Saturday, September 10, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea

I'm not going to lie to you; sometimes the hardest part of writing a novel is finding something worth writing about.  I can't tell you how many unfinished manuscripts I have in what I call my "writing box".  I've gotten 50, sometimes even 100, pages in and realized the story I was developing was crap, that my characters were basic, unrealistic, or downright annoying, or that the premise upon which the story was based didn't carry long enough to generate 300 pages of copy.  *Sigh*  What are you going to do, right?  Well, here are some tips that help me when I'm stuck.

Inspiration can come from anywhere.  Most often, it comes from personal experiences.  For example, I'm employed by a prominent mental health clinic in my area (hey, I'm an indie author, remember?).  My debut novel, The Grim, is about a girl who is sentenced to an inpatient psych ward.  Sound familiar?  You wouldn't believe the stories I could tell about the things that go on at the clinic where I work; mental illness, while no laughing matter, certainly has its odd and peculiar moments, to say the least.  It also gave me a pretty solid background on the subject matter, and the parts I wasn't sure about, I had access to professionals who could fill those holes in.

In addition, a lot of my main character's experiences, road blocks, and issues were things I had endured myself, so her perspective in a lot of ways was an excising of my own feelings and opinions.  While you don't want to do this frequently, that background knowledge can help inspire you to create a realistic, identifiable character with depth and dimension.  Remember, art is the best imitator of life.  On that note, you may also want to delve pretty deeply into some of the dark things you or someone you know may have experienced.  If you check out my blog on suffering, I discuss how pain is the most identifiable human emotion.  Find some of it, anywhere around you, and try to expound on it.  However, if you do end up basing a character or plot on someone you know, don't tell them, and don't recite it verbatim.  Generally, people don't appreciate their lives being used as some writer's novel experiment.

You know that spunky kid you see walking home from school every day?  Or the homeless guy standing in front of the pharmacy that always only needs just one dollar?  Or maybe that super friendly public transit bus driver that smiles and winks every day?  These are excellent character starters for your book.  Play with some ideas, flesh out a few and see what you come up with.  For instance, why does Mr. Homeless always need a dollar?  What does he do with the dollars he collects?  Why does he stand there, at the pharmacy, every day?  How did he lose everything?  What's his name?  Where is he from?  Do you see where I'm going here...?

Another method is to think up some crazy, wild or silly scenes.  Flesh them out with nameless male and female characters, and then ask yourself questions, like I did a moment ago with Mr. Homeless.  See if you can build a full story out of the climax of that scene.  The answers to your questions don't have to make sense at first; just write them down.  You can go back later and decide what's worth using.  The point is to get your Muse to descend from the heavens and perch on your shoulder.  Once you've gotten that, you're home free...for the most part.

I have to say, I watch a lot of writers sitting in coffee shops and their local McDonald's or library and pound away on their laptops.  And I've noticed there's one thing writers/authors tend to have in common: we take ourselves way too seriously.  Lighten up!  In my experience, the Muses don't like brooding, and that dark, mysterious author thing is pretty cliche anyway, don't you think?  If you're still pretty stuck, take a step back.  Watch a good movie, enjoy some time with friends and family, and come back to it later.  Your laptop and flash drive will still be there tomorrow.  And maybe--just maybe--your Muse will be waiting there, too.

This video is of a show I found on YouTube called Hiccups.  In this ep, one of the characters decides it's not hard to write a novel...


  1. That hiccups episode was hilarious! I'd never heard of it before but I think I'll start watching! Great tips on generating ideas too.

  2. Yeah, what is it about public writing? LAME!