February 16, 2017

My Latest Brilliant Idea

            So, a few weeks ago I got to witness an all-too common event.  The person whining about how “they stole my idea!”  Who they were isn’t important.  Sad truth is, it was a nonsense claim, one we’ve all seen more than a few times.
            Here’s an ugly truth that all half-decent writers know.  Ideas are cheap.  They’re cheap, borderline worthless, because they’re common.  Ridiculously common.  I can say with absolute certainty that I have more ideas for books than I am ever going to be able to write.  Seriously, even if I live to be a hundred, I’m pretty full up.  And know what? I’m going to have more ideas tomorrow. And the day after that.
            Not only that, but a lot of time my ideas will line up with the ideas other people have.  This is called parallel creation, and it happens a lot.  Especially when you consider how many folks come up with ideas they never do anything with.
            Here’s an absolutely true story.  Throughout 2008 and 2009, I placed in a few screenplay contests with a script I wrote called Reality Check.  It was about the crew of a retro-style spaceship who slowly come to realize they’re actually characters in a 1950s serial. Eventually, they figure out how to escape into the real world—which turns out to be a far more terrifying and dangerous place than they’re prepared to deal with. Especially when one of their mortal enemies follows them through.
            If this sounds vaguely familiar, it should.  It’s got a lot of the same elements as John Scalzi’s Redshirts, a ridiculously fun book that came out about two years after I won my last contest with Reality Check (if memory serves, I got a free copy of Final Draft for that one). 
            Now, I’m sure some people would go nuts and start shrieking about plagiarism and lawsuits.  Heck, I was dragged into a court case a few years back which was pretty clearly just weak parallel creation, but someone decided to sue over it anyway.  And lost.
            Simple truth is, Scalzi and I have never met (I think we were rushed past each other once at NYCC, but I’m not even sure of that). To the best of my knowledge he’s never been a judge or reader for a screenwriting contest.  I have absolutely no reason to think he ever saw my story.  We’re just two guys about the same age with similar educations, backgrounds, and interests who happened to look at something the same way and both decided to do something with it.  I wrote a screenplay, he wrote a novel.  That’s parallel creation.
            There’s also a funny rule of thumb I heard a while back that I think is, alas, horribly true.  The level of worry someone has about their idea being stolen is usually an inverse ratio to how good that idea actually is.  In other words, people tend to get really paranoid about their bad clichés and tropes being stolen.  That court case I mentioned before?  It was based off some ridiculously common clichés.  I mean, embarrassingly common.  I actually laughed out loud when the lawyer told me they were part of the core basis of the lawsuit.
            Y’see, Timmy, we all have ideas.  And the simple truth is, there’s somebody out there with the same influences, the same education, the same resources as me who’s having the same idea.  Maybe even ten or twenty people.
            Now, let me bring up a related point to keep in mind about ideas. In fact, here’s another story.  Genders, genres, and other facts have been changed (or maybe not) to protect the semi-innocent…
            I was at a convention a while back and one of the other attending authors offered me a copy of her book.  My to-read list is so huge I generally don’t accept such offers, but she was insistent so I said sure.  And then it slowly worked its way through my to-read pile until it was at the top.
            Said book was a fantasy novel that was aiming for a Game of Thrones-type feel.  It was very big on swordfighting.  Sword vs. sword, sword vs. axe,  sword vs. two swords, sword vs. sword and a dagger… 
            It just went on and on like this.  Every fifth or sixth page had a sword fight. Or a flashback to a sword fight.  Or someone talking about what they were going to do to someone else in an upcoming sword fight.
            And every battle ended bloody.  No mercy in this world.  Everyone either loses a head or an arm or gets impaled.  Sometimes all three.  Blood and guts sprayed everywhere and got on everyone.  House of a 1000 Corpses looked clean and sanitized compared to this book.
            Needless to say… it wasn’t that good.  There were several places where the book bordered on awful.  I read about fifty pages and skimmed the rest.  More sword fights.  More blood.  A few beatings.  The non-stop actionwasn’t the only issue, alas, but it was the one that matters for today.
            Y’see, some of these battles were actually kind of clever.  They did things I hadn’t seen before in books or on screen. The way they approached a character or their training.  Some of the ways the fights went.  How some of them were described.
            But it’s not enough just to be original.  My book needs to be coherent, both in plot and in structure.  It needs to have flow.  These are the things that tie my ideas together and turn them into a story.
            I’ve mentioned before that ideas are rarely more than plot points, and a pile of plot points is not the same thing as a plot.  No matter how clever my idea is, it’s not going to automatically make my story into a good story.  Especially if… well, I don’t have a story.  And an idea without a story is…
            Well, it’s borderline worthless.
            Next time, I’d like to put a few thoughts on the block.
            Until then… go write.
December 29, 2016 / 4 Comments

