This post was inspired by February’s reading — Ready Player One.
This post is spoiler-free, but the comments may not be. You have been warned.
I recommend it. I did feel the first half was a little slow, but the second half made up for it and the concept was brilliant.
As it happens, the “concept” is what I want to talk to you about.
As writers, we often find a great “what if” and want to roll with it.
What if Vampires took over after World War 1 and now people are raised as cattle in “pleasant” camps?
What if there is a magic key that turns any locked doorway into a portal to a magical land?
What if a teenager discovers that she is actually half-unicorn on her 16th birthday?
In the case of Ready Player One, you could say, “What if the real world was horrible so most people escaped into a virtual reality realm for their everyday lives?”
That’s a great idea, and the author does a fantastic job with it. The book explores all sorts of things, from currency to health to chat rooms and even tech support.
It can be tempting to grab that concept and run with it.
Unfortunately, it also needs a PLOT.
It needs a story that only this character can tell that can only take place in that world — within the realm of that concept.
It needs … a rebellious vampire to befriend a human and buck the system. It needs a villain seeking the magic key in order to subjugate the magical land. It needs a vision quest all young unicorns must complete before their 17th birthday or they die.
It needs a PLOT.
And Ready Player One not only had a fantastic concept, it also had a great plot.
A quest to discover three keys hidden within the virtual world and a race against the heartless corporation bent on monetizing the currently-free system enjoyed by millions.
I am super prone to latching onto an idea while having a difficult time developing a plot.
Once I start trying to nail down an antagonist and a twist, I get all kerfluffled and feel like everything I come up with is pathetically formulaic.
Which is true. But also silly. You don’t need a genre-changing plot in order to have an entertaining story. That’s what the CONCEPT is for. To decorate the plot and describe it in new terms.
Daydream up a simple concept.
“What if … ”
You can roll with “What if cats had wings” if you want the pressure-free version.
Now, come up with a PLOT for it. Antagonist. Goal. Character.
What story can only be told in a world with winged cats? (or whatever it is you chose).
Was it difficult? If so, what about it felt awkward or forced or uncomfortable?
If you can spot your own personal hangups with plot-building on simple challenges like this, you will be able to apply that knowledge to the stories that really matter.