How to Tell If Your Novel Idea is a Good Idea



hey guys it's Ellen Brock novel editor today I'm going to talk about how to know if your novel idea is a good idea writers will fairly often ask is this a good idea for a novel or of all of these ideas which idea should I focus on which idea is the best and has the most potential the thing is the idea behind your novel is rarely the determining factor and whether it's successful or marketable now that's not to say that there aren't bad ideas there are bad ideas writing a children's book about the sexual escapades of a 20 year old is a bad idea but in the vast majority of cases there's nothing wrong with the idea it's not particularly good it's not particularly bad so you might be wondering if there's not really any such thing as a bad idea or very few books fall under that umbrella of bad ideas how could you know if a book is worth pursuing or how could you know if a novel is marketable to answer that question we have to first talk about plot versus premise the premise is just the idea behind the story when people talk about their novel ideas they're usually just talking about the premise so here's an example of a premise and or if then go to live with a foster family where she's not wanted and eventually warms the hearts of her new Guardian what story am I talking about this could be Annie it could be Pollyanna Heidi and Green Gables here's another premise a group of children are teleported into a fantasy world this could be a wrinkle in time half magic The Magician's Nephew and about 900,000 other books these premises are not that distinct and they're not that original they've been done a lot of time most novels are not selling based on the idea they are selling based on the strength of the writer unique attributes of the story compelling characters interesting world building there are very few stories in any given year if you were to look at the bulk of stories very few of them are built on a highly original premise they're in a small subset of books with really captivating premises these are books that are usually called high-concept basically these are books with excellent elevator pitches where when someone hears about that the book just the idea of the book that person is like wow I need to read this book this book sounds so amazing examples of that would be the Hunger Games it's very high concept the idea of teenagers fighting to the death another example of static park that idea of cloning dinosaurs and going to a powerful dinosaurs like wow what would that be like that's so cool but those books are a minority of the books that are published in any given year in most situations probably 98% of the time the book is not going to sell based on the premise if your story really does have an awesome premise and it really is high concept that is great but your work is not done you still need an excellent plot a strong premise it's not enough to get you published without also having a strong and compelling plot for the 95 plus percent of you guys who are watching and you're not writing a high concept novel you need something else going for you you need to have something to replace the not super captivating premise you need to have something else going for you that could be a unique character with a very distinct or unusual perspective it might be a really strong writing style it might be a really cool setting something that's really unique a lot of fun world building there are lots of options but you need some things some sort of wow factor to elevate the story the premise is fine that the premise is not the most unique thing that's ever been invented but you need something to elevate that idea to make it more exciting and to make it more marketable just because the idea the premise isn't particularly unique or maybe it is unique but it's not high concept that doesn't mean that the writer doesn't totally love the premise and what you need to make sure if you want your novel idea to be strong you want your novel to be marketable you need to make sure that you're excited about the plot and not just the idea if you're just excited about the idea there's a really good chance that the plot going to fall flat so an easy and a good question to ask yourself is which plot points am i excited about is there an interesting betrayal or maybe a surprising conflict that just comes out of nowhere or a really dramatic showdown between two characters if you have specific plot events that you're excited about that's a really good sign that your plot is working if you think about the plot and there's nothing that you're particularly excited about there's no plot point that you're proud of or you feel like the plot a sort of interchangeable that you don't really feel that strongly about it that you be you know just as happy to write the same world or the same characters but a different story that's a good sign the idea the premise and the plot combined are not working very well but you don't have a complete picture it's not about the idea being bad it's at that point it's about the execution of the idea focus on the craft of writing focus on understanding plot and scene structure if you need more help of that I do have videos that specifically address plot structure and scene structure don't worry so much about whether the idea is a good idea if the melding of the idea with a good plot with strong characters with good world building that's what makes the book work so I really hope this video helped you I know it's kind of disappointing that there I can't give you guys like an easy formula for a good idea versus a bad idea it just doesn't really work that way but I do hope that this is some of your worries especially if you're the type of writer who isn't writing a high concept book I know I've talked to a lot of writers who were kind of anxious or worried about that it's not something to worry about there's nothing wrong with writing a book that is not high concept but if you are writing a high concept book that's great too but please don't neglect the plot because the premise alone will not sell your book this video has been part of my novel boot camp series I'll be posting a new video three to four days per week throughout August I'll also be hosting workshops on my blog so if you want to check that out I will put a link in the description if you want to follow me on Twitter you can get more writing advice from me and you can also ask me questions and see pictures of my beautiful dog Toby so I am at Ellen M Brock but also there is a link in the description happy writing guys

