Advantage: Finding Fresh Ideas

This week we're talking about ways writers can find advantages that may help move us out of the slush pile. Hiring a professional editor may be one way. But even more important is finding a fresh idea.

In agent Steve Laube's Seekerville blog interview, he indicated that he takes on very, very few new writers a year. In response, I mentioned how depressing his statistic was and encouraged us to think of ways we might get an advantage to beat the odds.

Steve took the time to make a comment in response to my post (click here to read the post). Here are his exact words. (Forgive me if you've already read the comment.)

"Sorry that the statistic was depressing (rejecting 99.9% of what I see). But I'd rather be honest than lead a new writer down a path only to break their heart.The math speaks for itself.

If I took only 1% of the proposals I see it would mean 20 new clients per year. That would make sense if I was just starting out, but it would also mean that less than half of those would find a publisher in a reasonable time.

I prefer to look at it this way. We should demand excellence from each other because we are in the "business" of changing the world through our writing. The reading public is pretty savvy and usually sniffs out the dreck (not always, but usually). So if a writer is commited to a career they need to be better than the writer next to them.

Therefore most agents are very picky. They should be. In a sense the agents and editors are a line of defense against mediocrity. I never intend to disappoint. But I try to be intentional about excellence. From your list I would pick...the idea. And then executing the idea in an excellent manner."

So, there we have it, straight from an agent. Another way we can get an advantage is by finding an incredible, fresh, never-been-touched story idea. Along with finding the idea, we need to execute it in an excellent manner.

I would have to add that even if our over all story concept is fresh, we have to go even deeper to make sure our characters and scenes are not cliche. Maass, in his Breakout Workbook, suggests cutting scenes that take place in kitchens, living rooms, cars, or where a character is drinking coffee or tea (especially in the first 50 pages). Such scenes are usually cliche and often lack tension. The point is that we want to be fresh and unique with just about every aspect of our stories.

With so many writers striving to find new ideas, how can we ever hope to find one that's never been touched? Is it even possible? Do you have any secrets for where or how you find yours?


  1. Oh no!!!! LOL
    My character is drinking tea in the first chapter. Ack. I have no clue how I'm going to fix that. Sigh.
    But I'm actually revising this story because I feel the premise is very original. Now I just have to learn how to execute it excellently. :-)

  2. "There's nothing new under the sun..." and all that, but we CAN give our plots a really fresh spin and unique touches/elements. :)

  3. I think about the news items that garner national attention. I then try to find a way to spin them into a story only I could tell.

    And I've learned to get rid of all the boring life things like brushing the teeth and such! Who wants to read about that? Ha!

  4. I've read that all the stories have already been told, and an effective way to make one fresh and new is with a really engaging voice. Voice draws the reader right into the story, makes the characters genuine, all at the hand of the author's writing style. And always be sure that manuscript shines technically as well.

  5. I'd like to think my story is fresh and untouched, but I can't say I'm positive that is how it is. I really sat down and thought hard about finding an idea I had never heard of. I hope that is the case, although I'm not so sure the agents are agreeing just yet!

    It is a bleak statistic, but 20 new clients a year isn't really that bad. I just have to keep hoping and praying that I get to be in someone's 10 :D

  6. Jody:
    I pray for ideas. The more I pray, the more they flow. My best writing happens after a time of prayer. If we think, "But I don't have time to pray; I'm too busy writing!" our writing will be less powerful.

    If I'm struggling with a scene or need the right word in a sentence, I stop and pray right there.

    The time invested is worth the results.

    Happy Weekend, Jen

  7. I write non-fiction, rather than fiction, so I try to write most fervently about topics that I've tried to find...and can't. Of course non-fiction is a huge market too, so it's hard to get someone to look at it just the same.

    I really like the prayer suggestion mentioned above. I need to learn to tap into that in all areas of life - including this one!!

  8. I've got to agree that every basic story out there has been written already, but to make it unique it takes a strong voice. Someone willing to dig deep inside themselves to relay a story that's both painful and joyous. Evoking emotions is key, I think, and that again is only one tiny aspect of voice. Get voice figured out, learn the craft, and your story will sing.

