How to expand on a novel idea

Today I’m going to be discussing how to expand on a novel idea. If you read my post yesterday about How to come up with novel ideas then you will have seen that I created a few ideas off the top of my head. The idea I’ll be working with today is a dystopian love story in which all love is controlled by a computer algorithm. Today I’m going to take this idea and expand on it. At the end of this article, I’ll then make an important decision as I determine whether this novel idea is good enough to be worthy of working into a complete novel.

 

how-to-expand-on-a-novel-idea

Expanding on a novel idea step 1: Write it out short

The very first thing to do when expanding on a novel idea is: Write the idea in very simple terms.

So…

All love is controlled by a computer algorithm created by the government.

Once you’ve written the idea out, put it somewhere you’re going to see it all the time. Put it in your wallet, on your desktop wallpaper, everywhere. This will get the idea working in your head, because you’ll constantly be reminded of it.

 

Expanding on a novel Idea Part 2: Argument

There are many choices about the direction to take now. You can use many techniques to expand on the idea, but the one I’m going to be using first of all is this: arguing for the validity of the idea, essentially by asking “How is this idea believable?”

Believability is key. If your reader doesn’t believe what they’re reading you’ve lost them. To make an idea believable you have to know yourself why your idea could happen. In other words, you’re going to argue the point of your novel. Here’s my example…

The Idea: All love is controlled by a computer algorithm made by the government.

Why the heck would that ever happen?

 

EXAMPLE.  .. 

Love and relationships are hugely important to the development of the human race. The future is populated by the relationships of today. If the government controls who is allowed to be with whom, they can control birth. They could even potentially pass this through law, even in a democratic state, if they could prove that there were inherent dangers of certain people breeding with one another.

Of course, there is a whole other aspect to this: controlling sex. The powerful and wealthy elite want to have their first choice when it comes to whom they copulate with. Lust is always present in everyone; if the people at the top thought they could control the people they had sex with, don’t you think they’d do it?

There is also a financial aspect to this, because love is one way that money gets moved from one person to another. Perhaps a powerful billionaire was infuriated when his daughter married a poor man and let him into the family. What do you know, that poor man who married rich got a divorce two years later and took half of the money his wife’s father had left to her. He was so angry he decided to use his power to ensure that this could never happen again, by changing the laws so that the government controlled who could fall in love with who and who could marry and copulate with who.

Interesting. . . starting to come across some basic character motivations here.

Of course, our ultra wealthy billionaire couldn’t just change the laws about love without having a great way to get that law passed. He had to come up with some way to excuse this extreme law. What could that be? Perhaps he and his friends fabricated evidence that certain breeding was leading to disease. Hmmmm…

Going to spin this character a different way.

Perhaps the powerful millionaire had a moral reason. Perhaps the guy who married his daughter for her money hurt his daughter so much (maybe she even took her own life) that he had to prevent it from happening again. Perhaps he wanted to prevent people from getting hurt. Because of this, he created an algorithm that could detect which relationships were going to lead to positive outcomes and happy families. Perhaps millions of people used his algorithm, like they use eHarmony, to find genuine love, and perhaps it worked so darned well, and the people became so happy (leading to less crime and less war because everyone is so happy) that it became law. So now we have an algorithm / computer system that is so good at determining which relationships will be positive that it was eventually established as the new way of love, and made law.

 

I like that. Sounds like all those relationship sites taken to the highest level possible. Think I’m going to stick with this. And just to remind myself where I am, I’m going to summarise the important points.

 

  • A poor man married the daughter of a billionaire only for money, and hurt the billionaire’s daughter so much that she took her own life.
  • The billionaire then decided to stop such pain from ever happening again, so he created an algorithm / computer system that could determine which relationships would be positive.
  • It was a complete success. Relationships were positive, everyone was happy.
  • Happiness and peace led to less crime, less war, happier families and a better society, so it became law for people to only fall in love with people selected by the algorithm.

 

… okay, so now you can see how this is working. I’ve taken my basic idea, argued it and out of that argument I’ve found some interesting points, and even a character or two.

You need to be flexible when working with your novel idea, because you need to allow ideas to flow, while shaping them.

 

 

So far I’ve allowed my ideas to flow and feel like I’ve got a backstory, but if there’s one thing missing it’s conflict. My story sounds really happy so far: an algorithm finds perfect love for everybody and everyone seems happy and content. That’s not a story. A story needs conflict. Where does the conflict come in?

 

Expanding on a novel Idea Part 3: Adding conflict

One way to get conflict out of your idea is to find the theme and flip it on its head.

Looking at my expanded idea above, the theme seems to be: a scientific approach to love leads to perfect and happy relationships and a positive society.

But now it’s time to play devil’s advocate; time to find the counterargument.  Time to tear your idea to shreds by proving it wrong.

But wait, why do I want to prove my own idea wrong?

Because conflict is at the heart of a novel, and the best way to get to that conflict is by writing out the point (as we’ve done above) and then the counterpoint. So, let’s take a look at the counterpoint.

