown this to be true. That to me proves that the idea itself has no value until it is developed into a story.

Do I have to do this again? Fine.

Ideas are raw materials for writing. That a skilled craftsman can produce good work from any raw materials or favors working in certain raw materials does not mean that all raw materials are equal either in potential or in ease of use.

Math is not word salad it is a way of embodying concepts in high density ideas. I wrote an SF book that turned a consequence of that equation into a starship drive and another book (science popularization) that attempted in part to explicate some of the manners in which the universe worked according to that equation. I found the ability to understand that idea as a single concept highly useful for both.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 10:33 PM
Revenge.

Nope. Non-atomic but moderately dense.

Revenge implies several things:
1. A source of harm that did what was perceived as harm to a particular being.

2. The harm done.

3. The being harmed.

4. Another being (possibly the same as the first) who seeks to cause harm to the source of harm as a means of redress for the first harm.

Furthermore, note the elaboration possible in the dense concepts of harm, perceived harm, and redress.

Note: Not the same as Justice, also one word, but non atomic and similar in structure to the above.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 10:35 PM
That's not a single idea. That formula did not strike someone like a bolt of lightning, nor did everything it encapsulates come to anyone whole and complete.

And showing off your mathematical learnings has nothing to do with the context in which you brought this up: the value of ideas to writers.

But a person can learn it whole and entire. I didn't say that ideas had to come from sudden inspiration, only that they have to be holdable in ones mind. Also, I'm not showing off. That is an idea I have to use and do use in some of my writing.

I started out with non-mathematical examples including the single idea that spawned my first book. Would you rather deal with that one?

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 10:37 PM
Nope. Non-atomic but moderately dense.


You might be right. Looks like that idea can be broken down farther.

...same as yours.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 10:43 PM
You might be right. Looks like that idea can be broken down farther.

...same as yours.

My point precisely.
I never brought up the idea of atomic ideas.

I said dense and implicative ideas.

Revenge is moderately dense and implicative. Horus' revenge for the dense of Osiris is very dense and implicative, but if one knows the mythology it's as much a single idea as the word Revenge.

Arguably, it's even more of a single idea because it's more coherent. It doesn't have the loose dangly bits of the bare word Revenge.

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 10:58 PM
My point precisely.


...except that your point was that your idea wasn't made of smaller ones, it sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus and went through none of the building and development stage.

And then I said that ideas could be cut up smaller.

And then you proved that point by cutting up an idea into small pieces.

And then I said "Right!" and then you said "But that was my point all along!"

Gotta tell you, even though I'm sure you're arguing in good faith, it's really starting to look like you're moving the goal posts around.

buz
10-31-2012, 11:01 PM
This whole thing is going round in circles. But this really says what a lot of us have been saying:

"Different people can hold different things as single thoughts owing to differences in thinking and learning". So if the concept of an idea depends on the individual, then why should not the 'quality' of that idea depend on how that individual develops the idea?

This. Aren't you then saying that the quality of an idea is subjective? I don't think all ideas are equal, in my head or in yours--but outside of our heads, on its own, it has no value or quality. How I would evaluate an idea depends entirely on my feeble brain and how I understand it, interpret it, expand it--or not. Therefore, objectively, inherently, without someone interpreting and expanding on it, an idea is nothing, isn't it? And in two different heads, that one idea will have different substance and depth. Case in point:


My point is not that atomic ideas exist but that high density ideas exist. That an individual person can have a single thought that packs a great deal of understanding in it.

If you want one. Here: I give you the entire universe in one single high density idea:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/math/3/f/5/3f50fd206f2fe543a6a8a3e687cf74c3.png

This idea is high density to you, but it me it has no density whatsoever, in that it means nothing because I don't understand it. So, comparing that idea to, say, "I'm going to bake raspberries and bacon into cookies and see what that tastes like" (I don't recommend this, by the way) --the latter has more "depth" to me because the words make sense.




Revenge is moderately dense and implicative. Horus' revenge for the dense of Osiris is very dense and implicative, but if one knows the mythology it's as much a single idea as the word Revenge.

Arguably, it's even more of a single idea because it's more coherent. It doesn't have the loose dangly bits of the bare word Revenge.

As someone who does know the mythology--no, I wouldn't call it one coherent idea, in my mind. I wouldn't call it just "revenge" either, because it was more than that--I wouldn't even call "revenge" the greatest factor in it. I would say it involves several layered ideas. How much someone can hold as "a single idea" is going to vary from person to person. Therefore, how much is "in" an idea is going to vary from person to person. So, again, how much depth an idea holds depends on the head that contains it.

