It was author and academic Christopher Booker who said there are only seven stories in the world. In his book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, he states that these plots are outlines that are reused over and over again in fiction. If you haven’t come across them, they are: overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; and rebirth.
Whether you agree with Booker or not, it does pose the questions, how do you come up with a unique idea for a book and perhaps more importantly, how do you know if your idea is any good?
While I believe our judgement about ideas is instinctive, as well as highly subjective, there are a few ways we can test our book idea. Here are four questions to ask yourself before committing to the (enormous!) task of writing your manuscript:
1. Can your idea be developed into a premise?
When does an idea become a story? When you’re able to use it to craft a premise. The three most basic elements that make up a premise are a protagonist, a new situation the protagonist finds themselves in, and the protagonist’s goal. If you are able to identify these elements within your idea, then you might just have the start of a compelling story. In my digital course, Kick Start Your Book With Karen, I deep dive into crafting a premise because it really is the foundation of your book.
2. Has it been done before?
Most book ideas have already been written but not by you. So, what are you bringing to the table that makes your idea different? Is it a different point of view, theme, setting, or character? It’s important to know this early on and will help your work stand out from the competition.
3. Does the idea keep coming back to you?
Over time, do you forget about the idea or does it keep coming back to you as you’re working on other things? If it’s the latter, then it’s probably worth grabbing a pen or your laptop and fleshing the idea out or even writing the first chapter. As you write, how do you feel? Is the process fluid or a struggle? These answers will help you decide if the idea is strong enough for a book.
4. Are you passionate about your idea?
Some would call it passion, for others it’s more of a flicker of excitement. Whatever type of feeling you get from your idea, make sure you’re moved by it. You’re going to be spending a lot of time thinking, researching, and writing about it and if you’re only half-hearted, it will show in your work.
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