There is a whole world of possibilities in front of you. You can take the story anywhere you want. You can put any obstacle in their way, or you can give them the key that unlocks untold mysteries. Each element is an idea – where to go, what to do, how your characters react, all of it. And picking the right ideas will almost certainly make or break your story more than any other thing you do. It is more important than character development or writing style. It is more important than your descriptions, and it is more important than the words you select.
So, how do you separate the good ideas from the bad ones? It’s simple, actually. You have to wait for The Snick – the almost audible sound you get when an idea just fits. It is that whoosh of excitement when a puzzle piece snaps into place, and you know that piece was made especially for the ones around it. You instantly know you’ve found the right idea.
I’ll bet you’ve already figured out that there is a catch, though. And you would be right. Recognizing The Snick is a cinch, but finding it isn’t quite so easy. Waiting for it can be utterly agonizing. You’re free writing and you’re brainstorming, but it hasn’t happened. You have a couple ideas that feel like they will work, but they don’t really get you excited. They are just workable.
And workable isn’t good enough. Good isn’t good enough. You have to push harder than that. Settling for less is almost never good for your story. So, whatever you do, don’t fall to the tempatation to go with one of these inferior ideas so you can move on. Don’t. You have to wait for The Snick. If you don’t, your readers might not forgive you.
Let me give you an example. A real one. I don’t really like to do this because it almost feels like I’m saying I have this mastered and I don’t. Lord knows I don’t. But, since we’re talking about ideas, I want to go all out. This is a point I really want to get across.
There was a story I read about a year ago by a first time author. He was pretty good, actually, but he slipped up; he goofed. He didn’t wait for The Snick. The result was a story that is full of conveniences – both for the good and for the bad. The bad guy is always tripping over the good guy no matter where he tries to hide. The solutions to the good guy’s problems are always conveniently at hand.
In a specific example, the bad guys have guns and they trap the good guys inside a house. The hero happens to find an empty coffee can, a package of firecrackers, and a lighter in the kitchen. Yes, in the kitchen. And it isn’t anywhere near July 4th. Anyway, he puts the firecrackers in the can and lights them off, fooling the bad guys into believing he has an automatic weapon. While his assailants are ducking for cover, he escapes through the backdoor where a car happens to be sitting with the keys in it. He doesn’t know about the car until he gets outside.
This is just one scene and it is littered with problems.
- They conveniently find the answer in a place where you wouldn’t expect to find it during a time of year where people don’t often have fireworks lying around.
- Firecrackers don’t have the same sound as gunfire, at least not to an experienced ear. And I’m assuming that armed assailants would have experienced ears. So, without the next point, the firecrackers might have bought them three or four seconds at most.
- If you’ve ever let off a string of firecrackers, they go off erratically. There are starts and stops and the spacing between them isn’t consistently even and rhythmic. Automatic weapons, on the other hand, are very rhythmic even when you fire in bursts. The cadence is very different from a string of firecrackers.
- A car with the keys in it happens to be sitting in the backyard. Seriously?
There are more still, but I think you get the point.
Now, I don’t want to beat the guy up too badly. I really don’t. Like I said, he actually was a pretty good writer. His descriptions were rich and his writing style was good. His storyline was intriguing enough that I shelled out the cash to buy it. Now, I’ve never talked to the author, but I’d be willing to bet that he was too anxious to get the words onto the page. He had the characters in the house and didn’t know how to get them out, so he grabbed the first thing that seemed plausible. Of course, it wasn’t plausible, but the unrealistic nature of the solution just adds to it. For me, the real problem came before I knew the outcome. I had issues because it was just too convenient. It was too easy.
Another reason I don’t want to beat this guy up too badly is this: you and I are just as vulnerable as he was. We want to get on with our writing. We want to see our words in print. We want stellar reviews on Amazon and B&N and we want to earn a living doing what we love. We want to get through that painful first draft because it’s really, really hard work. But I want to tell you not to settle for passable. You have to wait for The Snick. Like I said, your readers may not forgive you if you don’t.
The good news is that I know you have it in you. But I’ve never met you, you say? That’s true. But if you have a writer’s passion and you love to tell stories, I know you can do it. You can find The Snick – even when it tries its best to hide from you.
You may still make this mistake from time to time. I know I do. Heck, I had to go back and rewrite the ending of The Timekeeper’s Son because I did do it. And you may even catch me not pushing a story as hard as I should have, although I hope I can catch it before you do. But we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t even have to strive to be perfect. We just have to give our writing everything we have. No one can ask for any more than that.
[Note: I didn’t come up with this term. I like to give credit where it’s due and The Snick is actually Laini Taylor’s. She talks about it in a small series of articles she put together on writing called Not for Robots. There is some good stuff in there if you’ve never checked it out.]