To some extent I agree that not all ideas are equal--once they are interpreted by a mind. But, without that interpretation to give it depth or form, an idea is nothing; and once it is interpreted, how much density it has depends on the person, varying from "nothing" to "everything in the universe." Therefore, without the dependence of a person's embodiment/execution/whatever you wanna call it, every idea is valueless (or of infinitely variable value, which is...not the same, but not any more specific).


...unless I'm not understanding again. :D

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 11:03 PM
...except that your point was that your idea wasn't made of smaller ones, it sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus and went through none of the building and development stage.

And then I said that ideas could be cut up smaller.

And then you proved that point by cutting up an idea into small pieces.

And then I said "Right!" and then you said "But that was my point all along!"

Gotta tell you, even though I'm sure you're arguing in good faith, it's really starting to look like you're moving the goal posts around.

What I'm saying is that if there was building it did not happen at any conscious level. To my experience, it simply happened. One moment I did not have it, the next I did. You can make a case that it must therefore have been built up subconsciously.

I don't know if that's so, because it was the sudden putting together of concepts triggered by reading something I had never read before.

Furthermore, I don't know if there really are any atomic ideas. Most of our ideas seem to be accumulations of experience rather than definitions in a lexicon. When I broke down the definition of Revenge I didn't even deal with the fact that people will have different associations of revenge based on their personal experiences, the stories they've read, movies seen etc.

I honestly don't think I'm moving the goal posts. I've tried to answer each question and request for examples or elaborations as best I can.

kuwisdelu
10-31-2012, 11:10 PM
The idea can involve all the details. Or it can be as simple as 'boy saves the galaxy'. 'Ideas' encompasses both extremes.

Are we talking about the initial idea - I think I shall write a spy story involving octopi.

Or the development of that - and my main character will be a pirate, only he's spy as well, ooh and the magic does XYZ! Amphibious people! And a Death Whale!

Because it seems to me, that once you start developing it, that's when the idea stops being potential and starts becoming your story. It's no longer just an idea.


How many people write books about love, hate, adventure, revenge, etc. etc.? Those ideas are old and well recycled. Add in the details, and you are moving your idea forward into a story.

Comparing gravity and math is like comparing apples to oranges. Gravity has been proven and just about anything can be solved with math. You don't prove ideas, you write them into interesting stories.

That's much more basic than what I think of an idea, then.

Even if I know I want to write a story about revenge, I still have to come up with an idea for characters and the story.

"Revenge" or "boy meets girl" are just concepts to me. They're not really ideas for stories.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 11:10 PM
To some extent I agree that not all ideas are equal--once they are interpreted by a mind. But, without that interpretation to give it depth or form, an idea is nothing.


...unless I'm not understanding again. :D

Okay. This one I can answer coherently (I thought I had already but probably not clearly). I don't think ideas exist outside of minds. Descriptions of ideas do. But the ideas themselves to me are purely mental phenomena.

Therefore, to each mind there are ideas that are better and ideas that are worse, hence not equal in that mind.

I would say that when comparing ideas between minds, the matter becomes more complex. Either, ideas cannot be compared between different minds (and therefore cannot be considered equal) or must be measured against some other external thing (such as reality).

Sam Argent
10-31-2012, 11:11 PM
Do I have to do this again? Fine.

Ideas are raw materials for writing. That a skilled craftsman can produce good work from any raw materials or favors working in certain raw materials does not mean that all raw materials are equal either in potential or in ease of use.


What determines potential and ease of use?

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 11:13 PM
It's turtles all the way down!

Amadan
10-31-2012, 11:15 PM
It's turtles all the way down!

Atomic turtles.

Medievalist
10-31-2012, 11:16 PM
Y'all need to define some terms. I'm seeing idea used in ways that suggest the standard English dictionary definition, and I'm also seeing it used in the way Kant uses it in his distinctions between ideas and concepts, I'm seeing idea used in ways that seem to be in accord with Sidney and New Criticism, and I'm seeing idea used in the Platonic since of an ur-concept related to the ideal . . .

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 11:16 PM
Atomic turtles.

But Gamera is friend to children.

James D. Macdonald
10-31-2012, 11:16 PM
Ideas are fractal.

RedWombat
10-31-2012, 11:18 PM
Atomic turtles.

Now that is an idea!

Also, I think Godzilla fought one once.

Amadan
10-31-2012, 11:29 PM
But Gamera is friend to children.


Not high-density enough.

