Monday, May 19, 2014

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 1: Coming up with the Idea
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
To count down the June 3, 2014, release of Operation Valuable Fiend, I am posting a series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps." In today's blog I write about Step 1: Coming up with the Idea.

Behind every good book there is a central idea. In a work of fiction this is called the premise. It is what the action, the characters, the plot drive towards. It is the central question that is raised in the beginning and must be answered by the end. In a non-fiction work the central idea is the hypothesis that the author sets out to prove or disprove in the book.

Obviously, the central idea is not the only idea that comes out in a work. But, as a writer you really need to pick your single central idea -- otherwise your work most likely will be out of focus.

There are many ways you can come into an idea for a book. The perennial advice is to write about what you know, so obviously your experiences and surroundings are a starting point. "Starting point" means just that -- the place you get started but most likely not the place where you will find your ultimate idea. Why? Because no matter how interesting your personal experiences are, they probably are not broad enough, deep enough or interesting enough to warrant 75,000 written words, which is the typical length of a book today.

So what does a winning idea for your book look like? The truth is that there are no objective answers or prescriptions you can follow to get these ideas. But you will feel it when you have one. For me, I feel like I have a good strong idea if it meets the following three criteria:
  1. It has a lot of questions and unknowns, which will lead me to learn new things and will keep me interested for weeks and months to come.
  2. It has the potential to be interesting to a broad swath of people, not just the people that share my background, profession or interests.
  3. It offers a unique angle or a new way to look at things, which builds upon, clarifies, expands or goes beyond what other people had said about the idea.
Next, I blog about Step 2: Researching the Topic.