Developing an idea into a novel

What’s the Big Idea?

The Big Idea is the initial spark for the novel. For me the spark was based on a situation and a character. I live in a relatively new subdivision almost twenty miles outside of Tucson, Arizona. When my wife and I bought our house, we initially toured the model homes. There were thirteen model homes in all, occupying a gently curved street. As we visited the homes I was struck by the thought of a single small neighborhood in the middle of nowhere. With the collapsing real estate market, it seemed plausible that a company could spend the money to build a neighborhood of model homes, but then go bankrupt before it could begin building the rest of the community. Eventually the bank would have to sell off the houses in order to recoup some of the investment.

I also began thinking about the sort of people who would end up in such a neighborhood. While the prices would be rock bottom, the location would have some appeal but a lot of downside. People in the neighborhood would be isolated to a certain extent. One of the characters I found interesting would be a man in his late thirties or early forties who wanted to abandon most of his old life and make a change. He would be moving forward after a divorce, a job loss, and the death of someone close to him. He would essentially have become a bit of a hermit, but life in this neighborhood helps to open things up for him.

From there I began to fill out the neighborhood. Thoughts included a large family, a group home for the seriously mentally ill, a hospice, a police officer, a professional couple and someone who would essentially be a love interest for the main character. I considered the man’s family and decided to include several older sisters with whom he has a strained relationship. This somewhat reflects my own family situation, although I also have a brother. Finally, I thought about his ex-wife and his friends. I decided that the house would help bring some of these people back into his life.

Developing Your Own Ideas

You can approach a new story idea from many directions. Mine was based on situation and character. This is a good place to start, but it leaves me somewhat short on plot. My idea has characters and a situation, but no clear destination. It isn’t my goal to write a thriller or a mystery that is plot centered, but there needs to be conflict and action for the novel to have any point. I also need to flesh out the main characters. I’ll discuss this in my future posts. Meanwhile, here are some things that have generated ideas for me in the past.

  • Newspaper Articles. I especially enjoy tabloid articles and you can’t beat the Weekly World News for that. You have to love any newspaper web site with a mutants section.
  • People. Some people are just more interesting than others. I like to combine the traits of two or more different people so that my inspiration doesn’t become imitation.
  • Places. I have often had ideas based on specific locations and travel in general.
  • Activities. It can be good to build a plot along a specific activity such as a tournament, a trial or a project. The nice thing about this is that the beats of your plot become clear when you have events that must happen in order to move forward.
  • Events. Much like activities, events some with their own ways to move a plot forward. That’s one reason why you see so many movies that revolve around holidays. They always come with places to go to and things to do.

Don’t include any word with a single “A” in it, but do include at least one word with two “A”s in it

All Good Things

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
Groucho Marx

I want to thank everyone who has participated in this project. The Facebook group has been phenomenally active, and a lot of great poetry got written. I definitely want to do this again sometime, if I can manage 30 or so more posts about poetry.

The people who have chosen to write their poems and to comment on the poems of others have demonstrated my final lesson, the value of collaboration. Working with other poets is a good thing. Creating a community is a good thing. As I said, this would have been a much more difficult and longer month without the contributions of others. Reading other poet’s work has been invigorating. Reading other poet’s comments has been instructive. Having an audience of peers to discuss poetry with has helped me improve as a poet, and I hope it has helped others.

If you have the chance to work with, or just make friends with other poets. Take that chance. They will help keep your focus on poetry and on writing, which over the long haul can be more valuable than any criticism or praise.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

I feel like ending with something technical but random. Don’t include any word with a single “A” in it, but do include at least one word with two “A”s in it.

Four Ways to Publish Your Poetry

There are four general options for publishing a collection of poetry:

  1. Web Publishing
  2. Subsidized Publishing
  3. Self Publishing
  4. Traditional Publishing

Each method has its own shortcomings and benefits. For example, web publishing is the least pricey and has the lowest reputation, but surprisingly it is capable or reaching a much wider audience than most other methods. My site, such as it is, reaches over 30,000 unique visitors a month.

Option 1: Web Publishing

Web publishing is, quite simply, setting up web pages to display your work. This is an easy process, even for someone with limited knowledge of web page creation. You can make use of a service such as (free) to create your own site and you simply need to paste in your poems. It is hardly more work than e-mailing.

Because web sites are inexpensive and easy to create, there are many people out there doing it. This means that it carries less prestige than any of the other methods, yet web pages are easier to promote than books and because they are free, will often attract more readers than a book if you do a little marketing and publicity work.

Option 2: Subsidized Publishing

Subsidized publishing is when you pay someone to publish a book for you. There are many options of varying expense. Print-on-demand services are the cheapest, and has been gaining in reputation among those services lately. and are two other established services. Print-on-demand publishers only print books when they are ordered. This means that you do not have to pay for a set run of books and therefore have little (sometimes no) upfront fees.

