Readers only ever see the words of the novel. They have no insight into the planning process, how the story concept came about, or the number of ideas and subplots that may have been taken out of the novel or replaced. But when you sit down to write a novel, don’t make the mistake of thinking the only work required is that contained within the completed novel itself. Concept artist required to finish their work and passed it on the film director.
In fact, the process of writing a novel is far more complex. A novel has been likened to the roof of a building: while this finished product is an essential part of the entire construction, it would be worthless, and impossible to construct, without laying the foundation and building multiple support pillars first.
Brainstorming Your Unique Story Concept
The first essential pillar of any novel is a unique concept. This is the basis upon which everything else is built. Characters, plot, and themes will follow. But no concept, no novel.
The concept is the scenario that forms the foundation of your novel. It could be inspired by a real-life event, something that’s happened in the news, or perhaps a dream. It may even be an idea that pops into your head for no reason other than the fact you’re an original and creative thinker, curious about the world around you.
A story concept will often start out as a question, perhaps beginning with “What if…?” What if a natural disaster left the human race starving and close to extinction? What if two people fell in love, then discovered that they were siblings? What if everything we knew to be true was all lies invented by the government to control us all?
It’s important not to get this vital concept confused with a plot twist or the climactic moment of the novel. The concept is the foundation idea that runs throughout the entire story. Two things must always be true about a story concept: it has to be original, and it has to get the writer excited.
The downside of most story concept is that only a few of them take any real shape and become novels. Most writers go through many different concepts before they find one they can write an entire book about. Lasting story concepts only solidify when you look at a couple other important writing pillars.
Find Your Story’s Conflict
Novels form around a central conflict. This conflict doesn’t have to be a fight or a war. It can be a conflict of ideas, between characters or even just within the protagonist, who may have a tough decision to make. A novel about everyone being happy and getting along all the time would be incredibly dull. No one wants to read about an ordinary person’s ordinary day.
Set a Goal for Your Character
Every novel requires the protagonist to have a goal that appears impossible to reach. Think of your favorite novels of all time and identify the apparently unreachable goal at the center of the plot. This can be making a relationship work, fighting a deadly illness, surviving a war, or anything else in between. The goal at the center of The Lord Of the Rings trilogy, for example, is the destruction of the One Ring.
Identify Your Story’s Main Themes and Emotional Connection
The final of your story’s four central pillars is a theme that engages readers’ emotions. The best themes arise naturally out of the story’s conflict. While writing, always stay aware of your central themes, so you can use them in the best possible way to build an emotional connection with your readers.
No matter how killer your story concept may be, if the other story pillars are not there, you have to be willing to put the idea aside and move on. You’re a writer! You’re full of ideas! Don’t flog a dead horse, trying to force a novel out of an idea that isn’t going to work. Run your concept ideas through this simple ideas to identify which ideas are worth acting on and which aren’t.