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Posts tagged ‘developing a story idea into a novel’

Nurturing (And Protecting) Your Story Idea, by Diane Lee Wilson

I don’t talk to anyone – ANYONE – about the novel I’m working on: not family, not my editor, not my friends. This can go on for months. People will feel offended but the danger is too great: one little adverse comment (or, as sensitive as I am, even a sideways look) will take the air out of the idea as surely as if one had squeezed a baby chick around the neck. A developing story is simply too fragile to share.

Only when I have enough chapters done that I’m (fairly) confident I have a good story going do I write up a book proposal. I provide an overview of the story and supplement that with the novel’s opening chapters. If I happen to have already envisioned the climax of the story – especially if it’s really exciting – I definitely don’t share those details. I simply try to ‘sell it’ from a convincing premise and several chapters, maybe 50+ pages. (That’s a recent luxury. For my first five novels, I presented complete manuscripts. Only now do I submit – via my agent – a proposal and initial chapters, and I guess my publisher knows that I’ll come through with a successful project.)

Even without telling your friends about your story, there are many threats to your idea: you’ll open a newspaper or magazine one day and read about a newly published book that is EXACTLY your story. (What? How did that thief get hold of my story?). Relax and take a deep breath. There are any number of stories with similar themes or plots or characters that, unfortunately, get introduced at similar times. The thing to remember is that YOU and only YOU can tell your story your way. Thirty people, having witnessed the same event, would relate it in thirty different ways. So take another deep breath, exhale, and get back to writing.

Still another threat to your story idea resides in your very own head, home to the Caustic Critic. The Educated Editor. The Literary Snob. It is SO easy to let those voices inside your head talk you out of your story. Pretty soon you’ve stopped writing. It’s really no good, you tell yourself. What was I thinking? No one’s going to read this.

STOP. Think. What made you want to write your story in the first place? Is the fire still there? Then stir up the embers, muzzle those voices in your head and get back to writing.

But teens won’t like my story. They’ll think it’s boring or lame or (fill in your favorite aspersion). Again, STOP. You’re the author of your story and your job is to make your reader WANT to read it. Surely you’ve encountered authors or storytellers in your life that possess the magic to make you hang on every word – no matter the subject. So borrow some of that magic and do the same! Get back to writing!

The easiest thing in the world is to abandon your story. That’s why so very many people say, “I’m going to write a story one of these days” and then never do. Conceiving the story idea is always more fun than raising it to maturation. Ultimately this is YOUR story and you alone must be champion of it: you must create it, nurture it, protect it and sell it. Trust your instinct. (And get back to writing.)

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Diane Lee Wilson’s author website: www.dianeleewilson.com

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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Developing An Idea Into A Complete Story, by Andy Briggs

It all starts with a sudden explosion of thoughts and concepts that rebound from one another until they start to form the kernel of an idea. It is this precious idea that is going to consume months, if not years, of your life as you nurture it into a story. It’s that tiny idea you thought of on the train, in school or walking the dog that is going to make you get out of bed each morning and hammer away at a keyboard.

So it better be good.

How does this idea evolve into a book? You will start working out the beginning, middle and end – the core three acts that bond your story together. Most of the time, these will be utterly wrong and you will find yourself rewriting your opening, reworking the middle and having no idea how it is all going to end until you get there. Having a notion of where the story might go is enough. Your characters will begin to develop from this. You’ll find yourself bending and twisting the story to fit their needs – try and resist this. You want the story to be a challenge for the characters to navigate, so don’t be concerned about their health and safety.

Now your characters are forming, your plot is also falling into shape. A couple of key scenes will probably have sparked into existence; jot them down and keep them for later.

With the raw elements of characters and rough plot you have reached a fork in your evolving quest. Do you sit and plan the story as best you can, so you know what information each chapter has to convey and what turns your story will take? Or, do you jump in and start writing with no clear idea on where your story is going? Both methods are equally valid, and it often comes down to the individual’s personal tastes. I like to plot – I think this comes from starting my career writing movies. With scripts, you need a solid structure and have a finite number of pages to play out your story. For the novelist, at this moment in time, you have a blank canvas and infinite pages.