2016 Is Over. Finally.

            I don’t know about you, but this year has been kind of brutal on me.  We don’t even need to bring up politics or innumerable dead entertainment icons.  It’s sucked.  I lost my grandma.  Two friends.  One of my cats.  Hell, even the car I’ve had since I was twenty-seven and working on Silk Stalkings.  
           All dead.
           Screw this year.  Screw 2016.  And I’m only saying “screw” so this page doesn’t get banned from your work server.  I’ve been a lot more emphatic in real life.
            But, anyway… let’s talk about writing.
            At the beginning of every year I toss out some encouragement and ideas about writing. And throughout the year, I jab you pretty much every post with a gentle reminder to go write.  Because that’s the only way this happens. We sit down and we write.
            So… what did you write this year?
            I’ll go first.
            Well, let’s be honest.  The vast majority of this year was spent on Paradox Bound (which most of you will get to read in about… seven months?). I turned in a really wild, scattered draft to my editor (I can admit it), and he politely handed it back and said “try harder.”  Which made me take a long, hard look at a lot of it, rip out a large part of the ending and restructure it, which also meant going back and reworking a fair amount of the beginning.
            But in the end… I’m really proud of how this has turned out. I think you’re going to like it a lot.
            Between drafts, I also finally finished (and submitted) a little story called “Projekt: Maria” for an anthology titled Mech.  That should be out early next year, I believe.  If you read Kaiju Rising a while back, this story is another World War II adventure with Kraft and Carter trying to counter the latest weird and unusual Nazi plot.
            Plus, I’ve done a bunch of work on my next big project (no real title yet—well, not one I’m up for sharing).  And a lot of notes and bits on the next Ex-Heroes book (currently called Ex-Tension).  And I scribbled some notes and pitches for some things… well, that I can’t really talk about quite yet.
            And, hey, this is the 46th ranty blog post this year.  Granted, a handful of those were photo tips, but still… that’s a fairly regular output there. I mean, I’m no Chuck Wendig or Scalzi, but I think that’s a respectable number.  I even managed a couple over on my geeky blog, too… although nowhere near as many as I’d wanted to.
            What else did I do with my time?
            Well, if I’m counting right, I read about thirty-eight new books this year. By which I mean, books I’d never read before.  About half a dozen of them non-fiction. 
            There were also another twenty or so books I re-read, either for reference or enjoyment.  Plus a big pile of comic books and graphic novels—the IDW Revolution event (featuring GI Joe, Rom, Transformers, and Micronauts) was magnificent, as was the conclusion to The Sixth Gun. If you added all of those, I’m probably somewhere in the low sixties.
            Not an ugly score.  Essentially a book a week. I’m huge believer that reading is essential if I want to be a decent writer.  I have to take in material if I want to create material.  I can’t be a filmmaker without watching lots of films. I can’t be a bodybuilder without taking in food.  I can’t be a teacher without learning.  And I sure as hell can’t be a writer if I never read.
            So that’s what I accomplished.  How about you?
            Granted, I’m in the fortunate position where I get to do this full time.  On average, I’m probably going to write more, revise more, and read more than most of you reading this.  It’s not a slam, that’s just basic scheduling.  There’s only so many hours in the day, and I get to spend most of them in this area.  We all have different amounts of time we can put toward these things.  People have kids, jobs, other priorities.
            This also isn’t a contest.  I’m not going to berate you because you only read twenty books this year. I wouldn’t feel extra-special if I read a hundred.  We all read and absorb and work at our own rates
           The key thing is that I can see honest, real forward motion.  I started here and I ended with all of thisdone.  I can’t be telling myself “well, this counts as getting stuff done” or “I meant to do that.”  I should be able to point at things I wrote.
            I mean, that’s what we’re all trying to do, yes?
            I’d like to thank you all for reading this collection of random thoughts and lessons as we head into (holy crap) the ranty blog’s tenth year.  I’ll try my very best to stay entertaining, educational, and semi-relevant.
            Next time, as I usually do, I’d like to start the year by setting down a couple ground rules—for myself and the ranty blog and the rest of you.
            Until then… go write.
            Have a fantastic New Year’s.  May 2017 be better for all of us.
September 29, 2014 / 4 Comments

Photo Tip