Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Post About Ideas

What follows is a post from the Wyrdsmiths blog in response to a comment that what matters in fiction is not ideas, but what you do with them. The original comment came from Justine Larbalestier in her blog. It troubled me, and I replied...

I'm not sure ideas are the easy part. There's a whole tradition in SF of neat idea stories, where the writing is competent at best, and the characters don't really matter, but the ideas are wonderful. Think of the best Heinlein: "All You Zombies" and "The House That Jack Built."

These are the stories that C.S. Lewis talks about, when he talks about myth. What matters is not style or character or mood or whatever, it's the story itself. These stories retain power when you simply describe the plot.

I don't remember much about Fire on the Deep, the Vernor Vinge novel, except that the basic laws of physics varied by where you were in space, so fast interstellar travel was possible in some regions, but not others; and the entire galaxy had an Internet, so as the novel's action line developed, there was constant interstellar commentary on what was happening. Two nifty ideas. The plot is gone from my mind; I don't remember the characters; but I remember the ideas.

I need a reason to write a story, and a lot of times the reason is an idea, or several ideas. I don't usually finish or keep a story that doesn't have a point, which is also usually an idea.


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