Author, Books, Hero's Journey, Inspiration, Motivation, Novel, Outlining, Story Formula, Story Telling, Writing
The Idea Storm
The Idea Storm
It can be very exciting to make the decision to sit down and write a novel. Many people imagine how it will be like when they’ve finished, seeing their name on a best seller’s list, going to book signings across the country and going onto the talk show circuit to promote their book that’s receiving rave reviews. The problem is getting there is very hard. Writing a novel takes time and is a process. Most people don’t have the first idea of how to take an idea or concept and turn it into a full length novel that ready to publish.
When I made the decision to write my first novel, I mentioned it in conversation to many different friends and family. I was stunned at how many people had themselves tried to write a novel and failed. A number of people told me, that without formal training, there was no way a regular person could write a book. I knew that was false since many books out there today were written by regular people. I knew there had to be a way for me to get my book written. The process I discovered is the process I’m going to be sharing with you over the next few months of blogs. A process so simple that I believe that anyone could follow it and create a publishable novel within a month.
There are a number of different ways to get ideas for novels. Some people know a character they want to share with the world. Others know an environment that is very strange and compelling. Some people want to parallel current events in a fictional setting. And some people want to test their government or economic concepts in a narrative to show what could happen in the real world.
Most writers that I’ve talked with either have a character they know or a situation they want to create. So what do you do then? Let’s say you have a character that is amazing. They had a truly horrible situation and they overcame the odds and succeeded. You want to tell their story and share their hope and inspiration with the world. How do you start? Where do you begin? The first place I always start is with an ‘idea storm.’
The idea storm is where you just start writing every idea, concept, character, environment and situation that will be needed for this story. Everything you think of should be written down. Don’t worry about having it in any kind of order or structure. Just write down ideas. This storm doesn’t happen in one sitting either. You should keep a notepad handy at all times and over the course of a week or so, keep your main storyline in mind and write down anything that pops into your head.
As you write you’ll develop pages of ideas that can be used for this story, or if it doesn’t fit this story, keep it for another one. Keep a folder of ideas that you can draw upon. If you need a plot devise to move this story forward, look to your idea folder and see if there is something there that can be used. When you have a few pages of ideas, concepts, characters and situations then you can move to the next step. Only you can know if there’s enough or not and it’s been my experience that I use the idea storm over a week then take what I’ve got and move to the next step. If I need more ideas I can get them later.
Once you have all your ideas ready to use, sit down and start to organize them. Think of the main reason you’re writing this story. Is it to entertain? To serve as a warning? To show what’s possible? How many of the ideas fit those reasons? Make sure that the ideas will fit into the overall storyline of the book. As you look at the ideas, you might be able to refine or expand upon what you’d written. The more you have, the clearer you will see the story in your mind and the quicker and easier it will be to write.
I’ll use an example of a book that the author attempted to write but failed due to not having her ideas organized. ‘Amber’ gave me permission to use this and one day, she’d like me to write the story for her. It’s a biography of what happened to her during high school. Amber was from a very poor family but was going to school in a rather rich neighborhood. Her father struggled with alcoholism while her mother was very unhappy, taking her anger out on her children and having multiple affairs. Amber’s older brother had been arrested for attempting to rob a store to get money to buy drugs.
Amber had a very rough childhood and things were made worse by the well-off kids at the school who constantly picked on her. The thing with Amber was, she was incredibly smart in math. By the time she reached sixth grade her math skills were at a college level. Amber knew that she could escape the cycle of destruction that gripped the rest of her family if she could just find the means to show her skills to employers.
When she was in the 9th grade, Amber overheard a conversation by some seniors. They were girls on the volleyball team, desperate to finish a difficult math homework assignment before they had to leave for a game. They didn’t want the homework hanging over their head during the game. Amber guaranteed them A’s on the assignment in exchange for cash and that they stop harassing her. Soon, Amber was doing the homework for all the volleyball and football teams at the school.
Amber was making very good money and she was subtly planting in the minds of some of the kids she thought would be more successful that they should keep Amber in mind for employment down the road. All was going well until a teacher discovered what was happening. Like most corrupt school boards and administrations, they were going to expel Amber while keeping the cheating silent so it wouldn’t affect the sports teams. The athletes rallied around Amber and in the end, she served a week suspension and along with some of the athletes.
When Amber sat down to write this she thought it would be pretty straight forward and easy. There was a lot going on in the story and a lot she could have done with it. Amber started the book when she talked to the volleyball players, not going into the hardships she’d faced before and why she wanted to make money for college. Amber quickly realized that she needed to show the audience her motivations so she started putting in flashbacks that felt extremely forced and threw the pacing of the book off.
Amber then realized that an important part of the entire story was a burgeoning relationship between herself and a member of the football team. It was that relationship that caused the football player to come forward and challenge the school board who was throwing all the blame on Amber. Without that relationship, the boy wouldn’t have risked his football career for Amber. Everyone thought that the football player was only interested in Amber for physical reasons but it turned out to be more than that when he threatened to expose the school board’s cover up of a cheating scandal.
Amber had a lot of tension with some of the volleyball players, the girls who use to pick on her the most. They were always nervous that Amber would sell them out and destroy the team by exposing the cheating or by giving them bad assignments that would cause them to fail. Midway through the book Amber was showing this tension coming out but there was no background for it, no reason, in the book, for it to be happening.
Amber never finished the novel. She was about two thirds of the way done when she gave up. She knew there was an interesting story there but she didn’t know how to complete it or how to fix what she had written. The book was already longer that a finished book should be and she was nowhere near done.
I had Amber do the idea storm exercise and she was amazed at how much she came up with that wasn’t even in the book yet. There were so many little events and situations that made up the story that she couldn’t believe that she’d missed. She also realized that a lot of what she’d written wasn’t good enough to include in the book. It took Amber almost a year to write what she had and it was all going to be scrapped. Amber decided that she wanted to stick to the research firm she worked at and gave me the story, if I wanted to write it. (More like, when I have time to write it with all of my own stories that I’m working on)
Had Amber used the idea storm she would have seen all the different aspects of the story that she needed to include. Had she of outlined the story she would have seen that there needed to be a more linear fashion to the writing. Jumping around didn’t work for this story. Amber had a very compelling story, she just didn’t know how to get it onto paper.
One key that I see all successful authors do is that they carry around a notepad and something to write with. Inspiration or ideas can come at any time and they have to be written down while they are fresh in your mind. Many great concepts have been lost because the author thought they would remember it when they got back to their writing. Always keep something handy to write with and write down all the ideas that you have, no matter how good or bad they are. You never know when they will fit into a story or when they will merge well with another idea.
I hope my idea storm exercise will help you develop your writing. I’ve used it with great success and I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my writing since I started using it. Stay tuned to my blog next week when I explore the writing process further and be sure to check out my webpage, www.leifericksonwriting.com and check out my books today. Thank you.