Create Good Ideas by Learning to Identify Bad Ones

Will your idea make it in the marketplace? Listen to literary agent Peter Rubie and successful writer/teacher Gary Provost, authors of How to Tell a Story, tell you how to spot the less-than-salable fiction or nonfiction idea:

Most bad ideas come into existence because the writer was drawn to them for the wrong reasons. Three things can tip you off if your idea is probably a bad one. Apply what Gary called his F.I.T. test:

  • Familiarity
  • Importance
  • Truth

Familiarity. Students would come up to Gary and say things such as, “My cousin has a niece who has a brother who”s robbed six or seven Laundromats. I”ll write a book about him.” What”s wrong with that? Unless you”re related to Jeffrey Dahmer or someone equally notorious people are clamoring to read about, it”s probably not a good idea. This also applies to narrative nonfiction, which (unlike journalism where the event itself is the important piece of information) is about the meaning of the event.

Importance. An idea may be important to you because it comes from your life. Many times people will come up to me and say something such as, “I”ve spent twenty years in this company where they freeze-dry coffee. I”d like to write a book about this experience.” Great. Apart from the fact that maybe you”ve got a permanent case of caffeine jitters, now what?

Truth. Just because it”s true doesn”t make it a good idea. “But my cousin Jake really was married nineteen times,” you say. Well, sometimes an idea that”s true isn”t even necessarily believable.

What these three things have in common is that they are based on the writer”s needs. They make it easier for the writer; he doesn”t have to do research; he doesn”t have to make things up.

For more thoughts from Peter Rubie and Gary Provost on telling tales, from idea to structure, check out How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales.

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