Is my idea a great story?

I see this question a lot. The answer, by the way, is no.

It might be a great idea, a brilliant idea. An incredible basis for a story, but none of that matters. An idea isn’t a story. It’s at most the seed of a story, and it doesn’t have to be a great idea to be a great story. A great story comes from what you do with that idea.

My Girl is one of my favourite movies. It’s a sappy, kind of sad, kind of sentimental movie. It wasn’t a great idea at all. It was a kind of quiet idea, a girl comes of age, surrounded by the dead, but never dealing fully with death until her first love dies. How we reach that point is what makes it great.

None of Hemingway’s works were great ideas. They were small ideas, executed brilliantly. Sometimes the best stories are not from great ideas.

Now, let’s look again at Brandon Sanderson. His books usually stem from brilliant ideas. His execution is however what turns that brilliant idea into a great book. WORM is a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed.

I’m going to say something that will turn certain potential readers against me. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is a great idea, a brilliant idea, and it is barely readable. If you aren’t sucked in by the brilliance of the idea it’s simply not very well written. The characters are flat, their rationality is used in place of personality. It does get better, but man are the first few chapters a hard slog if you aren’t pre-committed.

Somewhere in the middle is Blindsight by Peter Watts. Great ideas, but the writing is mediocre. I still highly recommend reading it, but you are going to be reading it for the ideas, not for the prose.

So, there it is. Your idea is not a great story, but it could become one… even if it’s only a mediocre idea.

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