Weeding out good ideas…from the not-so-good

One thing I’m really good at as an author: coming up with ideas. Like many writers, I have several notebooks filled with smatterings of thoughts, pieces of dialogue, notes on characters. Not to mention assorted doodles, observations, and moments I felt the need to record at the time.

journalOne thing I’m not so good at: knowing if those ideas can actually fly. It’s sometimes hard to figure out if my ideas — which always seem brilliant when I think of them — can be fleshed out into something book-worthy or should remain hidden away in a notebook, never seeing the light of day.

So I’ve devised a sort of “test” for my ideas — questions I ask myself before I start a WIP — to help discern the good ideas from the not-so-good.

1. I start by asking if the idea is compelling? Do I have a solid plot in mind, with a central conflict, change, and a resolution or outcome?

2. Does something happen? Do the stakes rise as the plot unfolds?

3. Is the idea getting under my skin? Am I thinking about the story while I’m driving or out walking? Am I worrying about the characters? Do I care about them, and do I care what happens to them?

images4. Can I envision big moments in the story? And are there small moments as well?

5. Will the idea appeal to my intended audience? Has it been done before, and if so, am I bringing a fresh take?

6. Am I taking a risk with this story? Both for my characters and for myself as a writer.

7. Can I describe the story in one sentence? How would I pitch it?

8. And lastly, am I in love with it? Is the idea tugging at my heart? Do I tear up when I think of a particularly poignant scene? Do I get angry at a certain character for his or her actions? Am I not only imagining the story, but do I “feel” it as well?

If I can answer positively to all of the above, I know I’ve got something. Do you have questions you ask yourself before you begin to write? Share them in the comments!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books 2014) and Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011). Find her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.


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Michele Weber Hurwitz
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Ethan Marcus Stands Up (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold (both Penguin Random House). Visit her at www.micheleweberhurwitz.com
  1. Good post, Michele! I go through many of the same thoughts when beginning a new story.

  2. I agree the last one is the most crucial!

  3. These are all good ideas, but I think the last is the most important. Thanks for the post.

  4. Amber – I think that’s where a good critique group could be helpful, or even a writing partner to exchange your work with. Writing definitely takes more than just the idea, it’s a lot of perseverance and revision, for sure!

  5. Lately, I’ve dreamed of writing a book. I’ve thought about writing for different audiences. The biggest question holding me back is my idea good enough and do I even have the talent to bring it to life?