The Origin of Novels

This is the first in a series of topics about starting a novel. The series will correspond with my own plans to write a new novel. You’re welcome to follow along with me as I ramble, brainstorm, research, plot, and outline. I hope to attempt a quick first draft in February and March, and I’d love to have others join me in this endeavor!  

Every process has a beginning, right? Even a novel begins with one simple idea. The hard part is taking that little idea and expanding it into hundreds of ideas. And somehow all those character, setting, and plot ideas must weave together to form a coherent story made up of thousands of words.

SO. That one simple idea must be a good one. It must show promise.

How do you know if it’s a good idea? You don’t. Or at least, I don’t (if someone knows the secret to this, please fill me in!). The only thing I know to do is to give the idea space, give it room to develop. Analogies:  let the idea simmer on the back burner, or put it in your brain’s petri dish and let it grow (okay, now I have a gross image of novel-bacteria in my mind). If the idea has potential, it will multiply and turn into hundreds of ideas. If the idea sucks, then it will die off with little sadness on your part.

I should clarify—I’m referring to the type of idea that springs into your head at some random time. These ideas are quite different than dream ideas. I’ve heard many authors say how their novels originated from vivid dreams. One time I had a dream that provided me with characters, plot, and setting for an entire story. But that’s only happened to me once; all my other novel ideas start with a weird day thought.

That one simple idea can vary greatly. Some writers first see a character; the protagonist pops into existence and demands to be unleashed. Other writers (especially in the fantasy genre) imagine a unique creature or world. Still others start with a question:  “What if such and such happened…” And in the process of answering that question, a story is born.

I might be an oddball, because I’ve never heard of other writers getting their ideas like I do. Except for my dream idea (which is a non-fantasy idea that takes place in the city), all my other novel ideas have originated with some type of nature scene…

1)  The Ivy series began with an image of four kids inside a cave. Ironically, this scene doesn’t show up until Book 3 of the series, but somehow it was the very first idea I can remember. Later ideas revolved around a forest setting. Ivy grew in my mind for four years before I finally wrote her book.
2) Last winter I was watching an ice storm one night, and into my head came the image of a girl watching the same storm. She was an aspiring author, and she kept trying to describe the storm. I could see her notebook with countless metaphors in black ink, each one crossed out in frustration. And that was all I knew about her at first. Since then I’ve jotted down random thoughts about her; now I know why she’s special in a paranormal way, whom she loves, and how her story ends. This novel also has many forest scenes.
3) This past summer while enjoying many spectacular sunsets, I got an idea about supernatural creatures. I can’t say much more without giving away the whole idea… but sunrises and sunsets are a big part of the story.
4) Last year I had an idea about a girl who loves rivers and streams. At first I thought she was a nymph, but since then she’s developed into something that I’m quite excited about. This is the novel I plan on starting in February unless my plans change. 

I guess it’s no surprise that nature is so prevalent in my stories; it’s just part of who I am. I love getting ideas, and I love weeding out the bad ones and letting the good ones flourish. If you have a novel idea that sticks with you—one that haunts you for years and won’t give you peace—then that is a great idea. So stop avoiding it and give it free rein! 

So now I want to hear from you! How do your ideas originate? Are your ideas centered on characters, plot, setting, or something else? How do you decide if an idea is good or bad? 

Have a great week, everyone! Come back next Tuesday for more novel discussion!


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