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Finding the Next Novel-Worthy Story (Fiction)

So now that my NaNo novel is finished and has officially been sent off to some critiquing friends (bless them!), it's time for something new.  But finding new novel-worthy ideas is difficult for me.  I'll get an idea, but then I think "But where would I go with that?"  Since I never map out a novel before I write it, I guess it's kind of silly that I let that question stop me, but it does.

Like a big old brick wall.

I started to understand better why when I was reading Les Edgerton's Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go. (Recommended, by the way.  I don't often learn new things from writing books these days, but I did from this one.)  Edgerton argues that "surface problems" aren't enough to carry a story, because they don't launch the character on a journey or force him to change (i.e. to have a character arc) the way a "story-worthy problem" does.

Edgerton says you have to just keep asking yourself "why?" questions. To get from a surface problem to a story-worthy problem, he says, you have to delve into the psychology of the character.  Why is this character doing this?  What is the psychology behind his actions?

Out of the blue I had a still from a scene float up into my consciousness.  I knew there was more story to be told in my NaNo novel world, but I had no idea what it was.  And here at last was something, just a fragment of a scene.  And that scene led to another scene. So now I have two context-less scenes that are intriguing me, but I'm not sure how to branch out from here.  I think I am going to write brief descriptions of the two scenes on notecards (which is how I developed the NaNo novel) and then do my best to mind-map outward from there.

I'd love to hear your advice, dear Reader.  What do you do?  How do your ideas start and how do you help nurture them until they're worthy of an entire novel?


  1. Annie Louden said...
    I seem to get ideas all the time, but I'm beginning to think they belong more in the short story category and are less suitable to becoming novels.

    But for the ones that become novels, I just keep writing and writing, coming up with new scenes that are sometimes unrelated and seeing how my characters react. Then I get a better idea about them so I can write the real scenes. But, it's a laborious process and maybe not the best. Maybe I should check out that book!
    Kate Karyus Quinn said...
    I am in also getting ready to launch myself into a new WIP very soon, and have dealing with these same questions. I have a character and I know about some of her problems, but I don't know what the main conflict is yet, and I usually find that by asking what my MC wants. This is what I keep going over in my head, and then I just wait for the answer to float to the surface;)
    Anonymous said...
    Thanks for the book lead - I am always looking for a trade book that is good...and every one you have recommended has been great.

    For me, I usually get a flood of potential ideas when I am working on a project. I jot those down as I get them. I let them steep, like a rich tea, until they are "ready" to be written. Then I pick one and go for it. Usually, the one that gets picked is one that has moved from an interesting idea to a larger story. And I totally agree that to be a strong STORY, the character must change.

    Nice post...
    Lilith said...
    Like christinefonseca I often find I get a lot of ideas while I'm working on a project, which I jot down in a special notebook that I keep for that purpose. If I get writer's block I can pick up one of those ideas or characters and start fleshing them out a bit. I usually start with characters myself, and the story soon follows: the characters often give me the idea for a story because of their nature. Take Kaita for example: she's a (mostly) good aligned cambion (half-succubus) which means that she doesn't want to kill in order to sustain herself, so she 'feeds' from a group of people, taking only a little from each. Unfortunately, due to the nature of her hunger, she is constantly walking a tightrope between doing what is "right" (taking a little from many) and doing what is natural (killing). This provides me with a theme and a way to challenge her: if she is confronted with a situation that takes a lot of energy from her, it will be easier and more tempting to simply kill one that move from one to another. Will she let nature take its course, or will she change and become more like others of her kind?
    Being what she is, there is of course the chance that someone will decide that she is too dangerous and try to 'remove' her for the good of society. This of course gives me a whole different area to persue: the different ways she could deal with the problem If she's questioning why she bothers going to all the effort of protecting humans, will she change her mind and go with what's natural, or will she find something that shows her why SHE wants to do it that way?

    Hope that wasn't too much of a ramble :/ Or even vaguely helpful: it's worked for me so far, and I usually find working with a different character for a while leads me to an idea for the 1st project that I might not have thought of otherwise.

    Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...
    Wow, thanks for the ideas, guys! Charlie, thank you for writing so much. Y'all are the best! :-)
    Stina said...
    Although I already have my next novel outlined, I want to start coming up with ideas for yet another new project (so I don't feel rushed to come up with something later on).

    I get ideas from all kinds of places, including news stories. When several of these ideas collide, characters start to form in my mind, and from there the story takes shape.
    Suzie Quint said...
    Hooked is a great book. Another one you might try is David Morrell's book on writing. He's got a great stream of consciousness method he uses (and that I've adopted) to help develop story ideas. It's worth a read.
    Claude Forthomme said...
    Great post! And you address the BIG question: what makes a book a blockbuster? A good story darn it!

    Problem is: how do you get the idea for a good story...Many ways. Look at tragic stories among friends and family (death, bankruptcy, losses of all kinds)Or read the newspapers, they report all sorts of killings, murders etc That's what Agatha Christie used to do. And today, after so many decades of "thriller and mystery genre" books, she's still the Queen of Crime Fiction. Why? Because she wrote superbly? No she didn't. It's all because of her storytelling, that's why!

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