There are many people out there who think that all it takes to be a successful writer is one good idea. And then, there is another crowd who are very quick to profess that all ideas are worthless and that writing is all about the execution.
These are certainly the two major opinions on writing I hear discussed regularly in relation to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Fifty Shades of Grey – particularly Fifty Shades of Grey as it is often hailed the most successful poorly executed piece of fiction on the market (even now).
The thing that most irks me about these opinions (and the related critiques) is as follows:
If Fifty Shades of Grey is really so terrible and so poorly written, how come that nearly every person I know has purchased a copy, read (and sometimes even re-read) the books, told all their friends and family about it and now also most likely owns a copy of the films…after spending a not insignificant amount of money on the cinema tickets (of course)?
If Harry Potter is so incredibly well-written, then is the idea (incl. all of the incredibly detailed descriptions and backstories that make the world and characters feel so real) worthless?
Of course the answer is NO!
To me, it seems that there is no idea good enough to distract your readers from bad writing, just as there is no way to write so beautifully that your audience would be willing to gloss over the fact that you didn’t put much effort into your story.
The point is: if you can execute well-enough and your idea is ok, you can make it through writing a whole fiction book and have as good a chance as anyone to have some success as a writer for one or more of the following 3 reasons:
1. Your story may be based on a particularly exciting premise
Enter Fifty Shades of Grey, a love story between two not very interesting characters but with one incredibly exciting complication (BDSM) which many people evidently don’t mind exploring through an accessible work of fiction. Yeah…this stuff doesn’t need to read like Shakespeare. The reader’s interest is piqued by the BDSM stuff and a story strongly concerned with how this fits into an everyday relationship (if at all).
2. Your story may be based on an average premise but with unusual characters in an unusual world
Enter Harry Potter, the average hero’s journey seen through the eyes of an ordinary boy with extraordinary powers and his friends. There is no question that the basic premise of the beloved novels is average at best but it’s the characters and the detailed world-building that have captured the imagination of billions of readers around the world. So the next time you think your story ideas are average consider what quality execution could do for you.
3. Your story may be based on a higher concept so original that the tagline alone brings in readers by the dozen
Enter The Hunger Games. This series is one of the few that really does tick all the boxes for me. Its story is filled with interesting and complex characters, yet underpinned by an extremely unusual higher concept (a dystopian world where children are chosen to fight to the death in a cruel annual game, controlled by the upper classes). This is not the average hero’s journey, although some elements of it are certainly there. But as I said, your story doesn’t have to be terribly original to yield some incredible results.
In short, don’t bin your average ideas. First, think about what a bunch of memorable characters and some targeted world-building could do for you. On the flip side, don’t assume that just because your story is built on an intriguing premise you can get away with sloppy writing.
I know E. L. James’ success seems to prove the contrary but if you’re not cool with having your ability as a writer critiqued publicly (and at every opportunity), you might want to consider the quality of your writing before hitting the ‘publish’ button or before starting to sending query letters to any literary agents (does anybody still do that these days?)
Have you ever been discouraged because you felt that your story ideas were worthless or have you ever felt like you are just a bad writer who couldn’t execute a good story idea even if it punched you in the face? I know I have certainly had both issues from time to time. If you relate, please leave a comment below.