Today I’m going to be discussing how to come up with ideas for a novel, but not just any novel, a novel that will captivate readers and sell in the millions… or if not in the millions, at least enough to see a bit of a peak in your finances.
How to come with ideas for a novel part 1 : The Basics
Read: The absolute most basic source of ideas for a story is. . . other stories. The world is literally full of stories. It doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to the latest news stories, talking to friend about the story of their recent vacation, watching movies or reading other books, stories are stories.
A healthy diet for a writer: meat, veg, and heaps of stories.
The most important thing any writer can do is to feast on stories, and take them from every available source. Importantly, mix-up the types of stories you read. Perhaps you always read the newspaper, but you don’t read a lot of celebrity magazines; read them. Perhaps you read everything but don’t talk to many people. Go out and get talking to everyone Each and every person out there has a story they can share with you. Treat life like a story buffet and indulge. When you do this, you’ll find you naturally come up with many excellent ideas.
Coming up with ideas for a novel Part 2: The almighty “IF”
What if the biggest news stories had turned out differently? What if the rest of the world had backed Russia’s latest moves in the Ukraine? Well then you’d have an excellent source of inspiration for a political intrigue book. What if man hadn’t really landed on the moon and it turned out that the American moon landing was actually just a way to show Russia up in the cold war? What if that one-upmanship had continued to today? Well then everything we know about space and what lies beyond our own world would be a lie, and that’s one interesting beginning for a sci-fi story. What if the Nazi’s had won World War II? Okay, that idea’s been done, a lot, but it illustrates the point. Take a story and turn it on its head, and hey presto!, you’ve got yourself another excellent story.
Coming up with ideas for a novel Part 3 Your own life
Your own life should (and naturally does) fuel every story you’ll ever create. But by learning to examine your own life effectively you’ll find many new story ideas. For instance, as a Canadian immigrant from England, what if my immigration had ended up as badly as it possibly could? What if I’d ended up going to Canada only to be told at the Airport I wasn’t allowed into the country, because of some bureaucratic nightmare. What if I more bureaucratic bullshit prevented me from getting back into England? What then?! Where would I be? How would I survive? I don’t know, but it would darned sure make for interesting drama–actually, now that I think about it, it would be similar to The Terminal (the Tom Hanks movie). Take your life and turn aspects of it upside down and inside out and boom, you’ve got yourself an interesting story.
Coming up with ideas for a novel Part 4 :Stream of consciousness
This is an excellent way to come up with ideas for a story when you seriously are in a creative drought. The way this idea works is like this: write off the top of your head and keep going. Just write, without stopping, until inspiration strikes (which it inevitably will… eventually). You can do this by writing about your day today, or by writing about something similarly mundane, or you can start with a character and see how it goes.
You can find an example below. I’m writing this off the top of my head with zero preparation so it might not be amazing and will almost certainly contain a million grammatical errors! But I will give myself a few starting points, as follows. . .
Example of stream of consciousness
My basic character: 30 year old creative artist with paranoia. . .
Inciting incident: Someone’s just jumped through the window while the main character is painting a portrait of himself.
And here goes. . .
Looking at the picture of myself in front of me I’m aware of how off putting my nose must be. It’s just so long, straight and pointy, almost like a poker. People properly think I’m going to stab them with it. I never realised quite how ugly I was before… I leap with fright as the window bursts into a million fragments and a gorilla like man leaps through it.
“That painting,” he says.
I leap up from the painting and back towards the door, but the door bangs open and a group of burly men enter the room.
“You can’t paint that,” one of them says. “You’re just too ugly to be made immortal in art.”
I want to say “Thank you” but instead just gulp and suddenly wish that my nose really was a poker, or some other weapon.
The men grab the painting and slash into it with knives, and as they stab my oily face in the painting I feel my own face being torn into. I finger it and find my fingers wet from blood . . .
Alright, so there’s a shot at just writing for the heck of it and seeing where it goes. What did we end up with? Dunno. There’s something a bit voodoo about the fact that the protagonist feels pain and gets cut when the painting is attacked, maybe if I keep going here I’m going to get into some sort of voodoo – art story. . . it’s far from perfect, obviously, but it’s got my imagination working and led me towards something of a story. Not bad for sixty seconds of work.
Coming up with ideas for a novel Part % LIES, DAMNED LIES!
Here’s a more unique, less often used way of coming up with story ideas. It’s called lying, but not really. Essentially, you’re going to put yourself in a position of explaining something unbelievable to someone. You can do this with a partner or you can do it alone. The process is the same: come up with some unbelievable statement and try to argue its case. Here’s an example. . .
My absolutely absurd idea: In many years time it will be illegal for people to choose their own lover and instead computer based algorithms will choose every couple.
My argument: It’s already begun to happen. More and more people are finding their life partner’s by using dating sites (eHarmony, Match and so on). Sooner or later the government is going to catch on to the idea that these sites can be used to manipulate relationships. Births are the result of relationships, and the future of the human race is determined by who has a baby with whom. When you put those facts together, you realise that the government can take complete control of the future of humanity by forcing people to find love using online websites and algorithms, and that by doing so, they’ll take control of all births and of the future of mankind.
Now that surely isn’t a bad idea for a story, right? Looking at it, it’s probably been done before (not 100% certain, but with the popularity of the romance genre and the fact that dating sites are all the rage, that does seem like a story that will have been covered). Still, you get the idea: we created an absurd argument and out of it found a story.
Coming up with ideas for a novel Part 6 My personal favourite
I have a personal belief about writing. The belief is this: stories change people. I know firsthand that stories have changed me in many ways. They have shaped my life. They’ve inspired me, encouraged me, and influenced me. The stories of tomorrow will influence people. So what better way to come up with an idea for a story than this: ask yourself what way people need to be influenced. There is some ego to this (the idea that you can determine how people need to be influenced), but it’s also a moral take on storytelling: what better reason to write a story than to help people? So, what way do people need changing. What way do you need changing?
Personally, I could use more self belief. And there are millions of other people in the same boat. What story could inspire self belief? Find that story and you’ve got more than mere entertainment, you’ve got a story that will stay with people, that will genuinely matter to them.
Thanks for reading.