A novel starts with an idea. It could be a character, a title, a scene, a general premise. It could be anything that makes you think, “This could be a great story!”
That idea, though, is just that — an idea. You need far more than an idea to craft a novel. Developing an idea is a critical part of novel writing.
The initial phase of developing an idea is brainstorming. For me, this phase happens over a long period of time while I’m writing another novel.
Even though this shiny new idea is compelling, I don’t let myself get too distracted. I create a folder for the project on my computer and create a file for notes. You don’t have to get fancy. I use Notepad. Some people use Scrivener. There I collect ideas as they come to me.
All of the ideas won’t be in the finished book. The finished manuscript may not even resemble the ideas in the early notes. But one idea leads to another and to another.
This is also the time I do research, which can lead to new paths, new ideas.
This is fiction — is research important? Generally, yes, particularly if the book is set in the real world. While writing the book I’m getting ready to query, I researched Mississippi, retriever field trials, comminuted fractures, recovery from femur fractures, and injuries to the inner ear in dogs.
Research impacts story development greatly, closing some paths as not realistic but opening others you hadn’t dreamed of.
As you take notes and do research, don’t be afraid to have as many document files as you need. Put research about setting in one, ideas about characters in another, and ideas about plot in a third.
The important thing at this stage is that you capture your ideas, whatever they are. Don’t limit yourself — even if an idea doesn’t fit with what you were thinking yesterday, write it down anyway. You can pick and choose later!
In my next Plotters Guide post, I’ll talk about developing a premise.