Lyxdeslic
10-31-2012, 11:34 PM
I was thinking about this a bit today and applying it to an "idea" for my NaNo novel.

It's not necessarily a good idea--and certainly not groundbreaking--to write about a guy laying on a stone slab, wrapped in a shroud, breaking free, remembering how he got there, checking himself for the gruesome wounds he was certain had killed him, finding nary a scratch, realizing he's immortal, deciding to never again go the route of traipsing around the countryside healing, helping and trying to teach people they all have amazing abilities inside them that he's figured out how to unlock...because doing that threatened the men of power and they ended up twisting his story and crucifying him. Two thousand years later, Jesus is alive, well, and living in New Mexico selling pot.

A good idea? No. Taboo and incredibly narcissistic to think it can be executed properly.

But I'ma tryin' anyway.

Lyx--resident narcissist

Susan Littlefield
10-31-2012, 11:34 PM
Please read the thread.

I believe the OP covered this in post #1, followed by further explication.

I did read the thread. For example, the OP gives a list of good ideas, but what comes after "it's a good idea" are ways to executed the idea, or even a few ideas added together. And, I fail to see what gravity and math have to do with writing ideas.

kuwisdelu
11-01-2012, 12:07 AM
I was thinking about this a bit today and applying it to an "idea" for my NaNo novel.

It's not necessarily a good idea--and certainly not groundbreaking--to write about a guy laying on a stone slab, wrapped in a shroud, breaking free, remembering how he got there, checking himself for the gruesome wounds he was certain had killed him, finding nary a scratch, realizing he's immortal, deciding to never again go the route of traipsing around the countryside healing, helping and trying to teach people they all have amazing abilities inside them that he's figured out how to unlock...because doing that threatened the men of power and they ended up twisting his story and crucifying him. Two thousand years later, Jesus is alive, well, and living in New Mexico selling pot.

A good idea? No. Taboo and incredibly narcissistic to think it can be executed properly.

According to some here, that's not an idea, but execution already.

shadowwalker
11-01-2012, 12:07 AM
Therefore, to each mind there are ideas that are better and ideas that are worse, hence not equal in that mind.

Oh good grief - all this discourse just to say that a writer will think of an idea and keep or discard based on whether or not they think it's a good one. :Headbang:

RichardGarfinkle
11-01-2012, 12:25 AM
Oh good grief - all this discourse just to say that a writer will think of an idea and keep or discard based on whether or not they think it's a good one. :Headbang:

Not what I said.

Amadan
11-01-2012, 12:32 AM
Not what I said.

Yeahwevah, dude.

Ken
11-01-2012, 12:39 AM
1. A good idea is backed up by the other ideas, observations, facts, etc, that spawned it. A good idea carries with it a whole context of precursors that can be brought to play in implementation.

... would have to disagree with the basic premise here. Some, if not all, good ideas come from out of nowhere. They have no past or precursors. "They don't owe anything to anyone," as Gauguin put it. The point is up for debate though. There are many who believe as you do. Most, actually.

So carry on ;-)

Mr Flibble
11-01-2012, 03:58 AM
That's much more basic than what I think of an idea, then.

Even if I know I want to write a story about revenge, I still have to come up with an idea for characters and the story.

"Revenge" or "boy meets girl" are just concepts to me. They're not really ideas for stories.

They're a bit too basic for me also. But say - here's one that happened - I was watching Dynamo and thought 'What if he really could do magic, but no one believed him, they're all looking for the trick?'

So there's my basic idea. Yes, I have to come up with characteristics, a plot etc (more ideas) but at this point, all this is, is an idea. A What If.

It means nothing and has no value whatsoever until I start to develop it. And by developing I mean I use the one basic idea to make sweet sweet love to itself, and to any other stray ideas floating about, and they have idea babies (this is what I call my first draft), and then, and only then, does it begin to have value - when it's starting to be developed.

Until then all it is is potential, and in another person's mind might come to nothing - or might win the next Hugo. But not until it's ripened enough, not when it's still that first what if building block. It's sort of like a sperm - it has the potential to be a person, but it isn't one yet. It will only become one if conditions are right.

kkbe
11-01-2012, 04:33 AM
Still saying, thoughts are arbitrary fluff floating around. Ideas are thoughts with potential.

For whatever reason, a person has, gets, is given, an idea.

Dependent on that person, the idea will lead someplace, or it will not.

If not. . .'tis what? A cloud that forms, then disappears.
If so, then what? Who can say? That idea might spark another and another, ad infinitum, correct? The idea is there, what one does with it is anybody's guess. Einstein might take that idea in one direction, I may take it in another, my thirteen-year-old nephew in yet another. Like a lump of clay, ideas have potential. What they become is up to the artist. Read: writer.

