One of the reviewers of Summit on Amazon said that he’s always amazed by how writers come up with their ideas. How do writers do it? Beats me. But I’d like to make a distinction between big ideas and little ideas. Big ideas are what this reviewer was talking about — in the case of Summit, a Russian psychic falls in love with an eccentric American pianist. The CIA and KGB become involved. Stakes are raised. Twists and turns ensue.
Big ideas are a dime a dozen. Anyone can come up with them. A while back I threw one into a blog post for anyone to take. For an author, the key to a big idea is whether you find it interesting enough to devote a year or two of your life to fleshing it out. My friend Jeff Carver had a big idea about a place called Shipworld that he’s spent a decade or two fleshing out.
Little ideas are the key to fleshing out the big idea. They are the twists and the turns. They are the scenes that give the novel meaning. They are the inspirations that make writing more than just a craft. They are what make writing fun. In Summit, my favorite little idea involved a minor character, some of those nesting Russian matryoshka dolls, and a double-cross. I was really happy when that idea occurred to me!
I’m about 25,000 words into the first draft of my current novel, which is the third adventure of my post-apocalyptic private eye, Walter Sands. I have needed one specific little idea for weeks now, and a few days ago it finally came to me. Yay! It helps makes sense of an important subplot of the novel, in a way that also allows me to add some backstory about the world Walter inhabits. Plus, I think it may solve this problem. Now that I’ve come up with it, I can’t see how the novel could possibly have worked without it.
Now I just need to come up with a few more little ideas, stir them around with another 50,000 words of craft, and I’ll be done.