This is a post by Novel Publicity President, Emlyn Chand
Are you dying to write that breakout novel but having a difficult time figuring out what it will be about or how it will be told? Have you just finished writing one piece and find yourself wondering what to write next?
Well, I have a strategy that may help.
But first you have to hear the back story.
I wrote my first novel, because it was a story I just had to tell. Getting it out of my brain and onto a Word processor taught me a lot – that I can write a book-length work, that I possess at least a small measure of talent, and that I have a long way to come as an author. Needless to say, book number one will probably never see the ink of a printing press. But still, it needed to be written so that I could learn by doing. Practice, practice, practice, although not quite perfect yet, I’m getting better every day.
Moving onto book number two, I was much more pragmatic about the process. I wanted to avoid the same mistakes I made the first time around. Some were easy to side-step, the kinds of things you learn once and remember forever, mostly grammatical stuff. Others had worked themselves so thoroughly into my style that the only possible solutions were to avoid a certain story-telling device altogether (for me, that was third person narration) or to set them free in the first draft only to exterminate them during editing (over-usage of the word that and an obsession with my characters’ breathing patterns).
With my fingertips hovering over the worn keyboard last October, I was anxious to begin again. Excited for a new adventure, but terrified that I would write another unsalable novel. I couldn’t ignore that clichéd still-small voice urging me to give my dream another go, but I also couldn’t bear to pour my heart, sanity, and another six months of my life into a dead-end project. What to do?
It was at this time, my rational brain pushed its artistic mate aside and took charge. What if you do some test-driving? Conduct some clinical trials in the craft? It suggested. What have you got to lose? An hour? A day? That’s infinitely better than the alternative, hmmm?
My left brain was right. I had to visit the story idea fitting room before I could take my next idea home. Now I’d like to share that technique with you, in case your leftie isn’t quite so outspoken.
The left-brained approach to brainstorming your book
Step 1. Let your mind wander. If you aren’t already keeping a box, drawer, or file full of all your hair-brained and ingenious story ideas, get going! Spend about a week following your synaptic pathways and finding the treasures hidden at their ends. Write down every story idea you come across – no matter how implausible it may seem at first glance. My favorite times/places for daydreaming are: while driving, performing domestic chores, or in the shower, while reading a book I’m not that into, during television commercials, and while taking the dog out for a walk. This will be a fun week, and it will help you to relax and build distance from your last novel or major project.
Step 2. Get out your magnifying glass; find the diamonds in the rough. How many ideas have you come up with? 10? 50? 1,000? That’s a lot. Now you need to sort through your pile of seeds, and pull out the ones that hint at the most promising harvest. You may want to physically print-off your list and separate the ideas into piles. Make piles for ideas you definitely want to write out, ideas you want to write at some point but probably not now, and ideas you can’t see yourself writing to fruition. When that’s done, take the definitely-want-to-write pile and reduce that until you have 3-5 final picks. These are your gems, er- seeds, um, really super excellent story ideas.
Step 3. Write the first few pages of your favorite ideas. Let’s say you needed to buy a new car. You’d probably begin by doing some research into the various options and how they fit into your budget and meet your needs. That was step one of our technique. Next you’d try to narrow the playing field by determining which of the innumerable options best meet your criteria. That was step number two. Now comes the fun part: test-driving. It’s time to take those shiny new story ideas and get an initial feel for them. How do you do that? By writing them out. Write a few pages of each of your final ideas. When you’re finished, think critically about the experience. One story may appear to be flashier or to get better gas mileage, but don’t let that sway your decision. You can’t overlook a quickly draining battery or shoddy brakes just because another feature has caught your eye. Which of the stories felt the most natural? Which would it be the easiest to write through to its conclusion? That’s probably going to be the story for you. But since we writers are infamous for smothering our darlings when we should be suffocating them, let’s get an outside opinion.
Step 4. Get feedback. Ask your friends and family to look at your sample pages and give you their initial reactions. Ask random connections from Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to chime in too. Get feedback from people who know you and from people who know writing – a good mix of both. If this isn’t your first book, try to get people who are familiar with your other novels either as bona fide readers or betas; see what they think. An honest opinion of which story has more weight won’t be hard to come by, because readers will have multiple options and simply have to pick their favorite. We all know how hard it is to get constructive input from loved ones on samples of our writing, but this isn’t like that.
Step 5. Write your novel. There’s a pretty good chance your favorite idea will also be the favorite of your trusted advisors. That’s because it was the one that best fit your interest and writing style. This is the first grain of sand in your beach of a novel. This is the one. Hooray! Now it’s time to get writing. For you, this may mean creating a comprehensive outline or diving straight-in without a life jacket. Either way, good luck. And I mean it!
If you liked this article, check out another: 10 steps for growing novel-sized story ideas
About this post’s author:
Emlyn Chand is the president of Novel Publicity and a YA author. She loves to hear and tell stories and emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Her first novel Farsighted released in late 2011 and is of the YA genre. Learn more about Emlyn at www.emlynchand.com or by connecting with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or GoodReads.