You’re writing fiction and you’re aware that your idea trumps everything. If you doubt this, check the bestseller lists.
Readers decide in seconds whether or not they want to read your novel, based on your title, cover and blurb.
Extra points if your idea is controversial and/ or shocking. Novels like The Exorcist were shocking in their day.
Writing fiction: ideas sell
How do you find “great” ideas?
Think about what grabs your attention. If something holds your attention for more than an hour or two, there might be an idea hiding in it somewhere.
I read a lot of nonfiction to help me with my fiction. A month ago, I read a biography which described an event which made me go… “hmmmm….” After doing a little more research, I found that the event had never (to my knowledge) been covered in fiction.
This idea may well turn into a series of novels in a few months, because I haven’t lost interest in the event, and find myself thinking about it several times a day.
Now let’s look at methods you can use to find novel-worthy ideas.
1. Get inspired via ideas “ripped from the headlines”
Global and national news is depressing. Pandemics, misery, and politics…If you write thrillers, crime fiction or adventure novels (or even fantasy) you might find the headlines fascinating for your “ripped from the headlines” idea.
I prefer local news for idea exploration, because (generally speaking) it’s more relatable. Also useful to me: magazines which cover psychology and science.
When you find yourself reading a news article, and looking for more information, ask yourself: who? and why? You may find an idea.
Be sure to keep the information you’ve gathered. Schedule a review of the material you’ve collected in a couple of weeks.
2. Nonfiction can be a wonderful source of ideas if you’re writing fiction
Over the years, I’ve collected my own reference library which I should browse for ideas more than I do. Frankly, I’m scared that I’ll find ideas which intrigue me so much that I’m forced to revise my current publishing program.
Explore your local library. I’ve found novel-worthy ideas in recipe books, history books, autobiographies and biographies… If you find a book which captures your attention, either make notes from it immediately, or check it out of the library.
3. You may find novel-worthy ideas in the fiction you read
I’m not suggesting that you plagiarize anyone, but do consider genre tropes.
In mysteries, popular tropes include:
- The closed room mystery;
- A mysterious book, letter, or confession;
- A Strange Case—the primary suspect who couldn’t have done it because… (finally it’s revealed that yes, he did it, in a very clever way.)
4. What about fiction based on your life? Can you fictionalize real-life events?
I’ve had many questions about this over the years. My answer is usually: find something else to write about.
- You may get stuck on what “really happened” and forget to add drama and suspense (I know one author-to-be who’s been obsessing about something that happened in her life for the past ten years, and no novel in sight);
- It’s unwise to write fiction about an event if any of the people concerned (or their relatives) are still alive;
- It’s almost impossible to do well if you’re a new author. Fiction is telling lies, and finding truths. Fictionalizing a real event takes a lot of distance from the event, as well as the ability to find meaning in it, and create drama from it. Experienced authors can do this. A new author often can’t.
Does this mean you should never try to fictionalize people or events from your own life?
No — definitely not. Every author can only write from his own experience, and you are the judge of what works for your fiction.
When you’re writing fiction, be aware that HOT ideas often wear camouflage
“All my ideas are junk!”
I’ve heard this from many aspiring (and some professional) authors over the years, because ideas sneak up on you. They wear camouflage.
To uncover a great idea you’ll often begin with a blah (it’s been done to death!) idea. Let the idea percolate in your mind. Develop a character or two. What problems do they have?
Let yourself muse: what if…
You may get inspired. 🙂
A short story of 5,000 words can make more money than a 60,000 word novel
Are you happy with your self-publishing sales?
If you aren’t, there’s an answer. Savvy authors use short fiction (short stories and novellas) to generate sales and income quickly.
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This plotting system works for my students, and it it will work for you. It's the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily.
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This practical guide helps you to start writing serial fiction, starting today.
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Updated: May 17, 2021
Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.