Writing a Novel: The Big Idea

There is nothing more inspiring than the plush artificial grass of a model home.

I recently began work on a novel. It has been a while since I have written fiction, so I am happy to be flexing those muscles again. I thought it would be a good idea to share my process as I work on the novel, so that people can get an idea of what goes into it. For today, I thought I would start with my idea for the 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.

2 thoughts on “Writing a Novel: The Big Idea

  1. Pingback: Freelance Writing Jobs for May 21, 2010 : Freelance Writing Jobs for Web and Print| Part of the Freelance Writing Jobs Blog Network
  2. Excellent! I love how you describe your idea forming process. When you realize that everyday events and the entire world is but a giant box of ideas then writing becomes a journey rather than a drudgery.
    I came up with a story idea simply by driving home from work and wondering who cleared the debris off the highways and what sort of people they were.
    My story is still in a one page file I keep under story ideas … waiting to be unleashed, while I turn my focus on the revision of my current novel!
    Enjoy and I look forward to purchasing a copy for my kindle! ;0)

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