How Fascinating is the Idea Behind your Story?

As a teacher of creative writing, I am often privy to complaints by new writers that their books or screenplays don’t get off the ground, sinking into obscurity instead.

Is it fate, karma, or just plain bad luck, they ask?

Now, while it’s true that luck plays a role in a writer’s success, (not sure about the other two), it’s also true that you can’t keep a good idea down.

Not just any good idea, mind you — a vibrant, original idea we haven’t encountered before, or, at least, an idea presented in a way that feels new; an idea that takes us places we’ve never been, fills us with wonder, introduces us to characters that captivate us.

Consider some of my favorites stories: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Stranger than Fiction, City Of God, 2001: A Space Odyssey, George Orwell’s 1984.

All of these, apart from being well-written, are fascinating and original. They grab our imagination and compel us to know more.

A mysterious black monolith that appears at crucial moments of man’s evolution to spur him on? Wow!

A procedure to erase painful memories from one’s mind. I want to know more!

Jurassic creatures brought to life through DNA preserved in a dollop of Amber? Yes, please!

A secret passage that takes us right into John Malkovich’s head! Who would have thought it!

These ideas are so good, so original, they sell themselves. They make for hugely successful stories – providing all other elements of fine writing are in place, of course.

I believe I should not start writing a story until I am absolutely convinced that the idea behind it is as good, as original and unique, as it can be, because once I start, I find it difficult to change it mid-stream.

My advice to myself is simply this: Start with an idea that fascinates. Isolate its captivating core and think about ways to make it more unique, more original. Come at it from different angles, from the point of view of different characters, different genres, even different epochs. Write at least ten versions of the basic idea, trying, each time, to up the ante, then walk away from it for a week or two, to give it time to breathe, before repeating the process.

Once I’m convinced I have a good idea, I test it on others. I watch their eyes as I speak. If they flick away, seem distracted, I’ve lost my audience somewhere. That happens a lot. The path back to the drawing board is well-worn.

Your process may differ from mine, but one thing seems likely: the more original and unique your idea, the more fascinating your story will be.


Fascinating, original, well-written stories are the panacea to obscurity.


If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the bottom right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Image: Saad Faruque

2 thoughts on “How Fascinating is the Idea Behind your Story?

  1. Juan Martin

    I find it fascinating way of expressing,(discúlpe_me por mi pésimo ingles), I think that at the beginning of a work, an idea, it is important to say in this article, “knowledge that lies behind this story and which transmits the heart”. In my life I’m not a writer, (I hope so), but in my area of security in social networking, expert in it, and above all loving moderate technology. I am able to understand you, feel what says, I my way simple, even humble, but I try to be expressive, (sometimes too much). I’m glad that you follow me in this start mine on Twitter, that I did not want to access this Social network by the uncertainties that caused me this social network. now I am not pleased. A wise sentence said “always use common sense”, we are human, but I do it every day. Thank you for having known by these means. A greeting. Juan.

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Thanks for the comments Juan. I agree that the idea is only part of the story. A story without heart, without emotion, is a poor one indeed.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *