Excerpt: The Last Techniques I Learned Before Selling Fiction

Chapter One: A Visceral Idea

The first thing you need is a great idea. Not an average idea. Not a cliché idea. Not an idea you’ve read a zillion times before. But rather an interesting, unique, and universal idea. Your story idea is the launching pad from which every other element of your story springs. The idea, your starting point, impacts everything else. Don’t start with a weak idea. Start with an amazing idea, one that gets you excited and motivates you to run to your desk to write everyday.

What is an interesting, unique, and universal idea?

Interesting

Interesting means you want to spend time with this story. Something draws you to the idea. It’s an idea you’re eager to explore. It’s an idea that readers would want to read about. You can add your spin on the topic, have fun with it, and be creative with it.

Universal

Even though you’ve never actually experienced the events behind the idea you can relate to and identify with the emotions that you’d feel in that situation. The universal concept is something that a large number of people will get. A concept that many want to read about because they feel something about it. Perhaps you’ve never had your child kidnapped while in-flight on a 747 jet across the Atlantic Ocean. But you remember the terror of losing sight of your child for just a moment at the playground. The movie Flightplan, starring Jodie Foster, captures the universal fear and desperation of losing a child. (Notice also the unique setting and interesting premise). Sure you’ve never met, let alone fallen in love, with a vampire, but you know the angst of teenage love, of forbidden love. And Twilight author Stephenie Meyer masterfully tapped into those universal emotions to ensnare her young adult readership.

Universal means others can relate to the concept. It’s something that many readers would empathize with, even if the characters or setting were different from them—different from their income level, their era, their politics, or culture. It is a premise or situation that they could understand. Although the universal idea is widely understood, your take on the idea must be unique. It is a unique perspective or scope or some other element that is fresh, different, and exciting. You make it new so that readers don’t feel they’ve already read that. As an example I’ll mention that the premise in Flightplan is similar to the Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Lady Vanishes. The differences abound of course, but to me Flightplan was The Lady Vanishes on steroids. It is a highly enhanced, accelerated version of the idea. Also, Flightplan involved a missing loved one, an innocent child. The Lady Vanishes featured passengers on a train, strangers who had just met. Flightplan grabs us by the throat by playing into our visceral fears and universal emotions.

The Last Techniques I Learned Before Selling Fiction by Victoria M. JohnsonUnique

Use your imagination to create unique ideas. It’s one of the fun aspects of writing. You’re unique and you have more to draw from than you think. Come up with the most imaginative ideas you can for the genres you’ve chosen. But also bend the genre, push the envelope, transcend the genre, or invent a new genre. Take inspiration from everywhere: from other genres, other authors, other mediums and art forms, your family, legends, myths, the classics, the news, and history. Give it a twist, turn it upside down, give it a steroid boost and reinvent it. Be open to the unusual, the bizarre, the funny, the peculiar, the creepy, the unnerving, the uncomfortable, the alarming. Don’t reject ideas as unbelievable; it’s your job to make them plausible. It’s your job to make the idea yours.

Hollywood producers use the term high-concept to describe the types of ideas they seek for films. High-concept ideas have all three elements, they are interesting, unique, and universal.

Visceral

Try for not just a high-concept idea, but also a story idea that is built around a primal instinct. The idea hits on a deep human level, it strikes a chord in nearly everyone. Examples are: the primal instinct of survival, or a mother’s protection of her young, and the fear of the unknown. What other instincts are humans born with? What other fears do humans have? If you can tap into one of these instincts or fears you’ll have a story idea that resonates with many people.

***Keep reading this chapter and more…

End of Excerpt ***

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