Whichever path you have taken, your story will unfold and you will begin to find the characters are not behaving quite the way you want them to. This is because you are giving life to them with each sentence, and no matter how well you think you know them, you don’t. It will feel as if they are taking you in a different direction from what you originally intended. I feel it is pointless trying to change their minds, you may as well go with the flow – but remember, you are the Creator. Don’t let them get away with leading you down an unplanned path. When this happens, I throw down a challenge within the story to derail them and bring them back on the course I plotted. People say you should love your characters – but drama comes from conflict, and you should be causing as many problems for them as possible.

As you plough through your story, you may discover those brilliant plot twists or scenes you dreamt up no longer fit the story. Don’t try to force them in, otherwise your story will seem disjointed. New scenes will evolve from the problems you have thrown at the characters. Rather than force a great idea into an unyielding story, set it aside for another book. Good ideas will have their moment; just remember their moment may not be now.

After navigating through writer’s block, casting misfortune on your characters and typing until your fingers are numb, you finally have a book. You may suddenly realise the ending was not what you had in mind, or, on the lucky occasions, have an ending that surprises you. You may also discover that your beginning doesn’t set the right tone – which probably means you have entered the story at the wrong moment. Try other entry points to see what works.

The most important point is that you now have a complete story: pages of drama and tension that all came from a random idea. As a writer, there is no greater thrill than reaching that moment.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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Developing The Story For My Novel ‘The Puzzle Ring’, by Kate Forsyth

One idea is not enough to begin writing a novel. I usually find you need three which seem to have some kind of electrical charge between them.

I got the first idea for my book The Puzzle Ring while flicking through a jewellery catalogue while waiting in a doctor’s surgery. At the back of the magazine was a brief article about the first ever puzzle ring. The story went something like:

‘Long ago, there lived an Arabian king who was madly in love with his young and beautiful wife, and tormented by jealousy she might be unfaithful to him. He challenged the court jeweller to make a wedding ring that would show if the ring was ever taken off his wife’s finger. After many attempts, the jeweller invented a ring that would fall apart into separate loops if removed from the finger, and could only be put back together again if you knew the secret of the puzzle. Of course, the wife did take the ring off one day… and was promptly killed by her enraged husband.’

I thought at once, in an idle sort of a way, what a great thematic device this would be for a quest story… a desperate search for a puzzle ring that had fallen apart. When I got home, I wrote down a few simple words in my ideas book – ‘Quest for a broken puzzle ring’ – which eventually became a novel of 100,000 words.

I would continue to wonder about it in idle moments. Who would be searching for a puzzle ring? Why?

Questions lead to wondering, which lead to imagining, which lead to story.

One day, sometime later, I was browsing in a second-hand bookstore and discovered an old book called The Book of Curses. When I sat down to look through it, the page fell open, of its own volition, at a chapter about the famous Scottish curse ‘The Seaforth Doom’. This is a very chilling and creepy story about a warlock called Kenneth the Enchanter who was burnt to death in the 16th century by a jealous and vengeful woman, Isabella Mackenzie, the Countess of Seaforth.

Kenneth had a magical fairy stone, or hag-stone, and the countess had asked him to look through his hag-stone and tell him what her husband was doing. Kenneth had laughed, and then told her “Fear not for your Lord. He is safe and sound, well and hearty, merry and happy”.

Angrily she demanded to know why he had laughed and, when he would not tell her, threatened him with a terrible death. At last he confessed he had seen her husband on his knees before another woman, kissing her hand.

The countess was so furious that she ordered Kenneth to be thrust headfirst into a barrel of boiling tar. As he was led out to his execution, the warlock lifted his hag-stone to his eye and cast a terrible curse on the Mackenzies of Seaforth.

My own family heritage is Scottish; my grandmother’s grandmother was called Ellen Mackenzie. And so this famous curse seemed almost as if it was directed against my own family. And I thought to myself, what would you do if you found out your family was cursed? Wouldn’t you set out to break the curse? But how?

Perhaps, I thought, you’d need to find and fix a broken puzzle ring…

And so I got the first two ideas for my novel The Puzzle Ring.

The next idea came fast on the heels of the second idea. Because my own family was Scottish, and I’d been inspired by a famous Scottish curse, I decided to set the story in Scotland.

A modern-day girl called Hannah discovers her family is cursed, and so persuades her mother to visit their ancestral home in Scotland in the hope of breaking the curse. Once in the Highlands of Scotland, she makes friends with three local kids … and they soon discover the only way to break the curse was to travel back in time to the dangerous days of Mary, Queen of Scots…

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

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