Hey, What's the Big Idea?

Your readers are hungry for a why

You’ve heard this line from Donald Duck.

It’s a question the character Lina Lamont asked, in “Singin’ In the Rain.”

The Three Stooges used it, and I’m pretty sure I heard it from James Cagney, too.

“What’s the big idea?”

As an editor for a Medium publication for new writers, and as a poet who sometimes struggles to write more concretely, this is the single biggest hurdle I see in the words I read (and the ones I write, myself!):

What. Is. The. Big. Idea.

You think it’s simple. You set off with it fixed in your mind, a place you’ll navigate to with the GPS of your writing. But sticking to it is hard. Especially with stories—stories can pull you off course if you’re not careful.

Today’s issue is all about navigating your readers with care to their destination: your big idea.

Because it stinks to realize you’re 83% done with a piece and it doesn’t arrive anywhere close to where you’d intended.

It feels like Point Nemo.

Don’t write to Point Nemo.

  • Learned: need a book on story? Try this one. Also, how’s your Rate of Revelation?

  • Loved: that Baymax story, finally—plus one writer you should read.

  • Curious: Silo, and a book of made-up words

I’ve recently finished Stories That Stick, by Kindra Hall, and found it a great tactical guide on understanding different types of stories—Founder, Value, Purpose, Customer—and how each one has its own big idea.

Hall gives nice breakdowns of each story type, how to write toward its big idea, along with tips on how to find good stories (which can be 98.4% of the battle). Full writeup here

I learned a new term this month. Somehow it missed me through all my schooling, but now that I know it I’m seeing it everywhere. Maybe you will, too.

It’s critical for keeping readers engaged—and staying on target as you write toward your Big Idea. It’s called the Rate of Revelation . . .

Remember the Baymax story? I finally finished it: check out how my son made me cry on vacation.

While you’re at it, check out Michael Thompson.

Michael’s a writer who inspires me to write things like the Baymax story. I admire how he weaves the personal and the big idea together so well, and he’s on my shortlist of writers to emulate.

(side note, always have a list of writers you want to emulate—read and sit with their work often)

Here are some great pieces Michael’s written on story:

Anyone out there watching the Apple TV series Silo?

It’s a futuristic story about a community of 10,000 people who live in a structure they only know as The Silo. They’ve never been outside (most of them), and have an informal class structure based on the vertical level a person is from, or works in.

The show is based on the books series of author Hugh Howey (no, I haven’t read them; I’m more a fantasy reader versus science fiction).

I’ve been watching weekly for a month or so, and while I’m as impressed as ever by the AppleTV quality and production value, the series falls a bit flat for me. It just doesn’t quite click and I haven’t been sure why.

I have an idea though, that has to do with rate of revelation. It may require me watching The Martian, and maybe even some old Game of Thrones. I might even throw in some The Last of Us for good measure.

Clearly this will be a terrible pursuit, and a very dark time. More soon!

One for the word nerds out there.

Take a look at the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Working my way through the Kindle sample and it’s unlike anything else I’ve read—it has me curious for more. The author catalogs made-up words that sound like obscure words for emotions we can’t quite describe.

Here’s an example:

🧠 and ❤️


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