Tuesday, March 15, 2016

6 What Makes a Great Book Idea? Eight Questions You Need to Ask Before You Start Your Novel

I did a couple of panels at libraries over the weekend with a fantastic group of authors, and last night, Austin from ReadingTeen.com asked us a question that really made me stop and think. He asked how to choose which idea to work on.

This is something that many aspiring authors want to know. It's something that published authors struggle with because for us the stakes are higher--if we choose the wrong idea, we can end up with our career grinding to a halt.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. As writers, we can find them anywhere--in history, in the newspaper headlines, in our own life experience, in people that we meet, in situations that we encounter, in things we see online . . .  But taking that ever-growing herd of ideas and culling the best idea from it, then wrangling that idea into something that's ready to go to market? That's an art form in itself.

From a practical perspective, there is a list of questions that we should ask ourselves about every idea that we evaluate.

  1. Is the idea easily understood? Can you convey the crux of the idea to someone in a sentence or two in a way that makes them grasp the uniqueness of it? For example, The Hunger Games is Gladiator meets Reality Television; Dumplin' is a weight-challenged girl determines to enter a beauty contest.
  2. Does the idea have universal appeal? If you walk into room full of random potential readers, will a large number of them be interested or be able to find something in the idea that makes it relatable to them?
  3. Does the idea touch on a primal fear? Does the obstacle that faces the main character, either internally or externally, touch on something that a lot of potential readers also fear? This can be as basic as being alone or losing their loved ones.
  4. Is the idea topical and relatable? Is it something that is timely and applicable to something that people are discussing or currently thinking about? 
  5. Is there a familiar aspect to the idea? Does it have a twist on something that readers already know? A person or institution they can identify, a historical context that helps them understand elements on a visceral level, an interesting event that the idea examines in a new or different way? (For example, most people understand the gladiator concept, but taking that to children forced to do penance for their district's past wrongs as a spectator sport made The Hunger Games a blockbuster.
  6. Is the idea controversial or sensational in some way? Is there an element there that will make people want to talk about it and share it with their friends?
  7. Are the protagonist and the antagonist both passionate about something? Is there something that they are desperate to achieve or prevent?
  8. Is there something about the idea that incites your passion? Is there an element that you can't stop thinking about? Something that makes you itch to go back to that character or world or experience?
The last two items are non-negotiable--without them, you can't have a successful book. But you should strive to include as many of the other elements as possible. None of them is a guarantee, but the idea that addresses them all is likely to keep you interested and get attention once you write it!

What About You?

What makes you know that you have an idea you have to explore?

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Purchase Compulsion:

Praise for Compulsion:

"Boone’s southern gothic certainly delivers a compelling mystery about feuding families and buried secrets, not to mention a steamy romance.” — Booklist

“Skillfully blends rich magic and folklore with adventure, sweeping romance, and hidden treasure . . . An impressive start to the Heirs of Watson Island series.” — Publishers Weekly

"Darkly romantic and steeped in Southern Gothic charm, you'll be compelled to get lost in the Heirs of Watson Island series." —  #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Jennifer L. Armentrout


  1. Great list of things to think about.

    1. Thanks, Carol! It's a reminder for myself more than anything else . . . It's funny how much we all forget as we're caught up in the flow of a story!

  2. Love this list! Perfect timing for my new WIP. This whole site is such an amazing resource.

    1. OOH! I can't wait to read whatever you are writing. Your beautiful books always make me realize how far I have to go and how much I have to learn. Thank you for this note, Sarah. Makes my day! XO


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