We all have them: brilliant story ideas.Sometimes, they come to us fully formed. You see every facet clearly—who your protagonist is, the trouble he or she face. What they will do to dig themselves out of it… the trouble the meet along the way. Sometimes, it’s just a flash. Something you see or hear triggers a thought. That thought leads to another… and another… until the idea takes shape and you're left with no choice but to write it out.
And other times that something you see or hear burrows into your brain. It niggles and nags. It refused to be pushed aside—demands to be written.So, if these ideas take all the time and trouble to bring themselves to our attention, to demand that we listen, why is it that sometimes they have the audacity to be unable to support the story we so desperately want to write? Why is it that they fall apart half way through the novel?
I hate to say it, but… it’s not the idea you should be blaming. It’s you. You’re probably the reason things aren't working out the way you’d planned them to. The idea didn’t fall apart. You probably broke it.Writers generally fall into two categories when it comes to starting a novel:
You have the Nervous Nelly. The writer who circles the pool a few dozen times. Dips their toe in to check the temperature of the water. Makes sure their hair is tucked securely into their swim cap… you know, they think about it for weeks and months before they even write a word. They over think every aspect of the idea until they convince themselves that it’s not a good one.
Then you have the Kamikaze. The writer that sees the pool from a distance, climbs up onto the roof and takes a flying leap, legs tucked into a cannonball, eyes screwed shut… without checking to see if there’s even water in the pool. They have this idea and that it’s—they’re at their computer, frantically typing away without knowing where they’re going or how they’re going to get there.
To the Nervous Nelly, I say:First of all, take off the swim cap—you look like a dork. Secondly… loosen up for God’s sake. It a novel, not the Magna Carta. Yes, writing is hard work. It’s grueling and often lonely business… but if you’re truly a writer, then at the heart of it all, is love. It’s what you love to do. The one thing in your life that you can’t imagine not doing… so do it. Stop beating the poor thing to death and get on with it. Write a synopsis. Write a character sketch for your protagonist. Research your setting… it doesn’t matter what you do, really, as long as you do it.
To the Kamikaze, I say:Novel writing is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes stamina. It takes focus. Neither of which you have when your banging away on your keyboard like a cracked-out monkey. Take a deep breath… now take another one. Let the story take form, it’s really not something you can force. And that’s what you’re doing. You’re forcing it. Stop doing that. It’s like handing your keys to a seven year-old and telling them to move your car and then getting mad when they put your Toyota through the neighbor’s living room. I suggest you do the same thing as Nervous Nelly up there—write your synopsis. Flesh out your characters. Research your setting… because that’s what it all comes down to. That’s the secret…
There is no such thing as a poor story idea—just poor execution.
Ideas, after all, are just that—ideas. A fully-formed novel is something else entirely. You’re the architect that plans it out and the the carpenter that builds it—it’s your responsibility to make sure it has all its parts and that those parts are on working order. Plot. Characters. Setting. These are the components that make a novel work. One can be, and is usually stronger than the other (Plot driven vs. Character driven novels… another topic for another time) but if all three are weak—forget about it.
If the plot leaks like a spaghetti strainer, your reader will grow very angry, very quickly. Readers are an intelligent lot. If your plot isn’t tightly laced, they’ll know it and they’ll hate you for it. Not because you wrote a bad book, but because they’ll feel like you tried to get one over on them—and no one like to be made a fool of.If your characters are flimsy, your reader will feel cheated. Most people read, because they’re looking for a new experience and they want to live that experience through someone they feel emotionally connected to. Someone as flawed as they are. Someone they wish they could be. Someone that has the guts to do the things they don’t. Say the things they never could. If your characters are one dimensional creatures, no one will find them interesting, and if no one finds them interesting, then no one will care what happens to them.
Setting lends a bit of realism to the whole thing, which allows your reader to connect even deeper to your story. Remember, it’s all about experience. That’s what the reader needs—it’s what they’re looking for. A woman who’s never left her small town can read a book set a Paris, and if the writer is good, and pays attention to detail, can feel as if she’s walked along the Seine or seen the Eiffel tower. She feels worldly. Connected. The experience she has is rich and fully formed. Without setting, it’s flat and dull. The reader is left feeling like something is missing.All of these components must work in concert with each other:
Story idea. Plot. Character. Setting.They build upon each other. Lend support. One leans against the other. If a story isn’t working, they’re a reason. One or more of these pieces is either lacking in structure or missing all together. Before you give up and move on to the next story idea, give this one the time and attention it deserves. Find it’s weak spots and shore them up… maybe you’ll have to tear it down and start from scratch, but don’t give up on it. There’s a very good chance it’s worth your time and attention. After all, there’s a reason the idea grabbed you in the first place.
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