One of the most exciting and daunting parts of writing a novel is coming up with the concept: the seed that springs from your mind, germinates and blossoms into words on the page. Many writers get halfway through a book and suddenly realize the story itself isn't particularly compelling. Before you spend months and perhaps even years working on a novel, consider some of the elements that should be inherent in your concept, because that's the first tool you'll use to snag an agent or an editor.
Here's a description of a novel that's become a classic:
"A coming-of-age tale in a small southern town poisoned by virulent prejudice, this novel views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father, a crusading local lawyer, risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime."
In case you didn't recognize the novel, it's To Kill A Mockingbird.
Here's another one:
"From the lavish opening scene where Don Corleone, boss of a New York Mafia family, entertains guests and conducts business at his daughter's wedding...to his son, Michael, who takes his father's place to fight for his family...to the bloody climax where all family business is finished, The Godfather is an epic story of family, loyalty, and how 'men of honor' live in their own world, and die by their own laws."
And a more recent novel, Gone Girl:
"On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick's wife Amy disappears. There are signs of struggle in the house and Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect. As Amy's case drags out for weeks, more vilifying evidence appears against Nick, who maintains his innocence. Told from alternating points of view between Nick and Amy, Gillian Flynn creates an untrustworthy world in this psychological thriller where the truth is more dark, twisted and creepy than you can imagine."
Consider what these story concepts have in common. Number one, they're unique and unpredictable. Number two, they have inherent conflict. Number three, the stakes are high because someone's life is in danger. Number four, the characters are unusual and intriguing. Number five, the story promises deep emotions. Number six, they immediately introduce some serious story questions. Number seven, we want to know what happens to these people.
If you can hook someone with a short, simple description of your story, you're ahead of most writers. As an exercise, write a concept paragraph designed to hook a reader and try it out on as many people as will listen. Pay attention to their reactions. Are they curious, excited, enthusiastic— or bored and disinterested? Before you write an entire novel, make sure you have a winning concept.