There’s a good interview with Chuck Palahniuk in the October issue of Writer’s Digest. The Fight Club author makes some suggestions that are useful to us all.
When interviewer Jordan E. Rosenfeld asks how he knows an idea can support a novel, Palahniuk responds, “It’s usually a premise that I can present in a short story and bring to my workshop. Hopefully, they can instantly get it and be very excited aout it and take it off in different directions. When it gets a response like that, I know the premise is good. When it generates personal stories from other people, when an idea seems to portray an aspect of my experience that’s really close to other people’s, that’s another really good sign that it can go for a few hundred pages.”
Response from other people can frequently be unreliable. If you tell your friends or family members about your idea for a novel about a Welsh Corgi dog named Bufford who spends all day separating the kibbles from the bits, they are naturally going to make it sound like the greatest idea ever. So in many ways, you can’t trust those reactions.
However, if you let it be known that you really want honest feedback, and people know you’re not going to freak out, then you’ll start to get the real stuff. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by forthright people who are pretty sophisticated readers. So I do see exactly what Palahniuk is talking about. I see a light in my friend’s eye when I tell him about this idea. I see a frown creeping across her face when I mention another plot to my colleague. And so forth.
Obviously, you shouldn’t become a slave to the whims and opinions of your friends and colleagues. Sometimes you have to write the story you have to write. But don’t neglect to seek their feedback either. As Chuck Palahniuk points out, if people get excited about your idea and become personally invested, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re onto some good stuff.