Friday, January 16, 2009
Lakeworld and ideas
Yesterday I came up with Lakeworld.
I wanted to create a world that was very different from my usual stomping grounds. Something easy to summarize, but as unusual and distinctive as Mieville’s Armada or Le Guin’s Tombs of Atuan. The result was Lakeworld.
Lakeworld is made up of fourteen lakes of varying sizes, close together in a roughly circular shape. Narrow stone landbridges divide them. Different lakes have different features – the largest, for instance, is home to a herd of plesiosaurs, while another serves as a primary fishing ground/waterfarm for the population. Most of the people of Lakeworld live on its surface, on ships or on the back of a giant beast that nearly fills one of the lakes, though some live beneath the water.
So, why am I mentioning this? Well, aside from the fun of sharing it, I wanted to say something about ideas.
A lot of new writers are worried that someone might steal their ideas. They hesitate to put up parts of their work for critique even in private forums, or are reluctant to mention the details of a story in a query letter. On one occasion, I even read a thread started by a writer who wanted to sell ideas.
Is there a process to go through in which an idea can be pitched for someone else to write?
The reality, though, is that ideas are not just common, they’re distinctive to whoever works on them. Here’s an example:
A woman marries a man inferior to her in both social status and money, because she can't have the man whom she really loves. They have a daughter who, like her mother, falls in love with a man whom she can't have and marries someone else instead. She has a child by the man she loves, but the child dies. She loses the man in the end.
Margaret Mitchell made this into Gone with the Wind. Colleen McCullough made this into The Thorn Birds. Two very different novels, both very successful.
In other words, if you give ten writers the same idea, you’ll get ten or more different stories. The idea never stands alone. The writer will add genre, characterization, plot, theme and style, until finally it will be as difficult to discern the original idea as it is to tell which seed grew into which tree.
And each writer usually generates far more ideas than they can use, ideas that are better suited to their favorite genres and ways of writing than someone else’s ideas will be. So there’s no reason to worry that anyone’s going to steal an idea.
Lakeworld is a good example of this. Right now, it’s a thinly-sketched milieu, and I don’t know what characters are going to use it to enact which plot. The idea of the world itself is only the starting point. I could go anywhere from here – and so could anyone else who came up with this first, because there aren’t that many original ideas in the world. Lakeworld is original enough for me, though, and I look forward to telling a story about it.