Novel ideas.

Writing a novel is a strange beast. Say you want to write a novel – you have to find a story. Now, it can be really easy to mistake an idea for a story. There’s your first hurdle. A story needs an idea, mind you, but an idea doesn’t always need a story. There are times an idea is just a fun idea.

So you find an idea. It’s trapped in your head and fights its way clear over time. You’re sitting there and suddenly you go, for example:

What if a robot got injured and was given a human body. Robot head, human body. Robot brain. Flesh from the neck down.

That’s an idea. But is there a story there, and more importantly is it a novel?

So you start to ask questions to pick at the idea and see how it stretches into shape: Is it still a robot? Is it now a human? Does the gender of the body matter? What does the robot think? what do people think? Whose body was it? Whose robot was it? And so on down the line.

And you ask yourself these questions, and others you think of, and see what answers come back from your head. Each answer can change any of the other answers, so it’s idea Jenga until you reach an equilibrium, or until you decide the idea doesn’t work. But let’s say it does work. You find answers that raise more questions and find answers to those questions and slowly a story starts to form.

Somewhere in these you have to decide what type of story you want to tell. Is this going to be a romance, a science fiction tale, a morality story, alternate universe stuff, high fantasy (yes you could make this work as high fantasy), modern literature, or what? And then that answer can re-dictate which questions you focus on over others. So you go back to the questions and start over, with a focus in the direction you want to go.

You add characters and answer questions and, hopefully, somewhere in there work out what it is you’re trying to actually say. You locate the heart of the story for you. In this case, again for example, you realize you want to discuss what it means to be human and explore interesting gender issues. Great. Now you go back through your questions and answers again and locate the conflict. You answer more questions and rework your old answers. You pin down the conflict, and rephrase it in terms of the story you want to tell and the key bits you want to make sure not to miss and start to work backwards.

You want to make sure that everything works both ways. Your story should get to the end point from the start and to the start from the endpoint in a way that makes sense to your head. It has to make sense to you so that you can explain it to the world through the writing of it.

And that sounds like you might be done. Except you’re nowhere near started yet. Because now that you know the shape of the thing you have to decide what the container is. Maybe this story is only a short story. A novella. A comic. A screenplay. A song, or an opera, or a dance or a TV show. Many different stories can work in different formats with a few tweaks but the version in your head, the perfect version that sings to you the most is the one you have to pay attention to.

And if you are specifically trying to find a new novel, and this idea doesn’t feel like a novel you set it aside to be worked on when you turn your attention to whichever of the formats that suits it best comes around.

And then you start over with a new idea.

And you repeat this process over and over again until you find a novel in your head. Eventually you find one and everything lines up.

Of course then you have to start breaking down the story into whatever format novel you decide you want. A novel needs structure. So you start working on that. Double checking to make sure you have enough story without padding. All of the prep work you’ll need: character names, plotting, style choices and so on. After all of that you get to actually start writing.

Of course… writing leads to a first draft which is only the main brick in the creation of a novel. Then you have editing and everything after. Each part of which can be as much work as the principal writing at times.

Because it never, ever, ends. And once a novel is done you have to think about the next one and start the entire game over again.

2 Comments

  1. el fro December 23, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Numerous discussions of “writing screenplay vs writing novels” has lead me to discover that far too many writers forgo most of this process. They get an idea, and just start writing.

    Those people scare the crap out of me.

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  1. You Know You Are A Cute Little Heart Breaker « Lee Edward McIlmoyle's Personal Blog - December 24, 2011

    […] buddy Adam P. Knave wrote an article yesterday about how novel ideas are not the same as actual stories, which require that you have some […]

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