46 thoughts on “How to Tell If Your Novel Idea is a Good Idea

  1. Thank you so much for the tips! I don’t have a high concept for the book I’m writing, I now need A. The wow factor and B a good plot and C I need to develop and plan my main characters. I just got the idea to write it a few days ago

  2. Idea, premise, concept, theme and plot are all different things each with it's own meaning and job.

  3. I think my novel idea is a good idea because it's what I think is good.

    I write more for myself than readers.

    I write for fun and put just as much effort as one who writes for a living

  4. Hi Ellen – I found you channel about a week ago and I've listened to most of your content while rennovating a house!

    Do you have any recommendations for online writing communities to join?

    Thanks and keep up the great work!

  5. Thank you. This video popped up at the right time for me. I have a pedestrian idea with a finale that I’m excited about. Now the challenge I’m working on is how to orient the novel to make the finale emotionally and intellectually satisfying.

  6. High concept might get someone to buy it but if its crappy it will just collect dust in somebodies bookcase.

  7. No, I hope my prose will get me through. Love these videos though.

  8. I have an idea on a book that would also make a fantastic tv series how would I get it started

  9. You seriously give the best advice. Thank you so much. This is one I'll be sure to share. So many of my writer friends are worried their premise isn't original and I have such a hard time articulating why that doesn't matter but you do so beautifully here. (Also appropriate for when friends come to me with "a story" idea haha)

  10. My novel is about a girl who has a necklace which has been passed down for many years. She learns the necklace has magic, and two other people have the same necklace. There are Objects that give people magic if they are not born with it (like the necklace). And there is one girl pretending to be her sister so she can get the necklace and have her own magic… and there is a lot of other things happening… like the magic is fading, a green orb is corrupting the magic in the objects, and the girl is struggling with figuring out the truth among everyone she has met. Does this sound original???
    I'm not sure where I'm going with this, though…
    Please comment your opinion!

  11. okay so "How to Tell If Your Novel Idea is a Good Idea?"
    there are no good ideas.

  12. I'm almost finishing my manuscript and, I'm at that point where I'm getting tired of writing. Don't get me wrong, I love writing. I just don't feel like it. ( I'm doing it anyways because, I only have 8000 words left.)
    Dispite of me hating my writing while actually writing it, today I re-read the begining part of the story. Then I'm like holy crap, it's not actually that bad. Lmao

  13. How to keep the motivation alive ? Like I'm writing this book, and I have the entire idea, plot everything in my mind and I've even started writing it.! But I know me being me , I'll get addicted to a different book (since I'm a crazy book addict) or will get busy with studies and loose all motivation and then a book, which might have, not saying it will be awesome or something, but it might have been good , just leaves me. And even I let it go. Does this makes sense ?

  14. I have never written a novel before but have had the idea for one for many years. I have recently began trying to actually put my idea on paper and write it. Thank you for this video I enjoyed it

  15. I once read an e-book on writing written by Holly Lisle. There was a section/chapter called 99 stories for a dollar or something close to that. I apologize for butchering it. The idea was exactly as you described. A writer is hard-pressed to come up with that one story that's never been written, it's the writers own delivery of the story. It was and is helpful advice for me as an immature/amateur writer. Ellen, I just stumbled on to your channel, thank you for all of your advice and insight. Cheers.

