Tag Archive | ideas

Testing Your Ideas

pencilOver the years I’ve learned that ideas need to be tested–you save yourself a lot of wasted writing time, dead ends, and massive frustration if you run a few simple tests over what seems like a brilliant idea. Here are ten easy tests/checks to help you:

Test 1 – The plausibility check. This test requires a partner. A plotting partner is a great help for any writer. I recommend having only a couple of these–too many writers really do spoil the story. You end up with a mess. Run your idea past your plot partner–ask flat out if it works. Is it plausible–meaning does it work as a basic idea.

Test 2 – The motivations checks? This is where a lot of stories fail. The writer figures out the hero’s motivations, and maybe the heroine’s–but the antagonist is neglected and the story fails because the bad guy is just stock character who does things because the plot demands it. Do yourself a favor and write out all motivations–check EVERY character. Why are your characters wanting what they want and doing what they do? Be very certain to check and double-check your antagonist. The rule that your protagonist is only as strong as your antagonist is a good one. If you want a strong protagonist, create a great antagonist to challenge that character.

Test 3 – The cliche check. This is where you must look for any cliches. Does your bad guy kidnap the heroine? Why–and why can’t he do something different and which makes more sense? Does the hero’s mistress or ex-lover make trouble? Look for every cliche–and look to cut these or put a fresh twist on them.

Test 5 – The locked room test. This is a test specifically for romance novels. Put your hero and heroine in a locked room, where they must sit down and talk. Does this talk make all the conflict between them worse? If so, you’ve got great conflict. If a forced talk would resolve everything, you’ve got misunderstandings instead of conflict and so your characters need work.

Test 6 – The exception check. This is where you  have to look at your idea and see if you must bend history, physics, or the rules of your own fantasy world to make the idea work. This isn’t so much of a problem if you’re writing alternate history–but this, too, must be worked out logically. Do you have to create exceptions to make your own story work? If so, you’re heading back to test 1 of plausibility.

Test 7 – The idiot test. This is a good one to look at. Must your hero or heroine behave like an idiot at some point to make the story idea work? Does the heroine have to leave the house in a nightgown with not so much as a flashlight to check on a mysterious sound? Does the hero have to believe in a man who has been lying to everyone during the entire book? Does the antagonist have to hire terminally stupid henchmen? This is closely related to cliches, but writers can always invent new ways for characters to be very dumb. Now, if your character is supposed to be dumb this is not an issue, but if the character is only supposed to be dumb to make a key plot point work, you’ve got problems with that idea.

Test 8 – The backstory check. If your idea requires the reader to first have several chapters of set up in order to understand the story, the setting, or this world’s history, you may want to look at how complicated you’re making things. Maybe you–the author–need to write these chapters–but can you cut them or find another way to get the information to the reader that doesn’t mean the story start is delayed or put off? We all fall in love with our backstory stuff–that’s great. But it doesn’t mean a reader really needs this stuff.

Test 9 – The skill test. This is one that many writers ignore. We all want to believe we have the skill to write the stories that come to us, but the truth is that sometimes our ideas are bigger than our abilities. You have to be honest with yourself to apply this test–and you want to err on the side of caution. It’s much better to have a simple story idea very well done than it is to have an amazing story idea that’s poorly realized. Opt for simple every time.

Test 10 – The butt test. This one is simple–but again it needs honesty. Can you keep your butt in a chair long enough to write this idea? Maybe you have an idea for an epic space fantasy–can you really write 300,000 words?  Or will you actually get a 25,000 word novella done? You want to look at your skills–and your ability to keep yourself focused. Nothing is more depressing than unfinished story after unfinished story. Give yourself a break and go hunting for doable ideas.

There you have it. Ten tests that could save you from wasting your time with ideas that are going to lead you down the garden path and into the brambles. Just remember–there are always more ideas. So go cherry pick the best ones!




Where Book Ideas Come From

The question most asked of writers might be: Where do you get your ideas? John Cleese, when asked this, likes to reply that he has a little old lady in Cheltenham who gets hers from another fellow and he gets his from…well, you get the idea. He’s making a point that you can’t really pin down where ideas come from: they come from nowhere and everywhere.

Burn Baby BurnThe idea for Burn Baby Burn came from a reader’s conference (thank you RomCon). A bunch of writers and readers were sitting around talking books and covers and what not, and the penchant for babies on book covers came up…and i said the only way I’d put a baby into a book is if the baby was half-demon and trouble on someone’s doorstep. Well…hun–there’s the idea. Naturally, if you have a half-demon baby, it’s going to arrive on a demon hunter’s doorstep–the job of a writer is to make life worse for the characters. From there the story started its own path.

Now the idea can also be about a character–I once had a dream about a woman watching young girls play on a lawn and wishing they were her girls. That become a story about a governess who keeps ending up with girls who don’t need a governess (A Compromising Situation). But an idea is not enough–and sometimes the idea needs to simmer (not forever, however).

A Compromising Situation

Ideas are launch points which then require a writer to sit and write. Characters and complications need to be worked out. Backstory and motivations need to be developed. If you’re lucky, the characters jump onto the page, ready to play their parts with everything in place. Some characters, however, need to be coaxed–and some need more complications that will twist the story (and the idea) into new directions.

But that idea–like the theme–is a touchstone. It’s the place you go back to when you’re stuck. It’s the phrase that makes you–and the readers–excited about a book (and you need a lot of excitement to finish a book). NY Times Bestselling writer Bob Mayer calls this the Kernel Idea. And, like a kernel of grain, it’s got to be planted, watered, fed, and not overexposed to bad weather–too much exposure will kill anything.

So if you’re looking for ideas–look around you. Look at the people you know, eavesdrop on conversations, get into lively discussions, and pay attention. They’re all there waiting for you.