The downside of these services is that there is often very little variation in the printing process. In other words, you have limited control over how the book looks. You may also have to create the formatting for the book on your own, which many people do not know how to do. If you can’t do it, you’ll have to pay someone who can. This publishing segment is still relatively new (only five years old by my count) and much like the Internet, you have to be careful to make sure what a service offers is what they provide.

A more expensive, more established option is to go with a subsidized publishing company that will work with you individually to tailor the book to your vision. The publisher will then print a run of books (100 is usually the bare minimum and 1000 will generally get you a reasonable price-per-book). You pay upfront for the books and you sell them on your own through advertising, readings and whatever other means you can come up with. A new, inexpensive option is to go with a print-on-demand publisher such as

The benefit of subsidized publishing is that you get an actual book that you can hold, show and even sell. It doesn’t quite have the prestige of traditional publishing, but people do respect almost any book more than a web page.

Option 3: Self Publishing

Self publishing is a challenge. It means taking charge of every aspect of the publishing process from formatting the book to obtaining the ISBN number to printing the book to marketing the book. It is not a simple process, but it is a rewarding one. Every part of the process can be done by an individual working out their own home with the right equipment (computer, printer, desktop publishing program, telephone, personal resolve). On the other hand, any part of the process can be hired out, from designing the book to printing the book to hiring a publicist.

Many poets start with a chapbook. The definition of a chapbook is that it is stapled (like a magazine) rather than bound. Because of this, chapbooks are relatively easy to produce on a printer or through a copy shop. They aren’t quite as attractive as bound books and most book stores will not carry them because you can’t read the name on the binding, which is how book store patrons generally find books. You can, however, sell these books through Amazon or other online outlets as long as you have an ISBN number.

Option 4: Traditional Publishing

The “traditional” publishing world (in which the publisher assumes all expense and sometimes even pays the poet) is a tough nut to crack. Major publishers do not publish books of poetry, except when they see a clear profit in the activity or they are appeasing an otherwise profitable writer. This leaves most poetry publishing to university presses and other small presses. There are virtually no agents who work with poets and small presses. Most of these publishers struggle to break even, much less turn a profit. Because of this, small presses often exist to publish works or poets that the publisher loves, not just likes or appreciates, loves. Often, the publisher knows the poet on a personal basis or has discovered them through journals or recommendations from other poets. That is why it is important to become active in the poetry world. If you are sending your poetry to these publishers without getting to know who the publishers are and what they like, your chances of finding the right publisher for you are slim.

The best way to become a published poet through the traditional route is to become a part of the poetry community. How do you do that?

  1. Buy books of poetry, especially books by current writers working in the field.
  2. Subscribe to poetry journals.
  3. Go to poetry readings. Check your local arts publications. Almost any sizable town has readings every week or every other week. This is a great opportunity to meet poets and people who care about poetry.
    When you go to readings, donate money and buy books if you can. Support the community you belong to.
    Host a poetry event or organize a reading. This is a way or recognizing the poets you enjoy and a way of promoting yourself in the community.
  4. Publish your own poetry journal. Even a web page or a few sheets of paper stapled together gets the word out.
  5. Form a poetry circle or group. If you want to swap poetry and criticism with your peers, form your own group. Many local arts publications let you list your group for free.

Write a poem about completing something

We are near the end of our 31 days. Tomorrow will be the final post. Many of the people I have talked to over the course of this project have planned to turn their 31 poems into a book, or at least use the poems toward a book. I am very hopeful that this happens, and I hope people drop me a line and let me know if they publish any of their poems. One of the great joys and terrors, is the completion of a long project. it is wonderful to sense that accomplishment, and also a little terrifying to lose a purpose you have stuck to for a long time. My advice is to think about what is next.  What do you want to do now?

You can publish, you can keep writing poetry, you can work on that novel. You can get on with your life. You can go watch TV. The possibilities are endless. I plan to get moving on National Novel Writing Month. What about you?


Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem about completing something.

Write the final line of your poem first, then figure out a way to get there

Six Quick Tips

We are almost to the end of our 31 day journey through the world of poetry. I still have several poems left to write and I am determined to do it, so I am not going to delve too deep tonight. Instead I am going to leave you with six quick tips to take forward with you.

  1. Nobody said writing poetry was easy. If they did, they probably weren’t very good at it. Accept the challenge. Embrace the challenge.
  2. Set aside time at least once a week to write poetry. It is easy to get out of the habit. I know.
  3. Poetry is therapeutic. Poetry can be a great way of dealing with anger or sadness. It is good to write your way through something, whether the poem itself is good or not.
  4. Buy at least one book of poetry a month. Try to support new poets and don’t be afraid to try someone you don’t like at first. You CAN learn from poets you don’t like.
  5. Look for ways to do something unexpected in your poetry. It is good sometimes to take a poem someplace that the reader did not see coming.
  6. Sometimes when you are stuck for something to write, it is because you are not doing enough things that are worth writing about. Take the time to live and embrace life, otherwise you may well run out of material.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write the final line of your poem first, then figure out a way to get there.