You’ve got an idea for your novel? That’s great news!
The bad news is you’re going to need more than one idea to write a whole novel. You see, novels are really chains of ideas that link characters to one another and to events in your novel.
The idea you have in the beginning, that’s to say the single idea that drives you to want to write your novel in the first place, will more likely turn out to be the core plot or theme of your novel, and all the other ideas you need to come up with will be the bumps in the road and the subplots that cajole your character from the beginning to the end of you novel.
So, how do you get more ideas to show up?
My favourite thing to do is make a list of all the things that come to mind based off my initial idea, which I write at the top of a piece of lined paper. I usually underline my main idea, so I don’t lose focus of what I’m trying to achieve, and then I fill as many lines beneath it with all the words and phrases that come to mind. Write down everything — all the ideas for subplots, character names, settings, and everything else that comes to mind, even your main character’s make of car if you think it will help you flesh out your story later on. You can fill one piece of paper with ideas, or many. You could even write your ideas down on scraps of paper or post-its, for juggling around later.
Now you have a list of many different words and phrases, you’ll see that they are quite varied, and only a few will seem to stand out as coherent and viable links to the story’s core, which should be written at the top of the page for easy reference.
I take a nice bright pen at this stage and put a ring around these ideas to set them aside from the rest. I like to try and pick out ten ideas that I will definitely use for plot elements, and then a couple of maybes in a different colour, just in case I need a little extra padding, or something to link to two parts of my story together to create a smoother flow. In a third colour, I like to put a ring around all the stuff that will make my story shine in the background — names for characters, settings, and anything else that will add extra layers into my story.
The next step is to grab a pile of index cards and write each of your favourite ideas one-to-a-card. Or if you chose to use post-it notes earlier then you don’t need to do this step. You could even use post-its now or chopped up bits of paper. Whatever you chose to use, write one idea on each scrap, note, or bit of paper.
Next, lay them out on a big flat surface (I use my dining table) and order them into your new, shiny plot. You can rearrange them as many times as it takes to get your plot into a nice sensible order. You can even slip in those “maybe” ideas if you think you need them!
Here’s a version I did a couple of weeks ago for my 12th novel. I did this part-way through my MS so I could get a new handle on the middle section of my book and each card is a scene in a chapter:
After this, how you flesh out your ideas is up to you!
My favourite method of turning these one-liners into a full-fledged coherent plot, is to write a paragraph for each, taking up about two sides of a A4 paper for the entire novel (this is your synopsis if you need one to query agents later!). Don’t get too deep into the details at this point. You don’t need a he-said-she-said tight outline, especially if you’re a pantster (like me) and you like to wing it when it comes to the flow of creative writing. (One short paragraph should be enough to point you from one plot element to another, but if you like to go into more detail before you begin writing, then check out my future blog posts for how to get deeper into the plot before you start writing).
Now I have the A-B figured out in my novel, the next thing I like to do is develop my main character and a handful of supporting characters, but I’ll discuss that in my next post.
How about you — how do you like to generate ideas for your novels, and how do link them together into a plot? Drop me a comment below to tell me all about it. Thanks for reading!