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Monday, July 23, 2012

WSG 18: Evaluating Ideas for Books

Writer's Survival Guide 18: Evaluating Ideas for Books

Writers work in cycles. We're either writing a book, revising one, or coming up with the idea for our next book. Sometimes we're doing all three at once!

Summer View from My Balcony
Photo by rintakumpu

But eventually, our work-in-progress actually does come to an end. We feel a little sad at saying goodbye to beloved characters. We might be secretly thrilled to be rid of them (revising can be a bear). We can't help but feel the jolt of excitement when we realize it's time to come up with our next project.

Where do we find the idea for our next book? I discussed my method in a previous post, "The Idea Journal," which is linked if you're interested. I usually am thinking of my next book while I'm working on my current book. But in the rare case I'm not sure what my next book will be, I get out my Idea Journal, and I start evaluating.

First, I want to emphasize that I believe writers should write what's from the heart. My agent has reminded me of this more than once, which is one of the reasons I'm so blessed to have her. Some ideas will hook you and not leave you alone. Those are keepers. But even the "keeper" ideas need to be evaluated if you're writing with the intent to get published.

Why evaluate an idea?

1. To verify you're not writing something that is already oversaturated on the market.
2. To hone the idea to be as unique as possible.
3. To give yourself confidence that your idea is good.

That's great and all, but how do I evaluate an idea?

Well, it's up to you. I can't speak for all writers, but I will share my own criteria.

How to evaluate an idea:

Ask yourself the following questions.

1. What genre is this idea best suited for?

     I write romance novels for the Christian market. If my idea involves paranormal creatures erupting from the earth on Halloween night, I need to decide if I am willing to switch markets and genres to pursue this project.

     *Tip: Get familiar with books similar to yours. Mark the genre they're in. Keep tabs on the types of plots currently being published.

2. Is the basic set-up fresh? Or overdone?

     This is why I think it's so important to read a lot of books in your genre. You'll be able to pick up on overused occupations, names, and all kinds of other details. I've eliminated names and occupations based on this before. Really, it's not that big a deal to change a Katie to a Cassidy before you write the book. After? You're attached to the name, and it's harder.

     *Tip: If you've recently read one or more books with similar set-ups as your idea, you should consider going a different route.

3  Is the idea strong enough to sustain a full length novel?

     This is where brainstorming possible major plot points comes in handy. Think of the initial bud of the idea and mentally explore where the story could go. You're not settling on a plot at this point--you're just checking out the possibilities. If you can come up with a beginning, middle, and end, and you're still excited, you probably have a solid idea.

     *Tip: It doesn't matter if you're a plotter or pantster, you'll save yourself a lot of frustration by honing your initial idea into a solid story base from the start.

If your idea has made it through this inquisition, go forward with your book!

Do you evaluate your ideas before you begin writing? Or do you assume your idea passes the test?

Have a lovely Monday!

24 comments:

  1. I try to evaluate and you're so right, it's the stories that hang on and haunt me if you will that have to be penned! Great tips, Jill!

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  2. Excellent tips, thanks, Jill! I usually let an idea bounce around in my brain for a while before even committing the basics to paper. If, in its bouncing, it shows me that it's not going anywhere, or is just a rehashing of somebody else's story, I either let it die or try to tweak it. But if it keeps coming up with new twists and shows me a unique voice, I KNOW then it's a keeper, and then I can start either outlining or just writing. I always need that "simmering" time first, though, otherwise the story inevitably falls flat.

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    1. Same here, Louise, I love letting an idea slow cook for a long time before writing! :)

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  3. I'm in the throes of brainstorming my next book, and it's been fun, albeit frustrating at first. It's hard to come up with a concept that hasn't been done before. I think sometimes it's the characters that are unique...in other words, do a story that has a character in a situation that you've never seen someone like them in before.

    And yes, read, read, read lots in your genre! I probably don't do this enough since I'm drawn to all types of genres as a reader.

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    1. I think it's impossible to come up with a new concept--but that's where writers shine--we put our own twist on a situation. I agree with you there!

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  4. Going to come back to reread this post in a few weeks when I'll be testing out 2-3 ideas.

    And ususually I make sure mine having staying power. There needs to be something in the story that will hold me (and not let go).
    ~ Wendy

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    1. I agree. And I also have to feel strong emotions regarding the characters. If I don't feel the connection, I try to figure out why!

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  5. Well, I usually evaluate whether the idea can withstand a whole enitre story. Otherwise, I tend to roll with it. LOL

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  6. I actually just did this while switching computers. I had a few documents I'd made notes on for ideas for the future and a few just didn't feel right to me or didn't interest me anymore, so I let the ideas go. The rest get to live in my idea folder until I have the time to get to them.

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    1. I've let a few old ideas go too. If they aren't doing anything for me now, I'd rather focus on something else!

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  7. Love this, Jill. I'm writing a book now, but in the back of my head, I'm trying to plan a series. The idea world feels almost "too" wide open...your tips are so helpful. Already they're pinging. :)

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    1. Melissa, do you use One Note? I love it because I can keep notes, links, photos--anything, really--about future story ideas. When I have a possible future project, I create a new "notebook" for it, and add Folders and pages to organize it. You might want to try this!

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  8. Yes, I agree w/Melissa--sometimes there are just TOO MANY ideas! Much as I love to write what's on my heart instead of writing to market, sometimes you have to revamp your thinking to get that first book in the door. Still hoping my outside-the-box historical will get in there, but if not, I'm cooking up more "popular" ideas for another series. Good post!

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    1. I hope your historical finds a home soon! One thing I know--even if we get a "not now" on a book from our heart, it doesn't mean a "not ever." Sometimes the market isn't ready for us. And sometimes the planets align and it is!

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  9. Great tips, Jill. For my first story/book, I just wrote for the practice, experience, "fun" of it. I didn't necessarily have expectations of being published (well, ok, maybe "secret" expectations.) Happy to say, I stayed in love with the story/characters for the XX years it took to write 3 different endings, add enough words to make it commercial, delete enough words to satisfy my editor, revise it some more, etc. I think that is a "tip," too--do YOU love it enough to stick with it?

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    1. Oh, yes! We have to be attached to an idea to see it through months and years of writing, revising, submitting. Great point!

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  10. I love all these ideas, Jill. Thanks for sharing them. This post is a definite 'bookmark'/keeper and the link gets added to an upcoming 'must-read' post I throw out every once in a while. Thanks, Jody Hedlund, for posting this on Twitter, too. That's how I came by it.

    My characters won't leave me, either. They won't give me enough all at once but keep showing up with evolving points/insight into the story to know I can't let it go.

    And I am so with PM Kavanaugh's comment: playing with the idea of writing a story then falling in love with the story, process, etc, right into the amazing world of being published. Definitely, a love story all its own, lol.

    Have a great day, all :)

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    1. Thanks so much for coming by, Joanna--Jody is the best! I love it when I'm in a zone where my characters won't leave me alone! :)

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  11. I evaluate my ideas, but I try not to be overanalytical and guess whether the market will adore them or not. For me, that stifles my creativity and I feel like I am writing solely to cater to what's trendy. You're right about the plotter/pantser thing. Every writer needs to know where the story is heading.

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    1. I agree, Brandi--I'm not one to write to the market either. On the other hand, I have no problem studying the market to make sure my idea hasn't been overdone. Sometimes even simple things like occupations can feel stale if I read them over and over. :)

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  12. Great tips, Jill! I write ideas down in a notebook and then flesh them out little by little. Some sink, and some are logged for future books.

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  13. Cool! And I'll bet you're excited about the back-to-school sales to stock up on those notebooks! ;)

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