Monday, December 01, 2008

Deciding What To Write

I often hear writers say, "I have so many ideas I don't think I'll ever get to them all." I wish I felt that way, too. But even though my ideas folder is burgeoning with paper, it's hard to decide which one deserves a book. Here are some examples of actual notes in my folder:
  • Story about grandmother and granddaughter
  • Antarctica - how could I write about it?
  • What if a step-mother is trying to kill her husband and the guy's kids find out?
  • What about a group of teens who go around rescuing people?
  • The Mouse That Lived In the Refrigerator
  • Have a character who loves to snack on nuts (peanuts). Maybe when they're stressed?
  • Have a character who's a spy, but no one knows it, and it isn't even revealed to the reader until later?
As you can see, I do have ideas. But with so many ("The Mouse Who Lived In the Refrigerator"? Where did that come from?), how do you pick which to flesh out?

I'm still learning, but one exercise I've come to find works really well in getting to the heart of a writer is this. Ask yourself the question, "What I really want to write about is: ___" And then type (or write with a pencil or pen) continuously for five minutes your response. It's one of many great idea kick-starters James Scott Bell recommends in his book Plot & Structure.

I tried the technique with this novel. I ended up writing in my notebook that I wanted, first of all, to write about the main character of my previous novel Innocent Blood (working title). I was curious what happened in her life up after the events of that novel, and I figured if I was curious others might be, too. I also wanted to write about a character who has just been released from prison. What sort of struggles would they face? Would they experience condemnation from the Christian community?

These were only tiny nuggets of ideas. How to develop them into a novel? Would the two ideas need to be separate books or could they somehow fit together?

Now here's a question for you. I'd love to hear your response to the question: "What I really want to read about is ___" Is there a scenario, character, or much neglected genre you want to read but haven't found?

1 comment:

The Koala Bear Writer said...

I love seeing how novelists turn little chance phrases or conversations into a story... like Angela Hunt asking herself what she'd do if she knew she was dying in three minutes, and then writing The Note, or Marcia Laycock asking what if you found out your mother tried to abort you, and writing One Smooth Stone. I like that exercise - I'll have to try it. And if I've read one book and it's good, I definately want to follow the main character, to see what happens to them next. That released prisoner sounds intriguing too--something you don't often hear about, or someone you don't get a chance to meet in everyday life.