Tuesday, February 17, 2015

43 Story Idea Worksheet -- Nail and Sell Your Concept with These Nine Ways to Test Your Core Idea

I'm going to be mentoring a new YA writer through several rounds of her WIP. There's nothing that I love better than saving someone some of the long, flailing hours that I spent writing stories that had no point or purpose, so I'm very excited. We started last night by talking about the importance of boiling down the idea behind the book.

Image via Adi Respati on Flickr

Starting with concept was probably the single biggest factor in getting me from aspiring author to published author. Understanding concept was equally as important. My first book was written in a frenzy of flowing words. So much fun. And so completely useless, because when I was done, I had a big fat mess that didn't go anywhere at all.

The idea behind the story, the concept, is critically important. It becomes:
  • the blueprint you use to write the book.
  • the pitch you use when you're trying to find an agent.
  • the way your agent sells your book to your publisher.
  • the description your publisher ultimately uses to get booksellers to carry your book. 
  • the way readers share the book with their friends. 
So how do you boil down that idea? I have a little worksheet for that. I keep restating the idea in different ways, tweaking it until I have something that reaches the core. Here's the worksheet, and I've thrown in some examples from COMPULSION to help you see how they work.

Story Idea Worksheet
Tagline: 

Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.

[This was the first note I wrote to myself about the story idea. I've tweaked it a little bit, but ultimately, it made its way to the front of the book jacket.]

Meets: 

  • BEAUTIFUL CREATURES meets THE BODY FINDER [from my publisher]
  • BEAUTIFUL CREATURES meets GONE WITH THE WIND [from USA Today]
  • A little bit GONE WITH THE WIND and a little bit ROMEO AND JULIET [from School Library Journal]
  • BEAUTIFUL CREATURES meets Lauren Oliver's ROOMS [a reader]
  • MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL meets ROMEO AND JULIET meets THE SIXTH SENSE [agent]


Two sentence idea:
After losing her mother and godfather, seventeen-year-old Barrie Watson is sent to live with her mother's twin on the family's 300-year-old low country plantation in South Caroline where her inheritance of the family gift for finding lost things and the dreamy boy across the river help her uncover a long-buried murder and a family feud that stems from two wishes and an ancient curse granted to the three founding families of the island by the mysterious spirit who, for a thousand years, has set the river on fire every night. But can Barrie find a way to break the compulsion that accompanies the magical bonds that hold her to the island, or will stirring up dark secrets trigger the curse and prove to be her downfall?


One sentence idea:

A seventeen-year-old girl discovers that her gift for finding lost things is equally a curse when she loses everything she's ever known and is plunged into first love and the dangerous secrets and dark history of the magical island settled three-hundred years ago by her ancestors.


Character idea:


What if a teen with an inherited gift for finding lost things is compelled to discover dangerous secrets her family has been hiding?


Story action launch:

Compulsion starts when Barrie Watson arrives at her family's 300-year-old plantation and discovers that she is magically linked to the island so that she can't leave until she uncovers the secrets her family has been trying to hide.

Central external idea:

Will Barrie's gift for finding lost things help her unravel the tangled secrets buried at Watson Island before the ancient curse comes into play and puts her life in danger?

Central internal idea:

Will Barrie find love and a new family when she has lost everything, including her sense of self?

Goal and Conflict:

Note: Ideally, the protagonist's internal and external goals should conflict, and the protagonist's goals should conflict with the antagonist's goals.


     Goal
Conflict
Protagonist

External: Barrie is compelled to find the things that have been lost or hidden at Watson's Landing and can't leave the plantation.


Internal: She has lost everything and everyone she knows and needs to find a place she belongs and people who will love her.

Her compulsion to find the things she has lost lead her to uncover secrets that put her life in danger, and also [spoilers omitted about how her internal goal/need conflicts with her external goal.]
Antagonist

[spoiler]
[spoiler]


GIVEAWAY


One winner will receive everything pictured here, including the brand new PERSUASION trinket bookmark -- the first one I'm giving away. : )



a Rafflecopter giveaway

43 comments:

  1. This is a great idea! Thanks for sharing it. :)

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    1. Hope it helps, Jen! It really helps me to phrase things in different ways to get a handle on where I am in my thinking.

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  2. OH, how I love worksheets like this! Thank you :D

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  3. Awesome advice!!

    thank you so very much :)

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    1. Hope it helps! I struggled with "concept" for such a long time!

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    1. YAY! I'm so glad! And you're welcome. :D

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    1. Hope it comes in handy, Jessi! Good luck!

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  6. Enjoy mentoring another writer!

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    1. She's going to be great, and I always do. If you haven't tried it already, don't forget about our First Five Pages workshops every month. TONS of mentors for every submission. It's really fantastic.

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  7. I never thought about trying to apply taglines and meets. Great idea. Thanks for the giveaway opportunity, also. :)

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    1. Weird, right? But sometimes it's the quickest way to capture the essence of a book that's otherwise hard to define.

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  8. Oh, wow, can't wait for Persuasion, though I'm glad you left the spoilers out as I'm still reading Compulsion!!

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    1. Hope you're enjoying it -- and thank you! <3

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  9. This is a great help for writers/aspiring writers. It makes me glad I'm just a reader and not a writer! :) I do appreciate all the work that is put into each book.

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    1. There's no such thing as "just a reader" Susan! You guys do a big chunk of the work. The more I get to interact with readers about my book, the more I realize how much each individual reader brings to the table. All we are doing is laying the groundwork and letting your imaginations do the rest!

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  10. Just the Rx I've been looking for. Thank you!

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  11. Oh, this is good, good stuff! I'm finding it more and more helpful to know the one-sentence boildown before I write a novel. Or at least to map out a rough query letter--it helps hone the important parts. I'm saving this post!

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    1. Thanks, Carol! Isn't it weird? I remember how hard I struggled with the query letter on my first novel--and that was because I had no idea what the novel was about. Identifying that early makes all the difference.

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  12. I love this! Just the gift I needed to help me sort out what is/isn't working in my WIP!

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    1. I'm so glad, Wendy! Hope your revision goes quickly and well! <3

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  13. This is such a useful tool. Thanks, Martina.

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    1. Hope it helps, Karen! Thanks for reading! : )

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  14. This is such a useful tool. Thanks, Martina.

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  15. That's so awesome you're mentoring someone. That person is LUCKY. And this is all great advice. And having read your awesome book, I can really see how well it works.

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    1. Thanks, Natalie. Elizabeth is awesome, and I'm truly looking forward to working with her. We're getting to have some fantastic conversations about current books and techniques, not to mention literature in general. She's staggeringly smart! : )

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  16. Fantastic information! Thanks so much for sharing.

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  17. I am so excited to read this series! I'm already in love with Eight <3 Thanks for the opportunity!

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    1. YAY! Thanks, Marissa! I hope he lives up to expectation. (I admit, I kind of love him too! :D)

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  18. This is great advice. Writing a book seems a lot less daunting when you have an organized plan in place that guides you and reminds you of what you're aiming for in your book. Thanks so much for this!

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    1. I spent too many years trying to figure out what a book was about after I had written it. Much easier this way. : ) -- And if not on the first draft, then on the second. This can work just as easily as a revision tool as a planning tool. There's really no right or wrong way to write--whatever is comfortable for the writer. : )

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  19. I'm loving these amazing giveaways! You are so generous, thank you so much :D Very excited for this series. I hope I win, because that would probably be the only way I would be able to access it! :)

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  20. Thanks for the worksheet! It will really help me focus my writing. Thanks for the giveaway too.

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