    That's my plan of attack anyway.

  9. Jessica: It is SO challenging to write in a new and fresh way. Happy revising!!

    Angie: There is nothing new! That's true--except our new voice and telling of the old plots!

    Joanne: Our unique voice is inside each one of us. We just have to learn how to let it shine through, right?

    Marybeth: I hope someone will see the freshness and newness of your story idea and snap it up!

    Jeanette: Thank you for that wonderful reminder! After all, He's the ultimate creator--he's full of fresh ideas!

    Bekah: That's a great way to find ideas: finding an area that is important but not yet addressed. Then the key would be making sure there is a large enough potential readership for that area.

    Eileen: Good points! However, I'm wondering like with the Amish series; that was new and just took off. Are there other new areas, like that we can tap into?

  10. No one will ever write a story about me then b/c I spend good chunks of my day drinking tea. :D

    I believe fresh ideas are out there...working on one right now. I also believe CHARACTERS can make a story unique and inviting even if the story line is potentially similar to another story...

    ~ Wendy

  11. I agree with what Angie and Eileen said. There are so many stories out there. There have been times when I thought I was being unique, only to find someone else had already written something similar.

    So better to take that idea and twist it to make it yours, give it a unique voice, make your characters fresh. I've come across many story ideas this way. I read something or watch something or hear something and then I think, "What if it would have happened THIS way or with THESE kind of characters instead?"

  12. I think it would be nearly impossible to write a novel about a topic or theme that hasn't been covered before. The trick is to do it from a new perspective.

    Since I write historical fiction, I enjoy finding some historical event to use as the backdrop of my story, then creating characters who have to respond to that event in the midst of their own personal crises.

  13. Yes, I agree w/ others. There may be a few new twists on stories out there...but very few completely original ideas. I think about my favorite books and it is always about the characters, voice, and the author's ability to tell that story (which may or may not be new) in a fresh way.

    Still - if anyone has a completely original idea....feel free to pass it along :D

  14. I like the challenge you present to us today. Indeed fresh is needed. Thank you!

  15. That was nice of Steve to comment so thoughtful. I don't believe there is much originality left to discover. The more I read, the more daring writing I find, and the more experimenting I find. It's quite impressive to see how much art has been made before us! But, what I truly believe is that originality comes from being sensitive. Attempting to view our world in the honest and direct way makes us come up with material that no one else has come up with before. So, it's not a matter of invention, but rather perception. (I'm going to write blog post on that, so thanks for inspiring me!)

  16. I agree with Steve (like I'd disagree.... *grin*)

    The story is the foundation, the key to the book. You can have a strong voice, great prose, and wonderful descriptions, but if the story is lame, who will read it?

    I've muddled through a few poorly written books just because I thought the story was intriguing. Case in point: I haven't read The Shack, but "writers" mostly agreed (from what I heard) that it wasn't the best written novel. But the story appealed and people overlooked the not as stellar writing.

    That said, it was, for all intensive purposes, a publishing fluke. We don't need to go around using it as a reason to not work on our craft and improve our writing.

    I also agree with someone else who said that voice is important. I just don't think it's as important as the story itself.

  17. I think it can be difficult to find new ideas and express them in a new way.

    With the first novel I wrote, I look back at the feedback I received from agents who requested partials and fulls and while they all said the writing was good, they followed with the story not quite grabbing them. I think this is because I was trying too hard to imitate the work of other authors I enjoyed and not really letting myself go and write my own story.

    Now with my latest WIP I really haven't followed any mold and I think it is more original... but I guess only time will really tell.

  18. Wendy: I'll write about you! :D And then you can write about me, cauz I drink lots of tea too! Then we can compliment each other a lot. Ok, I'm slap-happy this afternoon! :)

    Cindy: I like your idea; if we are taking an idea and making it uniquely ours, then hopefully it won't matter if the idea has already been done, because the story will be fresh!

    Erica: I love your method! Just love it! Now I can't wait to read one of your books!

