On Story Ideas And Developing A Novel, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)
There are so many story ideas out there; small, personal stories, slice-of-life, romance, adventure, horror, fantasy epics. I have lists of ideas tucked away that I’ll probably never get around to writing. So how do you know which idea to follow? With luck, something will talk to you – the right idea will hold your hand and walk you right through to the end.
After I finished writing my first Happyface, my first teen graphic novel, I felt like I needed to take my writing career to the next level. Other authors were making huge deals for 6 figures writing these epic series, these volumes-long fantasies and dystopias of other worlds and barren futures. I’d only written some comics and my first teen graphic novel, but I’m an author, so I figured I should be able to write anything I choose.
I set out to work on my own series. I fumbled through a few ideas before I settled on my epic – it involved a world that exists on a molecular level, subatomic particles and whatnot that you could only see after you die, when you leave your body and become energy. Or, you could see it through The Machine.
I slaved on this thing for months as it grew and grew, lending itself to volumes of stories. There was a parallel to Homer’s The Odyssey, there were gods and monsters, there was a girl… there were many girls! There was a broken protagonist, who needed to fix himself on his journey. Once the confines of the human body were left behind, the world became especially open. He could travel through time and space, there was an underworld, a heaven and lessons to be learned.
I first knew I was in trouble when I was sending my editor these long dry articles on quantum physics and theories on the soul and she said, “Okay, great, I don’t know what you want me to do with these!!” I’d spent months trying to build this world that never felt tangible. I didn’t know how or where to start, and I hadn’t written a single word. It was just IDEAS, piles and piles of IDEAS, and research, and graphs and charts and character arcs. I wasn’t getting any closer to having a BOOK. My editor pointed out that people have spent a lifetime trying to pull off The Odyssey.
One day I was at my day job and I had to call someone who lived in Winter Haven, Florida. “That’s a weird place to name a town after winter,” I thought. Florida is like summer all year round. This sparked the idea for Winter Town. I pictured the winters I had as a child in New England and thought it was a charming setting for a story. I thought of writing two protagonists, a boy and a girl, and how maybe they only get to see each other during the winter, making it all the more magical and romantic.
Within twenty minutes I had a rough outline for what the book could be. I emailed the idea to my editor and she immediately grasped onto it – it felt like a proper follow-up to Happyface, and it wouldn’t take me years of plotting to make something of it. The basic idea for Winter Town never changed. I added personal elements, there were themes on art, dreams and comfort added, but I was moving. I was writing, and I felt like I was actually working on something and not just spinning my wheels. Then it was just solving the remaining puzzles – What do these characters want? What do they need? How do they fulfil each other? Where do they leave each other empty?
Maybe I’ll still get to that epic some day, or another series, but my point is this: Don’t chase trends, don’t worry about what others are writing or how much money they’re making, and don’t follow buzz – just write your story. Write what comes from your heart or you’ll be starting at the bottom of a long uphill battle.
Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com
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