Susan Littlefield
11-01-2012, 05:28 AM
Even if we don't all agree on what an idea is, and I don't think anyone is right or wrong, this conversation has been simmering away in my head all day at work. This was the first thread that I pulled up during my lunch hour, and it's the first one I pulled up just now. The conversation has really gotten me thinking. :D

The other day at work, my boss and I were working on a huge project together. We tried the project one way, which did not come out as planned. My boss thought of another way to do this project, which I had not thought of. I later said, "What a great idea!"

As writers, how often do we even think we have a good or great idea for a story? What about those ones we say are horrible ideas? I know I've said both of those before.

But, what makes it so great? Well, by the time I say it a good idea, I have the basic idea (jury duty experience-written many times, I'm sure), then I decide it will be a novelist who is on jury duty and gets pulled into her own fantasy world of imaginary revenge by the defendant's gang leaders. That's about when I would pat myself on the back and say it's a good idea.

If I think it's a bad idea, it's because I can't get all the little parts to fit together or I don't know where to go with it. I can't make the darn thing work before I even get the words onto paper.

Of course, any idea is only as good as its execution, which is what comes with writing the story. However, I believe I see Richard's point of view just a little more clearly.

kuwisdelu
11-01-2012, 02:11 PM
They're a bit too basic for me also. But say - here's one that happened - I was watching Dynamo and thought 'What if he really could do magic, but no one believed him, they're all looking for the trick?'

So there's my basic idea. Yes, I have to come up with characteristics, a plot etc (more ideas) but at this point, all this is, is an idea. A What If.

It means nothing and has no value whatsoever until I start to develop it. And by developing I mean I use the one basic idea to make sweet sweet love to itself, and to any other stray ideas floating about, and they have idea babies (this is what I call my first draft), and then, and only then, does it begin to have value - when it's starting to be developed.

Until then all it is is potential, and in another person's mind might come to nothing - or might win the next Hugo. But not until it's ripened enough, not when it's still that first what if building block. It's sort of like a sperm - it has the potential to be a person, but it isn't one yet. It will only become one if conditions are right.

For me at least, when I think of "idea," basically plot=idea.

To me "execution" consists of what you can do differently without changing the plot.

At least, that's what first comes to mind for me for those words.

Mr Flibble
11-01-2012, 03:46 PM
For me at least, when I think of "idea," basically plot=idea.

To me "execution" consists of what you can do differently without changing the plot.

At least, that's what first comes to mind for me for those words.


And I think that's what the problem is in this thread - we conceive 'idea' as it pertains to writing differently. My 'ideas' don't have a plot to change because they are just what ifs, little sperm. I don't have a plot until after I've started to develop the idea (or started to write)

My ideas are just potential, and worthless unless they find the egg, or I find the story that goes with the idea, so yes ideas are ten a penny and pretty equal mostly. For you, an idea is a plot, so different ideas might have different value.

So until we can define idea - and I doubt we will because it seems it's different for many of us so it'll be like the prologue thing all over again - then the whole thing becomes an exercise in futility.

RichardGarfinkle
11-01-2012, 04:13 PM
My ideas are just potential, and worthless unless they find the egg, or I find the story that goes with the idea, so yes ideas are ten a penny and pretty equal mostly. For you, an idea is a plot, so different ideas might have different value.


Even if we can't agree on a meaning for idea, I have a problem with this. The idea that a thing is worthless unless you use it bothers me. Potential value still exists in things unused. And even if we are talking about something as purely mental as an idea, the coalescing of a concept that you end up rejecting the use of may change your later thinking and spawn a further idea that you do develop.

So if idea A leads to idea B which blends with idea C to produce idea D that you eventually use to write something does that mean that A,B, and C were worthless or worthy?

It seems to me that an attitude that potential is unimportant or that all potentials if unrealized are equal can be philosophically defended but it troubles me as being overly dismissive.

Cramp
11-01-2012, 04:51 PM
I think it would be dismissive only if the ideas were dismissed.

I sort of feel that as creative people, we are a bit like pan handlers, except we aren't looking for gold, or something with an intrinsic value, but bits and pieces that take our fancy - sifting through the daily deluge of inspirations. We look into our pan and say 'Oh, this interests me, I can do something with this nugget, turn it into something really valuable.' Another person looking over our shoulder might value a completely different piece for reasons that don't even occur to us - because of diverging context and knowledge and interests.

