Monday, July 2, 2012

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

I'm gonna teach you a little bit of math.

Stop laughing, Jana.

Sometimes, one plus one doesn't equal two. Sometimes, one plus one equals... eleven.

The idea is brilliant.
The book...meh.
Before 2009, there were books about Zombies, and books retelling Pride and Prejudice, but Seth Grahame-Smith combined them and...eleven.

Before Charlene Harris started writing, there were books about waitresses in the south, and books about vampires. She combined them in Dead Until Dark and...eleven.

 Grahame-Smith did it again with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and...eleven.

The math is simple. You take something you know, something familiar to people, or something easily researched (and public domain), and then you add something unexpected.

This is a good example from YouTube. Someone brilliant combined Party Rock with the Cantina music from Star Wars and...eleven. It's thirty-three seconds of beautiful.

What I failed, yet tried, to say last week, is how people are looking for connections to people who are the same as them. People who like both Zombies, and Pride and Prejudice. People who like Star Wars, and LMFAO. People like me.

 And it works.  People buy or click, because they feel connected. Plus it meshed two markets. People who like Pride and Prejudice but who wouldn't touch a zombie book, might buy P&P&Z. One market plus One market equals...published?

Applying It to Find the Next Great Story Idea

Okay, so step away from your story ideas for a second, and ask yourself, what are you an expert at? What aspect of our world do you know well enough to not need to do any research? Do you know well what it's like to be in the PTA? Do you really know how to do laundry?

For me, I know what it's like to work as an usher in a Theatre. And no Spell Check, I won't change the spelling. That's how we Haleians spelled Theatre. I know those details, so I can get it right.

Now, all you need to do is take your known world, and add something speculative.

Take your PTA world and add Zombies. Imagine the fight scene in the middle of the Bake Sale... eleven. Imagine monsters in the laundry basket, or a new laundry machine that becomes sentient and seeks for companionship...eleven.

I can use the Back of the Theatre world I know so well, and add... robots...ghosts...vampires...magic. All of the above. The story ideas write themselves.

If only the books did.

If you can't figure out yet what you're an expert of, think of something you love that's easy to research, or now in public domain. Add speculative, and...published?

Happy writing, people!


  1. Oh my gosh, that Star Wars video is cool. I can't tell you how many times my kids made me watch that stupid video, but the cantina song really livens things up.

    I couldn't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I didn't have the background skills to enjoy the zombie parts. But I think the author was a genius. Who would've thought? This is great advice Sheena. Thanks.

  2. Of the many zombie books I've read in my life P&P&Z is my third favorite.

    1. I think the idea for the book is much better than the book, but the idea is so good, that I don't complain that they published it.

      Thanks Ben for commenting.

  3. Okay, I love that Star Wars video too. I can't believe how perfectly that dance fit the cantina song. Awesome!

    Isn't this the idea behind high concept? Take something familiar and tweak it in a different way, and you come up with something that captures a lot of people's interest. I had this reaction to Cowboys and Aliens last summer. I heard of the concept and thought, I'm seeing that movie no matter what. The idea was just so cool to me.

    Excellent post.

    Oh and you should so do something with that Theatre idea. That would be awesome.

  4. I think I watched that video at least twenty times. I kept shoving my phone at people and hitting play. Great post, and so true. I didn't care for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I bought it based on the concept. In the end that's what counts, right?


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