 

 

Developing Counterpoint

Argument: A scientific approach to love leads to perfect and happy relationships and a positive society.

Counterargument:

If everyone knew who they were going to get married to, and that their relationships were taken care of without effort, society would crumble. Why? Because one of the main reasons why people go out and socialise is to find a relationship. How many people at the bar are single and looking for someone?

 

If love was taken care of, people would stop socialising. There wouldn’t be such an intermixing of people. In fact, I imagine people would stay within their close-knit friends, because they’d have little reason to talk to people outside their group. Society would form very strict groups, based on whatever the computer algorithm controlling all these relationships dictates. You’d end up with different factions of people, and what then? History has shown that different factions create war. So sure, your idea for perfect relationships may have worked to begin with, but years down the line you’re looking at a world of warring factions with insular people and little socialising.

And what about that whole algorithm thing? Someone would need to control it. Who’d control it? The elite. Do you could trust them? They’d abuse the system so that they could end up with whoever they wanted. And that would mean that people who were truly in love wouldn’t be able to be together because the elite have abused the system so that the algorithm puts them with the person they want.

You’d end up with all the elite having the best looking or the richest or the nicest people, and the poor left with all the rest. What then? Sure, some poor people might just bow down and accept the system, but what about a fiercely independent man or woman who didn’t listen to the system, who socialised with groups of people they weren’t supposed to be involved with, who fell in love with someone who was “Above their rank—according to the computer system?” Such a person wouldn’t just bow down. They’d fight for love. They’d go to war if they had to, to break down the system so that they could have their true love. And that sounds a lot like a protagonist to me.

 

 

Expanding on a novel Idea Part 4: Recap

Okay, so now we’ve gotten somewhere.  We’ve taken the very basic idea we started with and we’ve worked in with point and counterpoint into something now resembling a story (or beginning to, at any rate).

 

Here’s a look at everything we’ve got now…

  • A poor man married the son of a billionaire only for money, and hurt the billionaire’s daughter so much that she took her own life.
  • The billionaire then decided to stop such pain from ever happening again, so he created an algorithm / computer system that could determine which relationships would be positive.
  • It was a complete success. Relationships were so positive everyone was happy.
  • Happiness and peace led to less crime, less war, happier families and a better society, so it became law for people to only fall in love with people selected by the algorithm.
  • with love taking care of, people stop socialising.
  • Years down the line we have a world of warring factions with insular people and little socialising.
  • A fiercely independent man or woman who doesn’t listen to the system. They fall in love with someone  above their rank “according to the system.” They fight for their true love.
  • The elite control the system. They abuse power.

 

 

Expanding on a novel Idea Part 5: The building blocks

 

So now our idea is taking shape. We need to steer this idea into the basic building blocks of a novel, which are:

 

  • Conflict
  • Crucible
  • Characters
  • Premise

Once we’ve got these points set we’re well on our way to being able to start plotting. So, let’s get those bits sorted. Some of them are easy, other not so much.

 

Crucible: The crucible is the thing that locks our characters into the story, the thing that stops them from leaving. Here are a few examples:

the hunger games katniss wallpaper

The Hunger Games: The crucible is the games themselves. The characters can’t leave the game without dying or killing everyone; now that’s a tight crucible. So tight, in fact, that Suzanne Collins had to basically repeat the exact same thing with book two.

Divergent: In Divergent the crucible are the factions. Tris can’t leave her faction (in the first book) because doing so will result in her being cast out from society.

So what’s our crucible? So far we’re looking at our crucible being love itself, and society. Our protagonist (once we’ve found him / her) is going to be in love, and in love with someone that society says they can’t be in love with. They can’t leave the story because of the strength of their love.

 

What about the conflict? Again, simple. It’s pretty clear from what we’ve written so far that the conflict is between love and society. We’ve also hinted on a second conflict, in which we’ve got one man or woman loved by two people. Clearly those two people are going to be in conflict. So our conflict is in place.

 

 

And how about the premise?

Okay, this is the difficult one. The premise is the basic theme of the book, but that’s like saying that poetry is basically a bunch of lines.

A premise is really the central argument, and is best written as one thing leading to another.

 

lord of the rings frodoIn The Lord of the Rings, for instance, the premise can be thought of as “The bravery of one man leads to freedom for all” Or, “Bravery leads to freedom.” (The bravery of Frodo saves everyone in Middle Earth).

The premise is different to the theme. The theme of our story is (so far) “A computer algorithm controls all love on Earth”. . . eh I’m not happy with that but you get the idea. The premise is the catalyst of the story, and is best thought of as “X quality leads to Y outcome.” So, what’s our premise?

 

Honestly, I’m not 100% sure yet. There are a few possibilities thus far…

We know that love is our central theme, we know that society is the conflict, and that love is another conflict, and we know that love is being controlled. So with this we can find a few possible premises…

  • Love leads to being outcast from society
  • Love leads to bravery
  • Bravery leads to love

… these are just some possible examples. I’m going to be working on the premise in the next section of this series. Stay tuned on Facebook, Twitter, and G+.

 

 

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