The Writer's Bag of Tricks
The Novel Idea
Ideally, before you begin writing, you have the details of your novel worked out. But, before that, there is that flash of random inspiration of something that could, at some point, become a novel. Those flashes can come from anywhere. You could see a news story, and suddenly you have a dynamic plot that comes together like a toppling of dominoes. You could be shopping and come across some esoteric stranger, and suddenly you have a character with their backstory, character flaw, and primary motivation. Subconsciously, your brain is playing the What If? game and the visual somehow triggers the tidal wave of inspiration. I don’t know how that works necessarily. I just know it is exciting when it happens.
That inspirational flicker happens to many writers. The problem is that going from miraculous inspirational thought to novel is hard work. It takes time. And the would-be writer has to be tenacious enough to keep at it, sometimes for years.
So…How do you do that? How do you move from flash to finish? Everyone has their own process, but I thought I would discuss some potential techniques.
Whether you start with a plot idea or a character idea, the reality is that you have to fill your novel with interesting, real-appearing people who have traits, and flaws, and who act or fail to act in whatever situation you are inclined to put them in.
It might help if you thought about your characters as walking dichotomies. Think about what could be the two worst possible things thrust together inside of one person. Play the What If game to find opposites.
What if your main character was a Fireworks Designer? A firework designer is a chemist who designs fireworks with chemicals for the purpose of creating beautifully colored explosions. Fireworks Designers obviously have to be smart people. But what if they have an accident and lose their ability to see color? What if they are afraid of fire due to a childhood experience? Do you see the juxtaposition? The job contradicts the emotional motivator, and the result is an instantly more complex character. What if the Fireworks Designer is one of the few people in the world who knows how to manipulate a particular chemical combination, and the Secret Service just called because they found a chemical bomb in the White House? Do you see how this grows the potential for the plot and story? You could begin to write your story premise with just this much information.
Let’s try it again.
What if your character was a Fortune Cookie Writer? This is the person who comes up with the sayings inside your dessert cookie at your local Chinese restaurant. But what if your writer hated their job because they thought fortunes were ridiculous so they started writing atrocious fortunes? And what if somehow your Fortune Cookie Writer discovered that the fortunes they wrote were mysteriously coming true and people were dying as a result? And what if they just wrote 1,000 really horrible fortunes that were going to print in 24 hours? What if your writer needed to stop the presses before the time was up?
Now I haven’t thought these through to any logical conclusion for an actual story idea, but hopefully, you can see the point I am trying to make. To make your characters complex, give them problems to deal with. The complexity will help you move toward completed novel because you will have more fodder to feed the Muse.
It’s a start, right?
Next week we push the Muse a bit further.