So You Think You Want to Commit Novel: the idea

A lot of people approach me with the line “I have this really cool idea for a book, but I don’t know where to start.”

Since I am now in the throes of writing a first draft, I thought I’d share my process for getting a book from idea to completed draft.  The process is not the same for every person, nor for every book by the same person.  But this is generally how I start.  The book I’m working on, Chicory Up, Pixie Chronicles #2 is under contract.  The book I’m going to tell you about is Thistle Down, Pixie Chronicles #1 which is on my editor’s desk and will probably be published late in 2011.  Writing a second book in a series is very different from the first and subject for a post all on its own.

A couple of years ago Thistle Down woke me up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t let me go back to sleep until she’d wiggled her story into my brain.

Thistle is a Pixie.  But she’s been exiled from her own kind and grown to human size, minus her wings.  Her purple hair and lavender skin have morphed into normal human colors.  Then she was dumped, buck naked into the middle of Memorial Fountain downtown during morning rush hour on a very hot August day.

Come morning I had to write down what she said and figure out some questions for next time she took over my mind.  So I wrote an opening scene, very rough and disjointed, but Thistle walked on stage a complete character and her predicament intrigued me.  By that time I had a few more ideas about who she was and some of the trials and tribulations she’d have to go through to get home.  I wrote those down in a character sketch.

But I was on deadline and couldn’t devote more than a morning to her at that time.

I’d also recently lost my agent and had to produce some new material to submit.  Thistle looked like a way to break into light and fluffy Paranormal Romance.  Or so I thought at the time.

So the idea fermented for a few months until I had time to devote to Thistle.  Over the weeks, a thought would jolt me and I’d add it to the character sketch.

By the time I could actually work with Thistle more than three minutes at a time, I had some fairly complete notes, enough to write the first three chapters.  So I did what I advise others to do:  I applied butt to chair and hands to keyboard and wrote and wrote and wrote until the next scene was no longer obvious.  Low and behold, I had 3 chapters plus a bit more.

As an established author I generally sell on a proposal of 3 chapters and a synopsis.  I was half way to a proposal to submit to agents and editors.

Next week, the dreaded synopsis part of the proposal.

Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of Book View Café and blogs here regularly on Thursdays, the same day her cozy mystery “Lacing Up For Murder” by Irene Radford is serialized on the front page rotation.

For more about her and her fiction please visit her bookshelf here on BVC

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About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


So You Think You Want to Commit Novel: the idea — 9 Comments

  1. Three months of agony condensed into 4 paragraphs. But that’s just the beginning. The hard part comes later with plot outlines, the dreaded synopsis and slogging through the muddle in the middle blues.

  2. Oh, I’m having the same experience with a character. He’s the antagonist, but he’s surely the hero of his own difficult story. He walked in and said “Here I am. I want that story you were planning to work on next year and I want it now.” He even dragged in a minion with him. (I think of him as a cross between Dr. Horrible and Inspector Lestrade.)

    So I’m stealing a few minutes at a time for him when I can too.

  3. then there’s the gentle art of determining whether an idea is a novel-length idea.

    I made several stabs over years, trying to write novels, but I only had short-story ideas.

    then, one day, an idea lied to me, saying it was a novelette idea. Somewhat later, it confessed to being a novella. And then, after that, to being a novel. Took me two revisions to put back in all the stuff I had left out to keep it short, but it let me break through to novel-length ideas.

  4. Yes, there is no point in dragging a short work out to novel length — like scraping a pat of butter over too many slices of bread.

    It is actually a good sign, if a character hijacks the entire work. That means he is alive — alive, I tell you (sfx: thunder bolts, tesla coils sparking, and Igor in the background flipping switches)! That you have to rewrite an entire ms to acommodate his life is but a detail.

  5. What you need is more butter — I don’t think novel ideas are longer than short-story ones, but stickier — they attach themselves to more ideas.

  6. You can only recognize a novel-length idea by working with it; it’s hard to just look at a summary. Short story ideas are like jokes, getting better and better the shorter and more streamlined they are. Novels get better as they get longer.

  7. I have an invite to an anthology. Played around with a few ideas that went no where fast and tabled the invitation for a while.

    Then about the same time I started working on Chicory Up I had one of those dream ideas that kept me up two nights running. Started playing with it so it would leave me alone at night. Had to write two chapters and 6 pages of notes before I could go back to chicory without a guilty conscious.

    It’s perfect for the anthology…except it has at least one, maybe 2 novels worth of material embedded in there. Sigh. Brainstorming with a friend next week to see if I can excise and outtake for the anthology.

  8. And it’s important, if it is a novel-length idea, to not waste it on a short work.