Thursday, January 16, 2014

Topic Selection: The beginning of either a good book or a complete failure

I always find it interesting how many writers seem to believe that the writing we do in the publishing world is somehow different from the writing we do in an academic setting or in the business world. Yes, I know the topics we write about are vastly different. I know we aren't going to submit a business proposal in a French Ballad format. I get that. But, when it comes to composing a story, or composing a business proposal, the same approach to writing is there. 

We have all been exposed to the idea of The Writing Process. We learned it in Junior High. We reviewed it in High School. The odds are we heard it again in English 101. This is the concept that we move through an ordered process to achieve a great piece of writing. We have the Pre-writing phase, the Drafting phase, and finally the Publishing or Post-writing phase. Today, I want to only look at one element in that first phase - TOPIC SELECTION.

I honestly believe that many of the writers out there would have much more success with their writing, both in the writing of their books and certainly the selling and marketing of their books if they spent more time, BEFORE they started writing to consider the topic of their books. I think many of these writers who struggle are probably people who believe in an "organic approach" to their writing. An approach that says, "Let's just start writing and see how it all works out." These are the writers who are hardcore PANTSTERS and there is no way in "you know what" that they will do any planning and plotting. This, in my opinion, is a mistake.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that some of the topics are inherently going to fail. It doesn't matter how much time or energy you put into the story, it is simply not going to work. The topic may be too controversial. The topic may have so many layers to it that it will take 15 novels just to sort it all out (and by the way, this is not a series). 

I do think that many people, when they think of a story to write, are not thinking of the "big picture." They think about a great character, or a couple they can put together. They think of a single scene they love. They find a location and they think they "want to write a story there." Now while you can certainly take this approach, you have to go beyond that before starting. You have to look at it in the big picture of things. Will this work out if expanded to a bigger story. You will notice I am not saying, "I know I can writer 90,000 words." The question is "Can I write 90,000 words on THIS topic?"

Consider this analogy. If I plan a barbecue and have a bad piece of meat, (I'm not talking just tough here, I'm talking maybe stale or rotten) is there anything I can do to save it? Probably not. It doesn't matter how much time and effort I put into it, the meat will not be good. On the reverse side, if I get a gorgeous piece of beef, we're talking the $100.00 hunks of meat, can I screw it up? Yes!

I am not saying that a great topic will automatically lead you to an amazing topic. You can screw it up, and believe me, I have seen a lot of "great ideas" butchered. But, if your topic is pathetic, just expect that failure is just around the corner. 

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