You MUST road test your concepts BEFORE you start writing. I can’t emphasise this enough. Too many writers conceive half-baked ideas and then try and run with them regardless … Then wonder why they hit roadblocks and go down various insane detours. Don’t spend aeons trying to make a draft work when it’s simply a doomed exercise, because you haven’t done the foundation work.
But how to road test your concept? Try these 7 simple steps:
1. Write a logline/ novel pitch.
2. Research/ talk.
Now show your logline to people. Anyone. See what their initial reactions are and what they think might happen in the draft. Anything good, write it down. Also: ask them if it reminds them of any produced or published work – and whether that’s a good or bad thing. Check out those works they cite, again if necessary. Look at IMDB, bestseller lists, whatever. Do NOT skimp on this. In this stage, read articles; books; watch movies & television, ESPECIALLY in the genre or type you’re going to attempt. Remember: you cannot have a “new take” on ANYTHING if you don’t know what’s come before. Oh: and watch out for those Zeitgeist stories; there’s a difference between them and genre busters.
3. Write a one page pitch.
Pretend your draft is finished. How would you get people as excited as you in your work? Here’s your chance to showcase it and reach your potential audience. So go for it. How to write a one page pitch.
4. Get feedback.
Now, find people to read it. No one’s afraid of one page – put a shout out on Twitter or Facebook, I bet you’ll have people willing to look by the end of the day. Try and get at least 3 different people if you can. When asking for their feedback, think SWOT:
Strengths – what is especially good/original etc about the plot, characters or its setting? Do you know your audience?
Weaknesses – is something about this idea derivative, or too bizarre? Is it not exactly apparent what it is?
Opportunities – does something about this idea lend itself to multiplatform writing? Is it topical? Is it “pre-sold”?
Threats – are there lots of stories in this vein around at the moment? Is it too much of “the same …” and not enough “different”?
When you get their feedback, don’t react yet. Collate and think about it, weighing everything up carefully. Don’t knee jerk. 5 Ways To Use Feedback Effectively.
5. Write an outline.
Don’t worry about this document being fancy; this is just for you to see. Write a blow-by-blow account of your story’s plot. Try and aim for 4-5 pages maximum. See what works. See what doesn’t. Have faith in your ability to make it work.
6. Now: return to your original idea.
What’s changed? I’m willing to bet LOTS. Rewrite the logline/ novel pitch and one pager if necessary. If your feedback-givers are willing to take a look at these revised documents – great! Ask them for feedback. If not, don’t panic.
A couple of days is fine; two weeks is optimum. Just let all those ideas, thoughts and fragments roll around that brain of yours and make sure nothing you’ve come up with is the “usual” or the “easy” way out for your characters and plot.
After all this?
NOW WRITE YOUR DRAFT.
I bet you a million squid, plus tentacles, it flows easier than any draft you’ve ever written before – and that you finish WAAAY quicker too. What’s not to like?
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