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Develop Ideas for a Novel

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 12 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Writing A Novel Writing Fiction Creative

Developing creative writing ideas when writing a novel is very different from developing ideas for other forms of fiction such as a short story or poem, or even a script. You'll need to think carefully about the structure of the novel and adjust your writing style to take account of the scale of the project.

Creative ideas will need to be developed in concert with structure, style and themes if your novel is to be successful.

Coming Up With Ideas

The single most common question which successful writers are asked by their fans is "Where do you get your ideas?" The truth is that if this is really a mystery to you, you shouldn't be in the business of creating fiction. Every one of us is surrounded by potential inspiration every day.

You would have to be bereft of imagination not to notice it. What matters, then, is identifying which ideas have real potential and working out where to go from there.

Reading is essential for a good writer, but you should always be wary of getting your ideas from books. Even if you think you can develop them in a different, more interesting way than the original author, they're liable to fall down because they're not informed by real experience.

The best creative writing ideas have their origins in the real world, and this is true even if you're writing historical or fantasy fiction. If you're short of inspiration, go out and walk around the streets or sit in a café for a while. Listen in to other people's conversations. Watch them and let yourself wonder who they are, what they're doing, where they're going. Ask yourself equivalent questions about vehicles, buildings, animals, and all the details of the world around you.

Developing Your Ideas

Unlike a short story or a poem, a novel cannot be based on a single idea, no matter how strong. A good novel is a confluence of ideas. It's a good idea to choose a central storyline or theme and then bring other ideas together around it. This may involve generating sub-plots, providing lots of background for your characters or setting, and/or developing philosophical passages which involve direct musing on your central themes.

It's quite possible to create a novel which is only about story - think of it like a long anecdote you might hear in the pub. This can be very entertaining, and if the story is a dramatic or unusual one then it may grip your imagination for some time.

However, novels of this sort rarely prove to have much staying power. They rarely make much money and most publishers avoid them. In order to make a real impression as a writer and win respect (and better pay), you'll need to have something to say. There will need to be a point to your story, and you will need to develop it through presentation and style.

If you feel that you don't have anything to say, sit back and think about the ideas you want to use in your simple story. What is it that interests you about them? How do they make you feel? How might your story illustrate something about the world, something which needs changing or, perhaps, something unchangeable which is worth meditating on?

A novel isn't just about reporting some information, it's about communicating these deeper aspects of your ideas. If you don't care enough about your basic story to be able to consider it in this way, you might be better off developing a new one.

Structuring Your Novel

Writing a novel is a major commitment. It takes a lot of time and energy and, as a rule, you won't know whether or not you're going to get paid for that until most of your investment is already made. For this reason it's extremely important to be practical about your planning.

Developing the structure of the novel involves bringing together your creative writing ideas and themes and building them into a successful narrative. Conventionally this is approached by developing a beginning, a middle and an end.

Where does your story start and how can you bring it to a satisfactory conclusion which ties up major plot lines and establishes that characters have undergone some significant development? Remember that this structure doesn't mean you have to begin at the chronological beginning - some of the best stories are told partly in 'flashback'.

Once you've established this basic framework, try to break your story down into sections. Outline what needs to happen in each. It can help to create a time line and to sketch individual character arcs along it. You can then refer back to this to make sure you haven't left any loose ends.

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