A few days ago, a potential client emailed me about their book idea, and our exchange triggered this post. He had a story heavily inspired by a conversation he’d overheard between his children. Lovely! So he wrote it out and decided to see if it was ready to be edited and published. There was an issue, though. He had written an idea. It wasn’t yet a manuscript. What’s the difference? And how do you go from idea to manuscript? Read on!
The Difference Between a Book Idea and a Manuscript
Book ideas are everywhere. For reasons I’ll go into a bit later, that have to do with a very notable writer’s own process, I have been thinking a lot about book ideas recently. The truth is, if we have our listening ears in, ideas are all around us. If we make it a point to be open-minded, observe, and keep track of our ideas, we may be surprised to find that the idea isn’t the most difficult part of writing.
Like my potential client, who overheard a snippet of conversation. He took the necessary step of committing it to paper, but then came an obstacle. And? So? What’s next?
Because an idea isn’t a book. Even in the very nebulous world of the “concept book”, which you may have heard of. An idea is an idea, and anyone can have one. The book itself comes from what you do with that idea. The execution of the book idea, therefore, lies in the manuscript.
What Makes a Manuscript?
An idea is often too straightforward in its original state. A writer’s job, therefore, is to keep track of what inspires you, but then make it bigger. An idea has “juice” if it reveals something universal and relevant to readers who perhaps didn’t observe or experience what you observed or experienced.
Think of it as alchemy, the magical transformation of one thing (a book idea) into another (a story). Take the potential client’s situation. He had an observed interaction between siblings.
My first question was, “What’s the bigger picture?” I understood why this interaction captured the writer, but not necessarily what I, a third party who didn’t know the children or didn’t witness the interaction, was supposed to get out of it. Basically: And? So?
Small Moments, Big Message
Though I hesitate to talk about a message in books, because I want you to avoid preaching at all costs, the concept applies here. If you take your book idea and come up with the bigger picture that you want to convey to readers, then you will potentially have a book idea that can turn into a manuscript.
Because thinking about what you want to say to kids everywhere (and parents, if you’re writing something that will be read aloud), then you can start thinking about what kind of characters need to be involved, and what kind of plot, in order to transmit your message.
Then you might find that you’re compelled to sit down and start writing, inspired by the bigger picture. Then it’s up to you to perform alchemy again. By giving a character a strong plot to experience, you will then force your message underground again. Let them come up with the moral themselves, and let them communicate that subtly to the reader through their experiences.
Repurposing Smaller Ideas
It’s possible, of course, that your book idea will not be big enough to become an actual book. I don’t know, for example, what will happen with this potential client and their overheard conversation. But all is not lost. Maybe this snippet of dialogue will turn up as part of another idea, or another book. That’s why I advocate keeping a file of ideas to draw from. You never know when an idea or a piece of an idea will click into something more substantial. This could happen even years later.
So keep an eye out for book ideas, and keep this article in mind as you decide which ones to pursue. Ideas are all around us, we just have to learn how to listen and look.
Is your book idea “manuscript-worthy”? Hire me for a writing consultation and we can see if it’s worth developing. You no longer have to write alone in the idea stage!