The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ideas are cheap

At Techdirt Mike Masniak makes a point he's made many times that Ideas without Execution are nothing. His critique concerns intellectual property, and basically it is that our system of patents and copyrights makes the ideas that are patented and copyrighted seam much more valuable than they are. But, in reality, without taking that idea and making it into something that's really valuable, it's nothing.

As someone who writes lots of stories, I can certainly sympathize with what he's saying. Ideas are not nothing, but they're certainly cheap. I've got way more ideas than I need. Just with the ideas I have for future writing projects outlined now (in greater or lesser detail), I could probably keep myself busy writing for about the next 10 years, and, of course, in those 10 years, I'd probably come up with other ideas, and so on, ad infinitum. In short, I'll always have way more ideas than time to develop them.

That doesn't mean those ideas aren't worth anything. If fact they're very valuable, relatively speaking. When we talk about an idea, say, for a novel, what we mean, basically is just a general outline. For example, if I had an idea for writing a story about the life of Moses, based on Freud's Theory that he was follower of Akhenaten, that idea is a start. But the execution requires many other smaller ideas - details as small as a choice of particular word, or as major as how to develop Moses' character or what main conflicts to include. And all these ideas need development, from simple things like playing around with the wording of a sentence to doing extensive research to try and make the setting of Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt historically accurate. And this time is very valuable.

The outline is sort of like a tent-pole idea which supports all these ideas, but one can easily take a good tent-pole idea and make a bad story, because all these other smaller ideas add up. People have this mistaken notion that it's just a matter of luck, and if they'd got this great idea first, they'd be successful; for example, if they wrote Hamlet before Shakespeare, they'd be long remembered as a literary genius. But, of course, many scholars think that someone did write Hamlet before Shakespeare, namely Thomas Kyd. This play was lost because no one bothered to copy it or preserve it, presumably because it just wasn't all that good of a play. In fact, this is a perennial problem of adaptations: good books have been frequently translated into bad films. It's because, though they have some good ideas, lifted from the original material, they don't add any new good ideas that work well in the new medium - namely, they muck up the execution. The initial idea is an important step on the way to a finished product, but it's only one of many steps, and those other steps, are in the aggregate, much more valuable.

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