Cassandra Clare posted something to her blog a little while ago, answering a fan question about which of her upcoming books she was more nervous about. At the end she made a comment that I thought was really interesting: "Mostly people react to the execution of something rather than the idea."
She’s speaking about books, of course, although it’s really true about anything. You could say you have this idea for an amazing new personal transportation device, but unless your jet packs are functional and efficient and easy to wear and look smart, it’s hard for people to get super excited. Ditto on writing: you might have an idea about a boy who goes to wizard school, but the enthusiasm of your readers will be partly dependent on how you write it.
And I don’t mean just the nuts and bolts of words on a page, either. Connecting to a story is deeper than that. It’s about the way your characters speak and act, about the challenges they face and the decisions they make. It’s about pacing and scenery and the details that are shared.
Think about the books you’ve read recently that you’ve most loved. What was it that made you love them so much? It probably wasn’t the way the author constructed her sentences. But it probably also wasn’t the bare-bones central idea. Both are part of but not the whole reason or even the main reason.
Which is why you often see industry professionals reassuring new writers not to worry about sharing their story ideas. Ideas aren’t unique, and it’s possible someone else has already had yours – Jane Yolen wrote a book about a boy at wizard school long before JK Rowling did, though Rowling didn’t know about it. It’s the way you take your idea and run with it, the characters you create around it, that sets your story apart, and that dictates whether or not someone is going to love your book.