Writing a novel is a long, difficult, and yet fantastic experience, one which I would not give up for anything. It can, however, be intimidating. So much in fact, that often people give up before they even begin. To help you go through the novel writing process, or just to introduce you to the concept, I write a series of articles as a “guide” to novel writing. I say “‘guide'”, because there’s really no one way to do this – I will just present some of the options and give some tips that might be helpful.
In this first instalment of the series we’ll be looking at ideas. To be honest, it seems a tad silly to me to put this on an idea blog. I suppose I could just say: “grab an idea from here, or wait until one that suits you hops up!” But no, there’s more to ideas and inspiration than writing prompts. Continue reading for tips on how to generate your own ideas, and how to get your creativeness flowing!
Above you see a very short list of options – mainly traditional brainstorming techniques. I’ll cover them, and a few more, in this article. Just click on any subject that might interest you to read a short summary and some tips regarding that technique!
Choosing the Genre • Music • The “What If?” Thinking • Dreams • Photography • Other Movies/Books • Starting Points: characters (character central novel), plot points (story central novel) or images/emotions (atmospheric novel) • Subconscious Working (sleep, walk, take a break) • Writing Prompts
» A good way to start thinking about an idea is to set up some boundaries, and a genre does just that. If this is your first novel, you might want to write in an area that you are comfortable with. Many authors have signature genres, why shouldn’t you? Think about what you enjoy writing the most: is it romance? Comedy? Fantasy, horror, thriller, mystery? In addition to all the traditional genres there are endless combinations. It’s usually good to keep the genre-combinations to two genres at a time (fantasy/horror, romance/crime, comedy/sci-fi…), but that’s just the start. Will the novel be character- or story centric? First person or third person? Who’s the POV (point of view) character? The genre offers you loads of formulas to choose from, but remember to add something of your own. Perhaps your fantasy hero is a frail maiden, or your crime novel is written from the first-person point of view of the villain? Back up.
» Listening to music is my personal favourite – I myself fancy writing fantasy, so soundtracks (both game and movie) and trailer music appears regularly on my little mp3-player. Just let your thoughts flow – if you have trouble concentrating (like I do), consider doing this while communing and put music on while you travel. This really lifts the pressure off of me, since I’m already actively doing something (travelling), so I don’t need to worry about accomplishing anything else. Stress is a huge no-no while brainstorming. Remember to use earplugs when listening to music in public places so you don’t disturb anyone. Back up.
» “What if?” is a great starting point for any novel, although its most famous example is the historical fantasy/sci-fi hybrid called steampunk: “What If?” Two short words are enough to spark millions of ideas. What if Stalin had appointed somebody to be his follower after he died? What if the First World War were won by the Germans? What if that one guy from that one Nightmare Room book had really been stuck in the completely empty world? The last example shows how you can take published stories and start tweaking them. All you need to take care of is that you don’t copy them: instead, you study them. You take a subplot or detail and turn it into something of your own. Back up.
» Pictures are also a great way to awaken one’s creativity. I always remember to include images with my daily writing prompts, and for a good reason: we humans are visual creatures, and writing is just one way to form pictures. You can check out photography at various sites and try to pick up characters, events and places to start your creative process with. Don’t copy something detail by detail – think about how the scenes in the pictures might develop, or what events might’ve lead up to them. Back up.
» I have already mentioned a lot of starting points here and there throughout this article, but let’s just say this is a compressed run of it. Easy points to start include characters. Create your main character first, along with the most important sidekicks, and let them form the story. Don’t let them loose though: unless you’re writing a very specific type of drama, just the relationships the characters have are not going to support your book alone. While you create the characters, don’t just think about their personalities, but remember to also focus on where and how they live: what kind of situations can you place them in? Think about the ways the characters would react to different events. Perhaps the main character is a troubled, unemployed teacher? She could become a private investigator for your crime novel, your main heroine for your romance book or the explorer of the arcane lands of the underworld as she discovers an ancient transporter rune during the course of your fantasy story. When crafted properly, her way of reacting will make any story you cook up unique.
Alternatively, you can skip right ahead to the story (“person finds rune and goes to explore the underworld”) and add the characters later in the planning process. This might make for a slightly more story-central, less emotional novel. Lastly, when heading for an atmospheric, highly visual result, you might want to focus on images, settings and emotions first. Write down different tastes, smells and surfaces you’d like to include (this is handy for description later) and plan the landscape of your novel before moving onto who to populate that world with and what those characters will be doing. Back up.
» Sleeping and letting your mind rest can also work wonders for your creativity. I have recently started a project on using dreams as inspiration, and you might also want to take a look at that. No matter how strange your dreams are, sometimes they can feature fun details and little tricks that you can include in your upcoming novel. You can train yourself to remember dreams by writing them down every time you can recall something of them: if you’re lucky, the times you remember your dreams will increase! Even if your dreams don’t prove to be fruitful remember that everybody needs some rest. It’s not a good idea to rely too much on caffeine so early on in the novel writing process. Back up.
Throughout the next few weeks we’ll discuss how to develop your ideas, craft your cast of characters and outline your story. Don’t worry if you don’t have a clear idea yet – you can let it ripe in the back of your minds for the following week (or longer if it’s needed, since the articles won’t run away). Check back for daily writing prompts on this blog if you want to catch a few extra ideas. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments.
Photos by graur codrin, thank you very much!