“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.”
-Cobb from Inception
Ideas can be insidious little things. I feel like I’ve been haunted by a few for the past four years.
On January 1st, 2007, I decided to start a journal because I had an idea: What if the world really was run by the classical or Chinese elements, and what if those elements could be controlled, manipulated? How would that affect people? How would that make their world different from ours?
Of course, I realized I was not the first person to ask these questions. The idea has been done many times before–the Nickelodeon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Naruto” and “Captain Planet” (do you remember that silly show?!) are all relatively well-known examples. TV Tropes gives a pretty large list of other examples in a wide range of media, including novels. I realized then, sitting in my room with my mostly empty journal, that I needed to explore some other ways to make my take on the elements unique.
For some reason I was really drawn to the idea of making people with elemental powers outcasts, forced to live secret lives. Maybe their powers were even suppressed. Immediately, I thought of the TV show “Heroes” and even the X-men. Okay, I told myself, so that’s been done before, too. But my take on this idea is going to be different.
Coming Up with a Premise
It’s taken a lot of experimental drafts for me to finally settle on a premise that I felt really got to the heart of the things I wanted to explore about life. My premise, as it stands, reads something like this:
An aviatrix with a rare psychophysiological condition discovers the truth about herself when a clairvoyant government agent employs her in acts of espionage against an elemental terror.
27 words. It may not be perfect (the jury is still out on that one), but it does highlight the prominent elements in my story. The protagonist is an aeroplane pilot with a rare psychophysiological condition (there’s a mouthful). That condition is called emelesia, something I made up along the way, and it holds the fantasy element in my story and is connected to the “elemental terror” I mentioned in the premise. That same terror highlights the antagonistic force in my novel. Also, with the mention of the clairvoyant agent and acts of espionage you get the sense that there’ll be some paranormal espionage at play. The combination of all these elements is what makes my story unique.
(You can read more about some of the characters and organizations in my work in progress at my Photobucket account, if you’re interested.)
It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over
The thing is, a manuscript ain’t finished ’til it’s, well, finished. I’ve still got a lot of editing work to do on mine, but I’ve gotten through the initial hard part of churning out the first draft (and I’ve been told this is a milestone in itself, as most people who start novels never finish them). It’s been a long process, but that phase is complete. What I’m focused on now is refining my ideas, characters, plots, etc. and making sure everything is coherent, tells the story I want to tell and has the capacity to hold a potential reader’s interest.
It’s taken me four years to even get to this point.
Why? Well, for starters, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I made the decision to turn my idea into a novel. That said, I did a fair amount of floundering about until I learned more about the writing process and writing craft. And really, I’m still learning more about these things. It’s a process. (It’s why I started this blog and provided a readily available list of Links for Writers who are as new to this process as I was/still am!)
From what I’ve gathered from reading authors’ blogs, books and online articles, a good idea can take anywhere from a couple of months to several years to develop into a finished novel. Some writers will discover they churn out novels rather quickly. Others like to take things a little slower. The fact that it’s so far taken me more or less four years does not daunt me. For me, it’s just a matter of putting in the necessary effort to finish my novel to my satisfaction.
How this will pan out if I ever become published, I’m unsure of. I imagine publishers have expectations with shorter deadlines than some four years, heh, but I’m keeping in mind that this is my first novel and I’ve been using this experience to learn how to write one in the first place. Writing the next should be a lot easier. Also, I’ve never written short stories before, so I didn’t have the knowledge that often comes through that process to help me learn more about storytelling before diving into a ginormous freakin’ novel.
Which is fine by me. I’m the tortoise in this race; I’ve already accepted this fact. But I will finish this novel, doggonnit! My subconscious mind will not let me rest until I do.
I know I’m not the only slow plotter in the world. J.R.R. Tolkien is notorious for taking a long time to complete his famous trilogy. In the extra content on the Inception DVD, Christopher Nolan said it took him about ten years to make his dream become a reality. Ten years. Granted, movies probably take a little longer to develop than some novels, but ten years is still a really long time for one idea. (Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to compare myself to these guys. I’m just saying: Some ideas take longer to come into fruition.)
Personally, I thought the concept and story behind Inception was brilliant. I still like to watch the movie over and over again. I listen to the soundtrack, too, like it’s my religion. Not for a moment did I lose interest in the storyline. And don’t even get me started on the cliffhanger ending–scandalous. What’s more, each character contributed something unique and important to the story and–added bonus–they were all exceptionally cool.
In my opinion, anyway.
Inspiration to Write a Novel
Reading other people’s novels can be a source of great inspiration, but I’ve also found that movies, television shows and music can do the same. Heck, anything can spark an idea for a novel. The difficulty lies in taking your initial idea and turning it into an actual story–because idea and story are not the same thing. Larry Brooks discusses this in an article he wrote on concept, and how that differs from premise and idea.
Getting an idea for a novel is just the beginning. Now you have to start making some plans to help you finish it.
Think you don’t need a plan to finish a novel? Think again. *hovering clouds of doom and lightning, followed by an evil cackle and roll of thunder*
How About You?
So now you know a little more about me and where I’m at in my experience of learning how to write a novel. Perhaps I’ll hear of yours? 😀 If you’re writing a story, be it a novel, a short story or anything in between, what is it about? Can you sum it up in around 25 or so words? (Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it looks.) Or how about stories that aren’t necessarily yours? Any favorites that you can sum up? What makes that story unique?