What’s the BIG IDEA?

lightbulb-ideaDoes your story have a BIG IDEA?

I bet it does.

I rarely begin a story with the BIG IDEA in mind. But when it strikes, as it did recently while writing a short story, I felt inspired to write this post.

The title of my story says it all:

The Boy Who Didn’t Want to Be a Human Anymore.

That’s a BIG IDEA.

It’s not just a title, it’s a logline. It’s a pitch on its own.

The IDEA should be BIG enough to jump off the query letter and smack the publisher in the face. And if that happens, she’s writing you the reply you’re waiting for:

We’re intrigued. Please send your complete m/s.

I’ve seen how it works. Years of pitching ideas for magazine articles, screenplays, and novels has taught me there’s no such thing as a slow Yes. And the difference is the BIG IDEA.

So, what makes a BIG IDEA?

I’ve discovered that a story is compelling to the degree that the premise is impossible.

For example:

  • Escape from Alcatraz.
  • Stealing the crown jewels.
  • Star-crossed lovers.
  • A boy doesn’t want to be human anymore.

Which begs the question—why should we find the impossible compelling?

I’ve thought about that:

We are so deeply imprisoned within logic that “thinking outside the box” amounts to an escape from our limitations.

Thinking, itself, has been accused of being the very box from which we need to escape. That’s because thinking balks in the face of the sacrifice that’s needed to attain our greatest happiness.

If we know that, even unconsciously, then little wonder we love the fictional characters who leave logic behind.

Stories exist to do exactly that. Heroes realize the impossible. For example—

“A protagonist’s vengeful thoughts manifest as storm clouds.”

There’s a BIG IDEA, and one I’ve been working on lately.


“A comedian tries to kill himself.”

I smacked a few publishers with that BIG IDEA. Too bad the novel wasn’t fully baked. So I rewrote it and am pitching it as a story in which:

“A narcissist seeks redemption all the way to his next incarnation.”

When I was polishing the final draft of my first novel, only then did it strike me what exactly the thing was about:

“A young man risks his life for love, and halfway there discovers a higher cause.”

My second novel, Roxy, secretly harboured a similar theme. This time it was the heroine’s unborn child (to my surprise) who usurped the plot. Roxy travels to Greece to reclaim the long lost pieces of her heart, only to wonder if she’s motivated by a power beyond herself.

And so my pitch posed the question:

“Can the unborn really do that?”

Is that a BIG IDEA? I think so. Check your own story for that plausible impossibility that might be lying at its heart.

Because without a BIG IDEA, a writer can’t reach up from the page and slap the publisher wide awake.

What’s more, it’s the BIG IDEA that helps us sell our own stories to ourselves.

I face that crisis every day now as I write a collection of short stories. A dozen stories by Christmas—that’s the challenge I’ve set myself.

Wanted—12 BIG IDEAS!

Here’s a start:

  • Man wakes to find his wife has turned into a seagull.
  • A queen with the soul of a whale risks her throne to destroy the last harpoon.
  • Animal whisperer talks down the wolf that ate Little Red Riding Hood.
  • How to dispel a curse.
  • Boy buries himself to save the world from his killer thoughts.

And of course there’s—

  • The person who didn’t want to be a human anymore.

Only six BIG IDEAS to go.

If you have any extra, please deposit them in the “Comments” below.


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  1. says

    How “right on” you are!!!! I had to come up with that one-liner for my novel, Epiphany (you would think it would be easy with such a title in place). The idea has to be gripping. An idea that rocks the boat. And, if you look on Amazon, every book needs such a statement that pulls the reader in. Sort of like poetry, it sets unlikely images to vibrate a new energy. I remember the book by Uri Shulevitz (self-taught artist/author) called The Treasure. The tag line for it would be: “Sometimes one must travel far to discover what is near.” For you my friend, who has tried to leave no rock unturned, just learn to look right through! Great post P.J. It is the very essence of what we must discover like Uri Shulevitz says, we must sometimes go a long way to discover the treasure we have buried under our own hearth.

  2. says

    Sue and Sarah… thanks for being loyal readers. Are we all meeting in old Maz this year as usual? I’ll be hounding people to unearth the BID IDEA. I’ll be hounding myself! Who doesn’t need to be hounded? We’re a dogged bunch; we can take it.

  3. Yvette Carol says

    I thought I’d missed a post, so I had a look and here it is! I echo the sentiment, that it’s nice to see you blogging again, PJ. :-)
    I felt myself anchored when I got my Big Idea for this current series of Upper Middle Grade books. Yet, I already feel bothered by the hunt/wait process for the “next Big Idea!”

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