From Fiction University: Enabling third party cookies on your browser could help if you have trouble leaving a comment.

Sunday, February 27

What Matters More? Story Execution or the Idea?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

There was a post on Writers' Chasm about which was more important: the idea, or the execution that got me thinking about how both are vital, but each takes precedence at different points of a writing career. Focusing too much on one at the wrong time might even cause you some extra headaches--and might even be the reason for some common headaches most writers go through.

For those heading down the writing path, consider where you are on that journey when deciding where to put your creative energy.

Still Finding Your Feet

When you first start writing, it’s all about execution, because writing builds off itself. Understanding what makes an effective paragraph takes the same basic structure (and skill set) that writing an effective scene does: something interesting to catch a reader's attention, compelling information to keep them reading, and something at the end that intrigues them to move to the next piece. Learning how to construct a great sentence, build paragraphs that draw you along, create imagery that brings a world to life, are vital skills you’ll need to craft strong scenes and chapters.

If you have a wonderful story idea to go with developing your writing skills, that's great. But don't feel you need to find the perfect idea while you're still learning, or feel as though you can't write that book until you do find the perfect idea. The better your writing skill, the easier it will be to write a compelling novel.

Still Learning to Walk

After you’ve developed your basic writing skills and have a solid understanding of the mechanics of writing, story ideas become more important. Now it’s time to train yourself to execute those ideas in a compelling way. Spend time learning how to tell a story and finding your voice. Explore the best ways to deliver your story to the reader. A strong story is more than just words on a page, it’s how those words are organized into scenes, how those characters are built, how that world is crafted. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect or even all that great as long as the story unfolds the way you want it to.

Learning to Run

Eventually you’ll get to a point where your story is working as intended, but you know you can make the prose better. It’s time to go back to execution. Most likely, it’s the subtleties of writing you’ll be focusing on now. The tiny tweaks that turn good prose into great prose. Tightening your pacing, clarifying dialog and internalization, smoothing your narrative flow. The polish that will make your writing shine.

Taking Flight

By the time you’re submitting to agents and editors, it’s all about the idea, because everyone who gets published is, by default, writing at a professional level. Even if you disagree what “good” means, (it is subjective) you have to be good to even be considered. What sets one well-written book apart from the next on the stack is the idea. It’s possible (and not uncommon) to start querying before you’ve reached a professional level, so never be afraid to step back and reevaluate your writing if you get a lot of rejections. You might be a great writer, and be really close to getting your work out there, but you still have a few more steps to take. Those who can say, “okay, I know my idea is great, but my execution needs a tad more work” are those who will probably see their name in print. Just like those who know they write beautifully, and are willing to step back to find that perfect idea to showcase their skills will.

Ideas and execution. You do need both, but I think trying to do both at the same time all the time can be overwhelming. There are times when one is needed over the other, and developing both skills at different times can help build a writing foundation that is solid all the way through.

Originally published during the Blue Fire blog tour at Writers' Chasm


  1. For years I was all about the ideas, and assumed that'd be enough to keep me going. I ended up scrapping a lot of books that way. It wasn't until I started actually learning to improve my writing that I was able to put something solid together.

  2. Every idea I've had ends up a love/hate relationship. Ideas that seem so amazing when you type that first sentence often get that voice inside your head screaming "it sucks!" by 30K words. The hardest thing in the world is to make that idea seem awesome again through good writing.

  3. Writing is indeed like going through the stages of walking-running-flying. The thing a number of people forget is that writing is a process and involves revision again and again. I know of a number of people who had great ideas but didn't spend enough time polishing them before pitching-querying-submitting them. Thi sis too bad - it leads to major feelings of discouragement.

  4. Wow, what a great point! I'd tackled a similar take on this in my "What Makes a Story Worth Writing" series, but there I focused more on the story seed itself, rather than the skills necessary to pull it off. I like this breakdown of how to make the two things work together. Great post!

  5. On a completely tangential note, you've reached 666 Followers. What a number!

  6. Paul: I did the opposite. Worked on craft, then had well-written books that bored the snot out of you. :)

    Roberta: That's so true. And often you just have to tell that voice to shut up and keep writing, then you find that awesomeness again. Manuscripts do go through an ugly stage, LOL.

    Jill: It really does, and I can never stress the importance of revisions enough. I think almost everyone will query too early at least once (also part of the process) but the ones who learn from that are the ones you'll see in print one day.

    Jami: Thanks! I'll have to go take a peek at that post. Might be a good one for a noon link.

    Shannon: My blog is evil. Or was. I'm not evil anymore it seems, LOL.

  7. You have a good point and i admire it, however, we must not forget that before a man pick the piece of wood the idea of picking the wood comes first before the action of picking.