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Elements of a Good Idea
The elements of a good novel idea address and answer
questions. What do you, the writer want to say? Who wants
to hear it? How do you plan to say it?
And who do you think could best convey what you have to
Writers have always heard "write what you
know." Let's say you know the intricacies of the
subject of your idea and you can write about it with
authority. That's terrific, because readers who know the
intricacies of your subject will be captivated, too. But
it isn't enough. "Write what you know" can't
stand alone. It must be followed by, "who
If what you know is how to be a good insurance salesman,
or a good used car dealer, you have to understand that
not many readers who are not those things will be
interested in reading about them. As with ANY subject in
writing, there can be exceptions, but your odds greatly
diminish. Why? Because readers experience these type
careers in real life.
Remember, the reader is an armchair adventurer eager to
traipse through the unfamiliar and remain safe. So give
them something they're a little less apt to have
personally experienced, something a little exotic.
For example: not many readers experience the danger and
intrigue of the Intelligence community, or Air Force
Special Operations. The mystique, intrigue, and danger
appeals. The reader is getting to peek behind the veiled
curtain and get an opportunity to experience something
new to them, something different. These jobs hold a touch
of the exotic, the forbidden, and that holds reader
appeal and interest. Not many women we know are hired-hit
women. Yet from sales and awards received on Debra
Dixon's BAD TO THE BONE, we know readers thoroughly
enjoyed reading about one. Same can be said for SECRET
PREY, which has enjoyed (and is still enjoying) great
sales and reader reception.
Being familiar with a subject doesn't necessarily mean
it's worthy of a book, though it certainly can be, just
as the writer can become enthused by researching
something unfamiliar. If you're writing a commercial
fiction novel that you want to sell, then its
subjectfamiliar to the writer or notmust hold
universal appeal. That universal appeal makes it
attractive to the publisher and in the market.
Writers often are told that the idea or the basic premise
for a novel must be true. This simply isn't so. Writers
can (and do!) lie. They have a license for it. (Please
understand I'm referring to crafting a work, not in any
other aspect of this business!)
We've all heard that the truth is stranger than fiction.
That cliché became one, as have so many others, because
it is true. In life, people don't have to have logical,
reasonable, and concrete motivation to act, and
coincidence is readily accepted as a reality of life. But
in fiction, it's not. Every action must be solidly
motivated and coincidence is unacceptable. A lack of
solid motivation or incorporating coincidence will gain
the writer rejection letters containing phrases like,
"Convoluted plot line", "cardboard
characters" (which means ones not fully developed
and well-rounded), and "illogical sequences of
Truth is often boring in fiction. Lieand then
convince the reader that your lie is the truth. Motivate
character actions, foreshadow coming major events, and
put down the foundation so that the lie seems not only
true but also an inevitable truth. Do this in offering
details, proofs of truth, in the work.
A good idea is one that appeals to your targeted reader.
Eons ago, noted editor, agent, and author, Alice Orr,
suggested writers imagine that they are storytellers
sitting around a campfire, telling stories to hostile
natives. I add to that image. As a writer, you either
entertain and enthrall those natives or they're going to
throw you into the cauldron of boiling water heating atop
that campfire. Target your reader, and then enthrall
Take your reader into a world that they don't usually
experience. Have your characters be admirable,
action-oriented, three-dimensional people and not
reactive victims. I remember judging a romance writing
competition once where the heroine carried so much
emotional baggagethe result of struggling through a
horrendous lifeI considered it a miracle she hadn't
committed suicide. Less is more, or you risk reducing a
character to the likes of Perilous Pauline who spent her
days tied to train tracks.
Another example was an entry (also a romance novel
writing competition) wherein the heroine was a
seventeen-year-old drug addict involved with a thug. She
skipped school, got drunk, and destroyed her loving
foster mother's home while spouting off four-letter
expletives that would make a porn addict blush AND wash
her mouth out with soap. These are NOT the attributes of
an admirable heroine romance novel readers would identify
with or want to emulate. The writer clearly had not read
romance novels. This was evident, incidentally, on the
first page of the manuscript.
Defined Character Goals.
Another solid clue that the novel idea is a good one is
that the character's goals can be clearly defined so that
the reader knows exactly what the characters want, who is
trying to stop them from getting it, and what the
characters will lose if they fail to reach their goals.
In other words, the characters' goals, motivations, and
Writers should also keep in mind that writing within a
genre is far more favorable to the new writer than
writing mainstream. The reason why is simple. Money.
Taking a chance on publishing a new author requires a
huge investment on the
part of the publisher. The author, being new, has no
established reader base. If the book fits within a
defined marketing niche, the publisher greatly increases
the odds of the book selling well. A new writer can get
lost on the mainstream bookshelf. Because this truth has
been proven repeatedly, a new writer finds genre writing
far more welcoming. It is a place where the type of book
is defined and attracts readers who prefer that type
novel. Whether you're writing romance, science fiction,
fantasy, horror, or mystery, it is imperative that you
read copiously within the genre. Each publisher has its
specific genre preferences. Publisher guidelines will
give the writer an overall sense of what the publisher
wants, but nothing can inform the writer as well as
reading the books published.
Novels intend to entertain, to enlighten, to engage the
reader's emotions. Ask yourself: will your idea for this
book make people care? Will it create character empathy?
Put your novel idea through these tests, and if it proves
universal, marketable, engaging, and you feel genuine
enthusiasm for it, then proceed.
© Copyright Vicki Hinze. All Rights
Dr. Vicki Hinze is an award-winning,
best-selling author who routinely shares her expertise at
national writers' conferences, online, and through her
writing guides. Her latest non-fiction book is ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL, from Spilled Candy Books for
Writers. This 589-page ebook covers everything you need
to know about the craft of writing, the publishing
business, and the secrets to getting published. ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL is available at www.SpilledCandy.com as a download or
Or you can visit Vicki's author site at www.vickihinze.com