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Author Topic: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law  (Read 2347 times)  

Offline Jim Johnson

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[Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« on: August 08, 2015, 07:06:11 PM »
Hanging out at a writing con today; I spent part of my evening going through some of my old workshop notes as a refresher, and I was reminded of an idea that Kate Wilhelm offered regarding coming up with stronger, more original ideas for stories.

The 'law' being, throw away your first three ideas. The first idea is probably low-hanging fruit any reader can figure out. Many readers might figure out your second idea, and fewer will come up with the third. But by digging deeper and putting more creative thought into your idea-generating and honing, your fourth idea may well be the one that is fresh enough to surprise readers.

Useful concept, I think. What's your brain telling you? Yea, nay, some other idea?

Offline Vaalingrade

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2015, 07:28:39 PM »
Never throw out ANY ideas ever, but always generate more to give yourself options.

And always refine whatever idea you have instead of just running with it.

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Offline Roby

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2015, 07:34:34 PM »
I don't think there are any fresh ideas at all--even Shakespeare stole his ideas. It's how we develop and produce them that makes them ours. So those first three ideas may come from someplace else, but so what? Reasonable people may disagree, but I think if you want to write them, write them! How you do it will be different, and that's where the freshness comes from.
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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2015, 07:33:04 AM »
I can see that the first thing that comes to mind may be trite, old-fashioned, or possibly triggered by something recently read. So, maybe it's not the right idea. Some brainstorming should bring up other ideas, or a way to put a twist on the first one, or a way to combine two ideas...

I like to brainstorm. When I get an idea for a story, I'll make an entry in my story ideas folder and write down anything I get that might work. Any twists, character info, title possibilities, and so on. Often I will get a better idea later, or find that twist that makes the story unique (as unique as any story gets), or fleshes out the characters.

Sometimes, though, the very first idea I get is The One. I'll know this because the story comes to me fully realized, and all I have to do is write it. I figure this happens because my subconscious has already done the work for me, and I'm just the typist.
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Offline SB James

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2015, 08:04:10 AM »
Never throw out ANY ideas ever, but always generate more to give yourself options.

And always refine whatever idea you have instead of just running with it.
It's amazing how many ideas I've had for one work, and then used many years later in another work.
I think ideas have varying amounts of potential, so it's difficult for me to simply toss out an idea without first evaluating it for use in my current work.


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Offline TBD

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2015, 09:35:32 AM »
I use Wilhelm's Law all the time. I even have a Wilhelm's Law grid set up for my mysteries... It gives me the red herrings and the real murderer in on swell foop! ;-) LURVE Wilhelm's Law lololol

Offline Mercia McMahon

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2015, 10:03:55 AM »
I prefer Doris Lessing's Law:

"There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be."


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Offline Flay Otters

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2015, 10:15:31 AM »
Never throw out ANY ideas ever, but always generate more to give yourself options.

And always refine whatever idea you have instead of just running with it.

Indeed.
In my experience, a lot of people who don't have to be creative for a living don't fully respect a good idea.
What I do, as, perhaps, an improvement on "Kate's Law" is to be aware of the obvious and the trite in my own writing.

Another issue is that many genres rely on not surprising readers; that rely on presenting the low hanging fruit over and over.
Many readers enjoy the taste of that fruit and panic when the taste isn't what they expected.
And finally, from me anyway, much of the time the idea is not as important as the turn of phrase, the voice, the style.

Offline Usedtoposthere

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #8 on: August 09, 2015, 10:23:52 AM »
Thinking up story ideas is the very hardest thing for me. If I had to think of 4, I'd be SOL. I've  had 16 book ideas. The 15 I've written, and the one I'm writing. Ever.  All but a couple of them not very original at all. I was just thinking about this the other day. I don't think you have to be original in your ideas. You just have to be entertaining, and original in voice and in how you execute your ideas.

In fact, my two most recent releases--one of them was actually a clever and new idea. The other was the oldest thing in the book. Readers preferred the second one, because in that one, I was able to have two distinctive characters with strong feelings and very realistic conflict. That's what seems to make my books work better or not.

May be different if you write plot based, or if you write literary fiction or some other genres. Sci fi, maybe.  I write character based. I think my characters are fresh and unique, even if my plots aren't. That seems to work. 
« Last Edit: August 09, 2015, 11:14:29 AM by Rosalind James »

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #9 on: August 09, 2015, 10:31:27 AM »
Hanging out at a writing con today; I spent part of my evening going through some of my old workshop notes as a refresher, and I was reminded of an idea that Kate Wilhelm offered regarding coming up with stronger, more original ideas for stories.

The 'law' being, throw away your first three ideas. The first idea is probably low-hanging fruit any reader can figure out. Many readers might figure out your second idea, and fewer will come up with the third. But by digging deeper and putting more creative thought into your idea-generating and honing, your fourth idea may well be the one that is fresh enough to surprise readers.

Useful concept, I think. What's your brain telling you? Yea, nay, some other idea?

I love this. Never heard it before, but I often read through old books of mine and think, "hmm, I could have REALLY made that part sing..."

I'll try this out on my WIP!


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Offline TBD

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #10 on: August 09, 2015, 10:44:31 AM »
When I suggest Wilhelm's Law, this is the link I provide ;-) And the quote from it...

QUOTE --

Or apply Wilhelm's Law. Award-winning writer and editor Kate Wilhelm famously advised writers to "throw away your first three ideas." Your first idea is probably obvious. Most of your readers will have thought of it. Many will have thought of your second idea. Some will have thought of your third idea. But your fourth idea, that's probably fresh enough to seem original.

