Image for post
Image for post

I often see writers who are concerned about someone stealing their idea. The problem with that is that every idea has been done. I know there’s always someone who thinks they have a truly original idea that has never been thought of in the history of mankind, but sorry, it has been.

The key is the translation from idea to story.

An idea is a concept. Story is translating that idea with

Where and when? Setting.

Who? Character.

Why? Motivation.

What? Plot.

Take same idea, put a twist when moving to story and it can appear the idea is different. I like to boil ideas down to one sentence. This keeps me focused. It is the one thing in a book that can’t change. Change the idea, then you change the story. You can change the story without changing the idea. This is something I expand on in the Novel Writers Toolkit.

I’m going to show examples of this in subsequent blogs, but I might as well start at the beginning, my first idea that I translated into story and the story didn’t work, so I kept the idea and changed the story and it eventually became my second book published.

The idea was really basic: What if Special Forces soldiers have to destroy an enemy pipeline?

This was back in the old days, before Internet was widely used, when I went to the library for my research and pissed off the librarians by rechecking out the same books over and over as I wrote the book, and we used chisel and stone for our first draft.

Actually, I used the original 512K Mac. That gives some of you old-timers a perspective. Loved that computer. I had just gotten off active duty in the army, although I was still in the reserves and I moved to South Korea to be with my then-wife who was still active duty. She commanded a company in an attack helicopter battalion, probably the first woman to do so, because she was also a maintenance test pilot. I had a lot of time on my hands as I studied martial arts (can only get beat up so many hours of the day) so I plugged in that Mac and started writing a book. I honestly can say I had no thoughts of getting published. I used the opportunity, something which has always been a very valuable tenet of my life.

My idea was simple because I figured I had to focus on the writing of the book so I used the KISS technique.


Why that idea? Because my team had done. I knew most of the story so I could focus on the writing. I just changed details.

As I developed my story I decided to set it in the Soviet Union (hint, really gives you an idea how long ago it was). For some reason I now forget the Russians blow up the Alaskan pipeline so we send an SF A-team to blow up the trans-Siberian pipeline. I wrote the book which I titled Payback. Started right into a second book once I finished that.

I won’t go into the long story of getting an agent etc. but finally, when I did have an agent, he read the manuscript, liked it, but said: Bob, the Soviet Union no longer exists. No one wants a book about that.

Which also gives you an idea how long it took me to get an agent.

Image for post
Image for post

So during Spring Break of grad school I took the same idea, changed the setting to China, backdropped it against the Tiananmen Square riots, added in a much better reason for the mission in terms of a Fail Safe type scenario and Payback became Dragon Sim-13.

Same idea. Very different story.

Originally published at on January 23, 2019.

West Point grad; Special Ops Vet; NY Times bestseller of over 80 books; for free books and over 200 free downloadable slideshows go to

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store