  16. I know these are movies, but if a movie about a shark in a tornado can get made, your ideal has a chance.

  17. Trying to write my 6th rewrite for a book about;
    about a band that is going to play in a music award show at the end of the year, but one of the two brothers in the band are terminally ill, all he can talk about is the death reapers flying around the hospital he friquently visits.
    Wish me luck, as I have severe ADD. 🙂

  18. Start writing is a good idea.

    JUST-shrieking-NOW!

  19. Summed book up as, “Kid is born into world where everyone has interesting powers. He has the best set in existence, he has to avoid dying against an oppressive government.”

  20. I’m writing a lesbian romance novel, so It’s going to be fun to learn self publishing….

  21. How do you try to sell an idea of a book with lots of twists/reveals without spoiling the whole book?

  22. ‘A children’s novel about the sexual escapades of a twenty year old.’ Hahaha priceless joke.

  23. Humans from the future, fully purified and perfect (White haired, White eyed, White skinned), led by the last surviving human from the edge of the universe, travel back in time through a rift created by a creature originally designed to be the perfect human being. The Last Human and the future humans arrive in 2022 and use normal humans in secret experiments led by a scientific council to create the ultimate race that would survive into the far future. The leader of the scientific council uses the flesh from his own face to clone human cells and create a birther, which can imprint the required genetic code into regular humans and alter their bodies and minds. But even he does not know the Last Human's true intentions, or why they landed in the USA, 2022. The main story takes place about fifty years after this event and kick starts when a rebellion decides to overthrow the leaders of the future human nation.

    P.S. Please comment if this is a good premise 🙂

  24. The best novel idea is the one that most makes you want to write it. If you aren't excited about it, your writing will be worse.

  25. I can see that I'm really late to this party by the dates of the conversation. My view on this is that an idea is much like a seed, if you plant it, and water it it will grow into a plot. For instance, if I have an idea for an alien invasion of the Earth, that would not be a new idea, so it is only a seed. If I then see an idea of an alien invasion by worms coming to the Earth in a cloud of space gas and debris from a broken up planet, who are sent ahead of another alien race superior to our own whose "plot" is the elimination of the human race, I now have a story to tell. I may start with a seed thought for a novel, but it can quickly evolve into a sinister plot to invade and conquer the world, and use worms to do it.

    Movies rely on ideas most of the time. Book stories rely on both the idea and the plot always (except for non-fiction).

  26. This was great explanation and so true. We have all read books that had a great premise but then fell flat on the plot. We have also read books that had a premise that shouldn't have been exciting but the plot, characters and writing carried it through into a great book.

  27. What would you suggest to someone who A has a great idea and B Has a great full plot BUT has sub par writing skill?

  28. this makes me feel a lot better. when i describe the story i'm working on to friends, it comes across as a mish-mash of disparate tropes that make me feel like no one could possibly be interested in. but in terms of the individual characters involved in the story, and the feelings they find themselves struggling with, i do hope to make it something special. even if i never publish it officially, it would be good to know one day that people (even just two or three of them) were actually interested in the exploits of Maia, James, and company….

  29. Your videos are excellent, as always, problems well identified and good capsule descriptions and summing ups. But it's good that you can't give a simple formula for success in this area. The aspiring writer needs to care so much about his material that he will find the way to make it work, and this quest is good and necessary.

  30. Just a little question… If I write a book about a girl named Dorothea that gets stuck in a magical parallel dimension, does it look like a bad Wizard of OZ Ripoff? The plot is completely different and I can't find a different good name for her. But I'm afraid that some Idiots would still call it a copy 🙃. (I didn't even knew OZ existed when I first thought of my story idea, but there's now way to prove that…)

  31. Silly title punch up: how to tell if your novel idea is a novel idea

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