Thursday, February 3, 2011

Are Any Ideas Too Big or Too Crazy?

Before I dive into this week's reader question, I wanted to say to my fellow Scribble Chick, the lovely Betsy St. Amant, I'm thinking of—and praying for—your family. Your mother-in-law was clearly one terrific woman, and I really enjoyed celebrating her life with you on your blog.

And I'd also like to send a shout-out to Petunia who e-mailed me the following questions this week:

Is it possible to have an idea that's too big for you skills? And what's the best thing to do in that situation? I have started my first novel and feel I have a good idea. I also get the feeling it could be better if I were more experienced. I get stuck with scenes and conflicts where I'm not sure where to take it next. All I can think is the situations I write aren't conveying what I want to say. There's some sort of disconnect. What do I do? Set it aside to work on something else? Plow through and polish when I feel more equipped?

Also on starting something new...I'm thinking about trying to draw from a classic, is that a good idea for a beginner? I know Erynn talks about doing that, is that common of authors? Any benefits & drawbacks? Ooooh, what about taking a secondary character in a classic and writing a contemporary story about them—just brainstorming on that one! Would love any input and thoughts on coming up with ideas.

First off, thanks so much for your questions, Petunia. No doubt about it, working out the particulars of even the best story idea can be a daunting task. In many cases, it involves loads of research to get those crucial details just right, and I'm guessing that many writers have felt just like you at some point—unqualified to write a book about that, whatever that is.

But if it's an idea you're really passionate about (and really, the test of that in my estimation is if it's the idea you just can't simply stop thinking about, no matter how hard you try), it's definitely worth continuing to pursue. If you're stuck, you might try brainstorming with a fellow writer/writing mentor that you really trust. In fact, whenever I'm working on something and a little unsure of where the story should go next, I immediately start talking it through with my husband. He's a fantastic writer with great instincts, so his insights often help me get "unstuck" and moving right back on the track.

Many times in life—or writing—the "big" and often scary task is the one that's the most rewarding. So if you know it's the idea for you, I'd keep working at it. But from the sounds of it, you've got lots of potential ideas that could be interesting, too. I think adapting classic literature in a timely way can be really fun and relevant. I sort of did a modern-day take on Emma with my second novel, Blessed Are the Meddlers, and whether it's a lead character or a supporting one from classic lit, that's a fun way to tell a story. But whatever you choose, just make sure it's something you love and can live with for a long time because that's what it takes to eventually type those lovely words "The End" at the conclusion of your manuscript.

Wishing you nothing but the best on your writing journey, Petunia,


  1. thanks, christa! It seems like a lot of people took some help from emma!
    I guess I have a lot of thinking to do. I need to stop putting pressure on myself!!!
    I don't really have anyone to talk things out with. However, I do have a lot of ideas I just get stuck in the middle of them.
    Is it normal to set projects aside for a bit. i feel like I need to do that but I also feel guilty about it

  2. I think it's completely normal to set projects aside and return to them later, I do it all the time. :) And I wholeheartedly agree that putting pressure on yourself never helps matters. Just keep working at it, and I'm sure you'll find that idea that's a keeper for the long haul.

  3. Great post Christa! I've been wondering about drawing from classics too. From what I've heard Bridget Jones Diary has the same plot line as Pride & Predijuce. It makes me wonder if that's a good way to learn to write a book because it gives a basic structure. Problem is I've never read many classics, do you have to be real familar with them to do that?
    How closely did you follow Emma for Blessed are the Meddlers? I mean did you just say "I'll write a book about matchmaking" or did you conciously follow some of the plot lines? Is it wrong to follow basic plots & fill in the blanks?

  4. I definitely just used the vibe of "Emma," not a scene-by-scene remake like the movie Clueless did. To give a wink and a nudge to fans of Austen's classic work, I also had all the new side characters have the same name as an Emma character. So that was how I borrowed from Emma without completely reworking it.

    Bridget Jones Diary did much the same thing, a wink and a nudge to Pride & Prejudice, but nothing more than that really.

    I think borrowing from the classics can be a whole lot of fun for readers, but at the same time, it's fun to create something brand new, too. It's all about what inspires YOU the most. :)

  5. Do you think taking a classic scene by scene would be a good way to learn? I'm wondering if it'd cut down some of the overwhelmed feeling?
    Is it ok to "borrow"plots from movies? Are there different laws about that, you know, in the beginning where they say you'll be jailed & fined $250 k?

  6. T.S. Eliot once said that mediocre writers borrow and great writers steal, and really, everyone borrows a little something from their favorite influences. But the key to distinguishing yourself (in my humble opinion) is taking whatever it is (a movie idea, a favorite book) and ultimately making it your own. You want to have a distinct style and voice that really shines, that's really the bottom line. It's true there really is nothing new under the sun (see Hollywood), it's what you do with the idea that really matters.

  7. "make it your own" reminds me of American Idol! But with that I am totally able to see what your saying :)
    I think I'm in the place of wanting to write but not having an idea I'm crazy about. So I'm stuck confused & kindof grasping for straws. It made me think of looking to the classics but I'm still not sure. Does every writer get stuck like that?

  8. I think every writer gets stuck at one time or another idea-wise. But you gotta go with your gut, there's a reason these ideas aren't floating your proverbial boat. And until you find the idea that you're living, breathing and absolutely loving, you'll want to keep on looking. But in the meantime, keep writing. That helps exercise the muscle. :)

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  10. Great post Christa and thanks for shout out :) Been a crazy week.

    One thing I'd like to say here about classics is that we tend to write what we read. And while this can be good it can also be dangerous in regards to style/tone/voice. If you're writing a chick lit but reading a bunch of historicals in your spare time, you might see your chick lit voice is getting squelched by a more detailed, flowery, in-depth, historical style of writing. Or vice versa!

    So, since classic novels are written in a style and format NOT similiar to what publishers want today, just be careful to make sure you don't start writing like a classic. Does that make sense?

  11. Sounds like the most important thing to do is keep writing, whether you like it or not!
    I told my dad this weekend that I was stuck and he said "be like seinfeld write about nothing" hahaha!
    you're write Betsy! I also think, well at least for me, a certain part of myself comes out in my writing unless I am VERY concious about it. do you think that is a ceratin sign of sticking to a certain type of genre?

  12. Yes Tonya everyone I've met in the industry seems to have a natural voice that fits certain genres better than others. That doesn't mean you're stuck and can't learn to apply that into another genre but for starting out, its definitely easy to stick with what's more natural for you. I have a friend whose natural tone and best writing is chick lit or romantic comedy. Very snarky and fun and sarcastic. But when that market died down, she learned over time to change her voice to fit contemporary romance and even romantic suspense. So it's definitely done, but stick with your passions and natural instincts for now. It will make your life easier ;)

  13. Yeah, i wish chick lit would come back. I like it