I was fascinated with Legos as a young child. (And no, that’s not me by the way) I had the usual assortment of Transformers, various action figures, NERF guns and other toys just laying about. But, in time, you’d get bored of those other things. The one thing that never got boring was–you guessed it–Legos.
You could shape and reshape them into literally anything. I know a lot of kids who liked to build the usual assortment of houses and horses and whatever…but not me. I was always interested in the space ships and doomsday weapons, the WMDs and the star cruisers. I liked large-scale, fantastical, technological things.
Why am I talking about Legos of all things? Well, as us Lego fans know, (at least we architects of futuristic space vehicles) that any fantastical thing can be enhanced if you just “throw another thing on”. Add another gun, another row of guns, a third wing, a fourth wing, a few nukes, an interstellar drive, an invisibility matrix, backup generator, shield generator, whatever. I was well-versed in my Star Wars and Star Trek. I knew the lingo–and whatever a good ship might need.
Sometimes, however, I would add something else, looking to enhance one of my previous models, (like a few flat bricks the constituted an odd color scheme) and I would be repulsed. It would look bulky or unwieldy. The colors wouldn’t blend. It didn’t play out as I had imagined. Most (but not all) of the time, I would just press on, adding more things until the original detail that marred it would be exacerbated and eventually wrecked. By building on a “bleh” or “lame” detail, the model turned out to be sub-optimal. I would then take it apart and build something else.
Writing isn’t too different from Legos. In fact, it isn’t too different from painting, architecture, or Lincoln Logs. (Before Legos, I played with those) In all of these, building on a shaky foundation will come back to bite you in the rear, often painfully. And all of this stemmed from one problem: one faulty addition.
This is where the common pitfall lies. Whether you’re just taking a very unoriginal idea and adding a few superficial changes or you’re just throwing in yet another warlord into the story to challenge the heroes, to abide by the rule that “just adding another thing” will fix or enrich the story is just blatantly…false.
I’m not against adding things to a story. In fact, that’s how you augment it: add more characters, new places, more subplots, new challenges, new solutions. That’s how the story is advanced. However, the problem is “just add another thing”. The key word is another. It implies that this idea has shown up somewhere else, whether in your story, in real life, or someone else’s.
I could taker the time to lecture you on the importance of original ideas, but you already know that. You’re a writer. You probably have a good sense of what ideas you thought up yourself versus what ideas you’re borrowing. You know this: just be honest with yourself.
You can do better than a humanoid race that is exactly like our humanity but they have three legs and one arm each. Not only is that just weird, it’s a case of “just adding another thing on”. When you’re making additions, ask yourself: could this addition be better, or am I adding it just to add it? Is it original, or borrowed?”
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!