Mr Flibble
11-01-2012, 04:54 PM
It seems to me that an attitude that potential is unimportant or that all potentials if unrealized are equal can be philosophically defended but it troubles me as being overly dismissive.

I didn't say either of those things. Potential is important, but ultimately, if the potential is never used, what value has it got? Unused, it's wasted potential.

What use is a sperm on its own? Does it have value? Does an egg, all on its own? Or does the value only come when they join together to make something alive, a conjunction of the two parts that is bigger than their sum?

Potential is important when it begins to break out of potential into actuality. And not all potentials are equal - not all my ideas excite me the same way, or make my brain fizz with possibilities, but until I actually do something with them - what use are they? Except to keep me awake at nights.

I'm sorry of you find me overly dismissive, but then again, I think you're over-analysing a basic construct to make it seem more complicated than it actually is. So we're probably even on that score :D

RichardGarfinkle
11-01-2012, 05:29 PM
I didn't say either of those things. Potential is important, but ultimately, if the potential is never used, what value has it got? Unused, it's wasted potential.

What use is a sperm on its own? Does it have value? Does an egg, all on its own? Or does the value only come when they join together to make something alive, a conjunction of the two parts that is bigger than their sum?

Potential is important when it begins to break out of potential into actuality. And not all potentials are equal - not all my ideas excite me the same way, or make my brain fizz with possibilities, but until I actually do something with them - what use are they? Except to keep me awake at nights.

I'm sorry of you find me overly dismissive, but then again, I think you're over-analysing a basic construct to make it seem more complicated than it actually is. So we're probably even on that score :D

I wouldn't be over analyzing this if the original idea (all ideas are equal) were not implicitly dismissive.

The problem I have with the concept of valueless potential runs a lot deeper than just this subject. People often dismiss things that can be of immense value if looked at in a different fashion.

Rocks that have no use for building and carving can contain ores that are valuable, or can be ground up for pigments to make paints. Plants that do not give food might provide medicines.

People with skills or ways of seeing things that are unvalued from one perspective might be able to solve problems of great importance from another etc.

My basic point is that value can lie inside things if one changes point of view. The thing is that it's not the POV that produces the value, it only sees it lying within the previously disregarded.

Mr Flibble
11-01-2012, 05:40 PM
My basic point is that value can lie inside things if one changes point of view. The thing is that it's not the POV that produces the value, it only sees it lying within the previously disregarded.

I'm not saying any different - an idea I have may have no value to me, if I can't actualise it into something I want to write. But as I said upthread, someone else could take that idea and run with it all the way to the next Hugo. The same idea will have different value to different people, but until it comes out, that value is only in potentia.

But value of intangibles is in the eye of the beholder, or the brain of the person considering the idea. No one else can see its value until it gets out of the brain and, in this case, onto the page.

The ten a penny thing I already addressed, but I'll repeat here: Ideas are a dime a dozen means to me, well, that ideas abound, and that they aren't worth anything till you do something with them. It makes no reference to how good any of those ideas actually are.

The value comes when an idea reaches the brain of someone who will be able to use it - when sperm meets egg. Until then it's just an idea, that's all.


And this is just my way of looking at it. That's all. Neither of us is right or wrong, and it's impossible to prove it. We each look at things in a different manner, and as long as those ideas work and make it onto the page, does it matter whether I think ideas are ten a penny or not? I don't think so. What matters is how we use our ideas.

Or are you saying my ideas about ideas have less value than your ideas about ideas? :D

RichardGarfinkle
11-01-2012, 05:50 PM
Or are you saying my ideas about ideas have less value than your ideas about ideas? :D

Nope, since each of those ideas can be mined for the same amount of analysis and understanding of ideas without adding on more ideas.

But here's one that is worth less than either of our ideas:
I never get ideas.

That idea (expressed sometimes in writer's workshops) goes nowhere and does nothing. It sits there and needs to be shown to be false. But sometimes that doesn't work and the person who holds on to it can devote their entire lives to the idea that they have no ideas and end up having wasted a lot of time and potential.

Susan Littlefield
11-01-2012, 05:57 PM
And I think that's what the problem is in this thread - we conceive 'idea' as it pertains to writing differently.

That's it in a nutshell.

Xelebes
11-01-2012, 07:10 PM
Ideas are fractal and probablistic, reliant on the memory of the individual concocting them. It is difficult, if not impossible, to measure them until they are expressed - thus making them somewhat a Schrodinger's Cat. But that is not the most important part. The encoding, transmission and decoding is the most important.