Friday, August 12, 2016

Combining Ideas

Sometimes one idea isn’t good enough. You start writing an idea you’re really excited about and you write and you write and you---
Run out?
That’s not how writing is supposed to work, is it? We’re supposed to be able to write a whole story based off that really cool idea we came up with and outlined.
Except now, now we’re sitting here with half a story (length doesn’t even matter at this point, because we have even reached the climax) and nowhere to go. What we have is good, and it has potential, but… it’s stuck.
We’ve reached the end of the idea, but we need more: the proverbial cliff is higher than our proverbial rope is long. If we let go of the rope now, we’ll drop to our deaths [to translate the analogy: the story will be abrupt and suddenly very poor]. If we just hang on, we’ll never reach the bottom [finish the story]. And if we climb back up the rope? We missed out on the adventure of reaching the bottom [the story is never told].

If that were a real situation, what would you do? If you were hanging at the end of the rope, staring down at the remaining cliff face, what could you do?
First, you might repeatedly think “oh snap”. Then you might shout it out into the thin, cold air. You might use a slightly more vulgar word to curse the wind buffeting you, the rope twisting between your numbed fingers, and an even worse obscenity to scream at the friend holding the rope above you who thought it would be enough.

Then what?
Look at that. You’ve got a rope twisted around your waist. A second rope.
The solution is obvious, isn’t it? You climb back up the rope [restart the story], unravel the rope around your waist, and tie the two together.
Now, assuming you know your knots, you’ve got a rope that’s long enough to reach the bottom.

You combined ropes.

The Two Ropes: An Example

There are all sorts of ways you can combine ideas to create a story that tells a whole tale. You can tweak them, swap pieces in and out, and even completely change each idea. I’d like to take you through an example story of my own, which might clear up a bit of confusion:

For the longest time, I’d wanted to write a story about a main character who did the opposite of the cliché: instead of starting a rebellion, I wanted him to stop a rebellion. I even outlined the idea and everything. But it wasn’t a very good story, when I wrote it. It was short, unemotional, and impersonal.
There were many things wrong with it (one being that I wrote the story just to attack the cliché, rather than to write a good story), but one was this: it wasn’t a completely emotional, personal journey. The character did what he did because of impersonal emotions. Out of characteristics that aren’t really human, like justice and logic. Those… don’t tell a good story. A good story has personal emotions and personal stakes that drive the story forward, onward, to the end.

I also had this idea that could be summed up like this: “what if our conscious was a real person: a devil or an angel?”
It’s a story that I’d never written, but then I realized… what if I combined these stories?

So I did. The story became: “a boy who hears a voice in his head scrambles to stop a rebellion, only to find the impact runs back decades: to a feud between the voices in everyone’s mind.”
It’s not a perfect story: I wasn’t experienced enough to write it well. The idea, however, turned out rather well. It told a complete story with real human emotions and drives and motivation. I told it poorly, as a fourteen-year-old, which isn’t unexpected. I wrote it poorly as a new writer who’d only completely a few novellas.  It was my first, full-length novel.

Sure, it wasn’t good.
But it was complete.

The Merging Knot


The thing about combining stories is this: sometimes, elements don’t go well together.
In my original story, the basic theme was this: “what is right is more important than what we want”. Which isn’t a bad theme in and of itself. But it didn’t mesh well with the second idea, nor did it really fit my ability to write at the time. I couldn’t write that theme well, because that theme requires delicacy and a deft touch.
I ended up dropping that theme and going with “hope is best found in the darkest of places: and it can be found”. Which is a lot easier to write. It fit perfectly with both ideas.

When you combine ideas, you have to be willing to change. If the story is your precious baby that can do no wrong, you’re going to struggle with this. When an element of your story doesn’t work, it needs to change. You need to let go of the little pieces – even if their good pieces – to create a better story.
Sometimes the ideas will mesh seamlessly. I’ve yet to experience that, but I know people who have done so.
Just… don’t keep your hopes up, because that’s a rarity.

Combining ideas can create powerful stories. It can take your rope that’s too short to reach the bottom of the cliff and lengthen it, create a new, longer rope that takes you all the way to solid ground.
And even if you had to change the rope, you’ll find it’s worth it when you set your feet on the ground and stare up at the sky, at the top of the cliff where you started.
You did it.

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