There is a reason why your ideas sound awful

The difference between a person who creates and a person who doesn’t create ultimately has always come down to bravery. Bravery has very little to do with skill, as there are plenty of hack artists out there (me) who are still brave enough to expose their thoughts to the world. It’s takes a little foolishness and/or faith to go “my idea can be something that isn’t terrible”. When it comes to creating things like characters, settings, stories or symbolism, the biggest hangup people seem to have (even people who are already makers) is that their ideas sound stupid in their head. Heck they might sound stupid to other people too, due to a lack of articulation. They wish their ideas were better or cooler or well thought out or less cheesy and cliche….

The thing is, while there are some brilliant ideas out there, most ideas, when distilled down, sound really dumb. These things do not succeed due to a brilliant core idea, but because of execution and internal cohesion. I like to think of this as the “Worst Possible Pitch”. I’ll try and put some together as examples.

Guts (Berserk)
The main character of this show will be plain looking big dude with a big sword who doesn’t talk much but is really good at killing things and gets angry a lot.

Granted if you go post-eclipse, a dude with a cannon arm and auto crossbow and even bigger sword might sound a bit cooler, but on t’s own it’s pretty awful sounding and shallow. Yet Guts is a deep character and he’s deep because of the little touches and how he is executed. Also in the context of his world, his relatively plain design stands out. In other series where a characters can have stylistic injuries and scars, very mark on cuts is from something we’ve seen and they communicate his struggle. His big sword works because he’s not in a crazy anime universe where such things are normal — it’s because the setting is so ‘realistic’ that it works so well.

Cave Story
A bunch of bunny people in a floating island are subjugated by a doctor with a silly hat who wishes to turn them into world conquering weapons. You, a robot in a baseball cap, need to defeat the doctor and the evil wizard in the core of the island while saving your robot girlfriend.

If that sounds good to you, it’s because you know how it turns out. The idea sounds childish and it IS, but that informs both the aesthetic and how the story is delivered. It is cute and sincere while still having a sense of danger. The idea works because it is executed so well. Cave story gets the ‘disney effect’ where it can tell a serious heartfelt story despite being a kids movie. Unlike half of the movies the poor guys at Dreamworks have to make.

A guy (with no relation to anyone in Bram Stoker’s novel) with a whip goes into Dracula’s castle to fight monsters and various movie monsters once every 100 years.

It’s kinda absurd how Castlevania as successfully took all sorts of horror stories and condensed them into a cohesive aesthetic. These games have Frankenstein’s Monster in them for goodness sake, along with mummies. If you look at the film reel intros for the NES Castlevanias, you can really think about what they did. We don’t think about that now. Why is a mummy or frankenstein in Castlevania? Well because they’re supposed to be! It’s the most natural thing in the world! These games also turned Dracula into a new character and made his castle it’s self a fascinating piece of lore. The Belmonts and the Vampire Hunter have had enough games to create an air of respect around them.

Street Fighter
A bunch of martial artist guys who look like martial artists fight.

Now, Street Fighter gets to do a lot of things because it was there first, but theres more then that. It also isn’t rocket science, nor does it have a great plot. Still, Street Fighter creates a setting around ‘fighters’ and takes it quite seriously, even with crazy characters like Blanka and Dhalsim. You get a sense of effort and strength from the characters. They give the impression that their strenght was worked for (as opposed to SNK Where you get some stylish dudes doing stylish moves, which is okay too). By keeping relatively down to earth, weird things like Blanka stand out and become noteworthy and the whole thing carries a bit plausibility than a lot of fighters.

Forgetting actual pitches, just look at anything Blizzard does. It’s about as dead simple and almost cliche as you can get, BUT THEY DO IT WELL. The question you should always ask you self is not “Is my idea bad?”. You should ask your self “Can I make my idea work?”. Ideas are cheap. This is why all the people who go “I wish I could get paid for having so many great ideas!” don’t get paid — because the ideas don’t matter too much. My friend reads a manga called Toriko — this is a line right off of wikipedia…

“In a world where the taste and texture of food is extremely important, there exist individuals known as Gourmet Hunters who specialize in the acquisition of rare ingredients and animals. Toriko is one of these hunters and it is his dream to find the most precious foods in the world and create the ultimate dinner course. As one of the most skilled hunters in the world, he is regularly hired by restaurants and the rich to seek out new ingredients and rare animals. “

I think a lot of us will have the same impression of that description. It either has to be totally fucking stupid and bad, or really awesome. A sincere author doing what he wants to do can make seemingly ridiculous ideas into gold. Or make a seemingly simple idea into a compelling, sophisticated one. It is all about execution. This isn’t to say you can’t have bad ideas or that you will execute your ideas well, but I hope those who are hung up on ‘having a good idea’ can read this and press forward a little more.

4 thoughts on “There is a reason why your ideas sound awful

  1. Moving forward isn’t the only problem though. I would say that it isn’t the fear of one’s idea that stops a person but instead the enormity of the task before them if they try to implement their idea…

  2. Sun Tzu: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”

    The bad news
    People do not know themselves
    and they do not know their enemy(the market).

    The good news
    If your battles with the market are not deadly, you can just keep trying different things until something works. Even if your idea is bad, it doesn’t necessarily matter as long as it’s not actively harming people. If the market buys your bad/stupid/unoriginal idea, then so much the better for you and the guy who bought it. Perhaps your bad idea that someone paid to try out has deprived some undiscerning customer of the funds to buy another lottery ticket, case of beer, or carton of cigarettes. An idea doesn’t always have to be brilliant for a market to buy it. Markets have gone crazy over pet rocks, tulips, and poisonous fish.

    Disclaimer: If your product is a food, medicine, or cosmetic, or otherwise meant to be ingested or applied to the body, then it becomes much more likely that it will harm people if it is bad instead of being merely useless. The preceding paragraph is not a license to sell products or do poorly recorded and executed experiments on human (or even animal or cadaver) subjects without giving full disclosure (to the subjects AND any committee overseeing such experiments) that you don’t know what the **** the chemical(s) you’re using will do to them.

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