How to Develop Your Book’s Central Idea

So you have the seed of an idea, but you’re nowhere near ready to dive in and start writing. Don’t worry, an idea often takes a lot of thought and hard work before it can become a full-fledged book. So how do you get to the point where you have a clear concept to write an entire book?

Hopefully at this point you have some inkling of a concept that is interesting to you. Maybe you know you want to write about a kid who finds out he has magical powers, a moment in your life that shaped you, or the process you’ve developed for saving money. All of those are great starting points, but they’re probably not enough to fill a book's worth of pages. At least not yet... 

Why You Need to Develop Your Idea 

Before you even start writing, it’s important to take time to hone in on your central idea. Why? More than anything, it helps ensure that 1. Your idea is a solid one and 2. You can actually flesh it out into an entire book. 

How much do you need to know before you start writing? In short, it depends. Some writers start off with very little planning and discover the story as they go along. Others like to dive deep and plan out every scene before they ever write a word. If you’re a new writer, we recommend starting off somewhere in the middle. Which means at the very least you should know where your book starts, ends, and all the major steps in between. 

Where to Start

First, try to figure out where your book starts. For fiction and memoir writers—or any book that aims to tell a unified story—this will be your inciting action. What is the event or moment that sets your story in motion? Who is it happening to? Why is this story happening in the first place?

For nonfiction writers, think about your reasons for wanting to write this book. What problem are you trying to solve? What kind of person are you writing this book for? Why are you the right person to write it? 

Where to End

Next, you should know the ending your book is working toward. Beginning a book without an ending in mind is one of the easiest ways to get off track or lose focus altogether. If you’re writing nonfiction, you should know the desired outcome of your book. What is your solution to the identified problem? What do you hope readers will take away from it? 

Fiction and memoir writers should know how their story will resolve. Where does the story end up? What will be different between the beginning and the end? How will your main characters have changed? Will there be a satisfying ending or will things still be left somewhat unresolved? 

Fill in the Blanks

Once you know where you’ll begin and end, it’s time to connect the dots. This is where you’ll need to be creative and come up with a few ideas before you land on the ones that are right for your book. When it comes to fiction, you’ll need to brainstorm potential conflicts or action (both positive and negative) that could affect the plot or main character and eventually lead to your desired resolution. For memoir writers, this will be a little simpler. Your biggest task will be to decide which moments are necessary to include in the story and which ones you can leave out. 

For nonfiction writers, brainstorm all the potential steps that could take place between the beginning and end. Consider any research you’ve done, anecdotes you can tell, or lessons to learn along the way. Organization will be the most important thing here, so make sure you have that down before you begin. 

Find Your Angle

Once you have what feels like a solid idea, it’s time to start thinking about how you can make this idea more unique to you. Maybe this was already obvious as you were working on the previous steps, or maybe you need a little more time to think about it, but you should definitely know how your book will differ from other similar books in the marketplace before you even begin writing it. 

If you’re writing a memoir or other nonfiction book, try and think about any unique perspectives you may have. Maybe you have great party planning advice, but you’re especially great at planning on a budget. Or perhaps you’re the only person in your family who graduated college. Whatever your unique perspective is, find it and use it. Or, if you’re really stuck, do some research on your genre and see if there are any holes you could possibly fill. 

For fiction writers, think about some common tropes in your genre. Could you turn one of them on its head? Could your main character defy the norm? Although you should make sure to adhere to some genre conventions, breaking one or a few could lead to a much more interesting and unique story.

Write It Down

Once you’ve fleshed out your idea, summarize it into a few sentences or paragraphs. This synopsis will be extremely helpful in guiding you through the writing process and ensuring you’re staying on track. It will also be a great jumping off point if you hope to outline your book. 

After you’ve written your synopsis, post it wherever you can. Keep it near the place you write, on your phone, and anywhere you may be thinking about your book. This will serve as that little reminder at any point in your day to think about your book, keep writing, and stay on track. 

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