I've discovered an odd thing about Wilhelm's Law. It's extraordinarily useful when I'm stuck When I can't think of a single idea, I apply Wilhelm's Law and think of four ideas. For some reason, it's easier to think of four ideas than to think of one. Maybe it's because when I'm looking for one idea, I'm seeking perfection. But if I look for four ideas, none of them has to be perfect. This jiggles my stuck brain loose, and then the ideas can come. And of the four (or more), at least one of them will be good enough to get me unstuck. Most of the time.

END QUOTE

I see Wilhelm's Law as a way to solve a problem within a story ;-)

http://writers.stackexchange.com/questions/9075/writing-multiple-novels-simultaneously
« Last Edit: August 09, 2015, 12:44:34 PM by TBD »

Offline jlmarten

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #11 on: August 09, 2015, 10:51:54 AM »
I wonder how much this 'rule' applies to genre writing? I first heard it in a college creativity class many years ago. Can't recall whether or not the prof attributed it to Ms. Wilhelm, but he may have - the college was just outside Toledo where Kate Wilhelm was born.

As for me, a dyed-in-the-wool pantser, all along the journey through a novel there are story ideas to consider. Generally speaking, in order to keep momentum going, I go with the first idea (unless it's obviously horribly bad) that worms its way into my gray matter. It's in the editing process that I'll give more consideration to relative creativity and workability of the idea. After all, to apply another writer's law, writing is rewriting.

Offline Elizabeth Ann West

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2015, 10:59:50 AM »
The power in this advice does not come from the number of ideas you make up, but in forcing yourself to brainstorm. When we get stuck, writer's block, etc., it's only because we're trying to create AND edit at the same time.

Your first idea could be the best one. So could the last one. The important part is that you mentally freed yourself of constraints and that is what leads to innovation, even if it's the same olf familiar situations just told in a new way.


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Offline Douglas Milewski

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #13 on: August 09, 2015, 11:05:54 AM »
I call this "pitching to myself." Pitching ideas to yourself is easy and quick, easily done before you begin writing. I keep doing that until I get excited and engaged.

- Kid goes on quest. Nah.
- Kid goes on quest to save sister. Nah.
- Kid goes on quest because drug dealers want some MacGuffin, and they'll kill his sister if he doesn't. But if he does give them the MacGuffin, everything will be worse. Yes!

What did that take? 60 seconds.

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2015, 11:45:52 AM »
This does seem like good advice to me, especially for those new to writing. I think it is natural for our brains to initially take the path of least resistance, which would also be the most obvious story line (with exceptions, of course). 

But, as with anything, the more we practice, the easier it gets. For seasoned writers, or even newbies who are exceptionally gifted in this area, I believe coming up with more original ideas the first time becomes easier as we train our brains to take the more challenging route.

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #15 on: August 09, 2015, 11:53:25 AM »
Can't remember where I copied this from.

36 basic plots

Polti, Georges. The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. trans. Lucille Ray.
Polti claims to be trying to reconstruct the 36 plots that Goethe alleges someone named [Carlo] Gozzi came up with. (In the following list, the words in parentheses are our annotations to try to explain some of the less helpful titles.):

Polti, Georges. The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.

Supplication (in which the Supplicant must beg something from Power in authority)
Deliverance
Crime Pursued by Vengeance
Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
Pursuit
Disaster
Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
Revolt
Daring Enterprise
Abduction
The Enigma (temptation or a riddle)
Obtaining
Enmity of Kinsmen
Rivalry of Kinsmen
Murderous Adultery
Madness
Fatal Imprudence
Involuntary Crimes of Love (example: discovery that one has married ones mother, sister, etc.)
Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
All Sacrificed for Passion
Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
Adultery
Crimes of Love
Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
Obstacles to Love
An Enemy Loved
Ambition
Conflict with a God
Mistaken Jealousy
Erroneous Judgement
Remorse
Recovery of a Lost One
Loss of Loved Ones

see also
http://dragonscanbebeaten.wordpress.com/2009/02/01/basic-plots/

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Offline TBD

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #16 on: August 09, 2015, 12:45:11 PM »
The power in this advice does not come from the number of ideas you make up, but in forcing yourself to brainstorm. When we get stuck, writer's block, etc., it's only because we're trying to create AND edit at the same time.

Your first idea could be the best one. So could the last one. The important part is that you mentally freed yourself of constraints and that is what leads to innovation, even if it's the same olf familiar situations just told in a new way.

Bingo! ;-)

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #17 on: August 09, 2015, 12:49:41 PM »
That's Kate Willem's Law?

I call that "the Whose Line thing".

Taken from Whose Line is it Anyway?
When they play the "Change" game.

The actor says things and the guy on the side can say "CHANGE" as much as he likes, forcing the actor to swap whatever he just said for a new thing.

That and well, I relate it to "Kill your darlings".

I think this has to be used fairly sparingly as well. Which is to say, you have to be discerning about what to throw out anyway.

Offline Jim Johnson

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #18 on: August 09, 2015, 03:43:28 PM »
I wonder how much this 'rule' applies to genre writing?

Wilhelm's a genre writer so I'm guessing the rule works just fine. :D

Offline Vaalingrade

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Re: [Craft] Kate Wilhelm's Law
« Reply #19 on: August 09, 2015, 06:59:28 PM »
Also, always ask yourself: "If this idea is original, is it original because everyone else was smart enough not to put it to paper?"

I have read a TON of sci-fi and fantasy that woudl have been vastly, VASTLY improved by a good dose of vitamin Formula instead of the handfuls of peyote and 'shrooms they took instead.

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