Good Writing is Inception

“Cobb: What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere” (Inception, 2010) 

Fun Fact: This scene was not filmed with CGI.  The director, Christoper Nolan, actually took a hallway and spun it with the actors inside…

Planting an Idea

Have you ever read a book, or seen a movie, and felt that the story feels inauthentic because it’s too heavy handed?

Are the motifs just too obvious?  Perhaps they aren’t integrated into the story in a meaningful way?

That writer/author/director failed to plant an idea in your mind.

They failed at inception, and as the quote above– from Leonardo DiCaprio— explains, an idea is highly contagious.

An idea is powerful and hard to eradicate.  A good movie is hard to shake. An excellent book you will often talk about years later.  “Ahh the characters were just so good.”  “I loved that twist…”  “It was so moving…”

So how does the writer successfully plant an idea into your mind?  Everything comes into play, believable and well-developed characters, consistent world-building and so on…

But it can’t be heavy handed.  It can’t be in your face, an elephant in the room, because you are a unique individual and can sense another presence: the presence of the writer.  You can almost see the strings on the puppet that dances jerkily in your face.  These motifs, ideas, messages, stories, thoughts, etc. are extrinsic.  They feel as if they are coming from someone else, some foreign place that you can’t quite relate to.  It just doesn’t feel REAL. It just doesn’t quite stick.

But what about a story that moves you in unexpected ways, or connects unwittingly with pain you’ve felt? What if you read a story of someone on a journey, a character who is light and dark, and must struggle to overcome evil in their lives, maybe even in themselves?

But this very general description I just gave you is not moving.  It means nothing to you.  It isn’t neatly layered, and sometimes not so neatly layered, into a story; granules of truth scattered throughout.  We are storytellers, idea planters–all of us.  We connect to one another through story, and good writing is inception.  Good writing plants ideas in ways you never expected, maybe without you ever being fully aware.


At the end of the story, I want you to arrive somewhere and be unaware I was taking you there.  You are lost in the story, noting the unique experience of the character but aware of something coming to life within yourself.  The characters and the story are bringing some truth to the surface.

And this is why inception is so hard.  How does a writer plant an idea in mass?  He or she  must go deeper, into another dream layer, and deeper still.  They must appeal to universalities that are important, not only to themselves, but to the human condition.  They must move throughout the readers’ consciousness, in large part, undetected.

“Cobb: What do you want?

Saito: Inception. Is it possible?

Arthur: Of course not.

Saito: If you can steal an idea, why can’t you plant one there instead?

Arthur: Okay, this is me, planting an idea in your mind. I say: don’t think about elephants. What are you thinking about?

Saito: Elephants?

Arthur: Right, but it’s not your idea. The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.

Cobb: No, it’s not.”

(Inception, 2010)

Good Writing Is Inception.



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