When I was little, I had these two pet fishes. They were goldfish—about what you’d expect. Not too big, not too small. Not particularly exciting as far as hobbies and personalities go. Yet, I remember sitting in front of their bowl and watching them swim around for hours. I imagined what it was like to be a fish; how it would feel to swim down into the depths of the ocean. I wondered at having scales and how cool it would be to breathe in water.
These two ordinary fishes captivated me. I wasn’t drawn to the ocean by the vibrant colors or massive size of other fishes. I wasn’t running to the aquarium or the pet store to eyeball a bunch of other aquatic oddities. It was these two regular-ass fishes in my bedroom that had me entranced.
Well, you could argue for a lot of reasons. Personally, I think it came down to the simplicity of their environment. See, my fishes were in a simple bowl. They didn’t have anything inside to make the place prettier. There were no fancy lights. Just a bowl, some clean water, and two fishes swimming around inside of it. Instead of my mind spending half-thoughts on other things, it got to focus on the only things that really mattered. Because of the lack of details, my mind created them. It was my own imagination that plunged me into the ocean of possibilities. That tank became different than any other fish tank or body of water in the whole world. It was full of my stories, my insights, and my attentions.
I like to think of those fishes whenever people talk about story ideas. I’ve heard so many aspiring writers claim their ideas aren’t “good enough”. I’ve even been guilty of this from time to time. As creative types, we seem to have this fear that our ideas aren’t original enough, or cool enough. We seem to think that our ideas are too ordinary. Not interesting. Dare I say… (cringe)… boring?
Writers will fight these thoughts one of two ways. Either they’ll stop writing completely and just assume they’ll never get anywhere, or they try to “fill the tank” with too much stuff. A story they feel is too simple will suddenly have a million different aspects to it. Depth will be confused with complexity, and suddenly the story is spiraling wildly out of control. This’ll go on until the fish—the original, core ideas—are overtaken by all the stuff in the tank.
There’s no way to tell which stories are going to be bestsellers and which will fail. But, there are plenty of examples out there for us to study. When you boil down most influential works, the premises behind them are ridiculously simple. You’ll get things like: boy goes to magic school and learns to be a wizard. Group of friends attempt to destroy very powerful, evil thing. Boy learns to be a knight, defeats evil knight (and also father, apparently.)
Hell, Twilight is about whether to fuck a werewolf or a vampire (or both, if possible?). Fifty Shades was a BDSM fanfiction of Twilight.
(Yes, you could argue that these are oversimplifications.)
Point is: don’t worry about how “good” your ideas are. They’re good. Worry about whether they bore you. If they do, there’s a good chance your execution will be terrible. If you’re slogging through the middle of a new story and you feel like it’ll never end… well, it probably never will. You’ve got to ignite your imagination! If the fishes aren’t doing it for you, adding some pretty seaweed and a treasure chest isn’t going to help much. It might just be time to find some new fish.
If you can simplify your story down to its core elements and it still excites you: you have a winner. That story is the story that’ll keep you pumped through five drafts and hours of revisions. That story is what will hook readers and pull them headlong through something that will fundamentally change them. That story is the one that deserves to sit on its own display in the shop.
You have great ideas. You’ll have more. As long as you keep writing, your ideas will keep flowing (and keep getting better). Try not to get too hung up on it, okay? You’ll improve so long as you keep trying. Your mind is an ocean of possibilities, and it is filled with beautiful and dazzling creatures, shifting tides, and deep mysteries. It is ripe with life and teaming with opportunities. There is much to explore within you. And none of it is like any other ocean out there.
Strip away the useless and concentrate on what truly makes you—the writer—most excited. Write about that. No matter how boring or mundane it may seem. I guarantee you, those fish will be the coolest fucking fish you have ever seen.
I’ll never forget the look on my friends’ faces when they met my fishes for the first time. They were huddled around that simple fishbowl, eyes wide, marveling at the ordinary fishes within. They got to see what I saw: missing scales were battle scars and agility was trained in the black depths of a dangerous ocean. Placid natures were the result of peace following years of tidal warfare. These fishes weren’t floating in some boring, crowded pet store tank. These fishes weren’t ordinary. They were legends, and I was honored to have them.
You’ve never seen a group of boys so excited over two goldfish.
I love y’all. Go write.
Ronin doesn’t write about fishes. He writes fantasy and science fiction books, opinion pieces, and all kinds of other stuff! Check out his writings on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and WordPress. Subscribe to his YouTube channel for videos on the last Friday of every month, and be on the lookout for video versions of Writer Wednesday!
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