    Tess: You summed that up very nicely! There are some trend setters, like vampire stories, Amish, end times, etc. I think it's possible to find new a new trend. But as far as plots, those have been done--now we have to supply our voice and fresh twists!

    T.Anne: Thanks! Hope you're feeling better!

    Davin: Ooohh, I like that! Invention vs. perception! I'll look forward to your post!

    Krista: Alright, now you're getting my brain moving! I think maybe we're getting two different thoughts today. Most basic plots have been played out in stories throughout history. Same with character arch types. But story ideas and trends (crime thrillers, vampires, amish, etc.); those things come and go and we hopefully can find fresh ideas for expressing the old plots.

    Kate: Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing your experience. I guess that's the point of this post today. We need a fresh idea to spark the attention of an agent or editor. They're looking for something different!

  19. Fresh idea are one in a million. Very hard to come by. Like most people have said, almost every thing has been done. But we just have to find a way to throw in some unique twists.

    The simplest idea that took off like crazy, thanks to JK Rowling. A boy who is a wizard, but doesn't know it. It's such a simple idea. Kind of one of those - why didn't I think of that? It's crazy that the Harry Potter series came out of such a simple idea.

  20. I believe there isn't such a thing as a "new" story idea, but I do believe in unique ways in telling a story. Sadly, I have no secrets. I just pull weird stuff out of my brain and put it on paper. We'll see if it works. :)

  21. Katie: I think there are new ideas out there; maybe not new plots, but certainly untapped ideas (like Rowling found). When we're tackling something that's never been done, then I think it's even more important for us to have stellar writing skills so that agents/editors will want to take a chance on us and our idea.

    Lady Glamis: It does seem impossible to find absolutely new ideas/trends in writing. But I'm sure we'll be surprised at the next one that hits the shelves and wish we'd been the one to "discover" it. I agree, that we're retelling the old plots with our fresh, unique perspective (as Davin put it). But I'm wondering if there are still fresh ideas and trends yet to come.

  22. Ahh--my MC is in her car in the first scene--revisions!!! Thank you for this eye opening post!

  23. I'm reading a book called GMC and something Debra Dixon (the author) said reminded me of your post about ideas. She said most plots have been done. But there is a never ending supply of characters out there. Coming up with an intriguing character is what adds a new dimension to the same old plot line. So I started thinking, a new, never-been-done, opposite-of-cliche character could be just as (if not more) important than a fresh idea. What do you think?

    It's an excellent book so far!

  24. Terri: You'll have to take a look at Maass's workbook before cutting it! He said most of those kinds of scenes are cliche and that we should cut them, unless of course you can find a way to add tension to your plot.

    Katie: Sounds like an excellent book. I've heard it mentioned (I think over at Seekerville.) I like the idea of a fresh, never-been-done character. I can think of numerous characters I've loved from a variety of books and movies. Do you think we need both fresh character and fresh idea though? I'm thinking of your analogy of Harry Potter. The book series wouldn't have had nearly the success if they were missing the unique story and still had Harry the wizard (or vice versa).
    Deep thoughts! I'll look forward to hearing more about what you're learning from you book!

  25. This was so helpful to read! What a challenge to us all. I found his comment about mediocrity refreshing.
    Thanks for such terrific info!

  26. I find ideas flow out or rather come as I venture out and watch our world. What I find hard is getting to the next level in my writing,, to excel...well with perseverance it will come, I hope!

    Jody thanks for your insightful comment on my blog. We do live in a incredibly easly influenced culture.

  27. I recently saw Maass present at a conference. One of the things that stuck with me is the idea that oblique details are a characteristic of a scene that can not be cut.

    How can you find fresh ideas? I've just done some exploring in the world of my story. I took photos and looked for things that you would not typically notice--the details. I think that finding those details and using them to bring your story to life can achieve the goal you are talking about.

  28. Stephanie: Glad it refreshed you as much as it did me!

    Robin: I know what you mean about getting to the next level in our writing and excelling! It is very challenging, but I try to remind myself that I'll never stop growing, even if I'm published someday!

    Dave: What a great technique to visit the setting and take pictures of unique details! I love that and am going to store it away for future use! Thanks!


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