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How To Develop Your Story Idea Into a Novel (even if you get stuck)

Got an idea for your novel, but not sure where to take it?

I've got the solution for you!

Well...a few. More like a few tips, but yeah...

Watch this video! Do it now!

I had a few folks (you know who you are) ask me to go in depth on how to develop your budding story-line, and I can't believe it hasn't occurred to me to do this post already. I've got a huge list of video ideas and somehow this one wasn't on there.

In my outlining video, I said the first step is to word-vomit your novel ideas into a document. But what if you don't have very many ideas for your story, or you're stuck with what else to do with it?

Here are those missing pieces to that step in my outlining video!

Say this wonderful story idea pops into your mind and it makes you super excited. You jot down a few quick things and then that's it. Your engine sputters and you don't know where else to go.

This initial phase doesn't have to be too in-depth, so it's okay if you only have a handful of bullet points - there's plenty of opportunity to develop it further. Likely, it's something you'll be doing in the coming months or maybe even years.

But my tip for this is not to get discouraged. There are so many of us out there that have an idea for a novel, but we all get stuck on thinking our story is silly or it's not good enough. Don't fall into that trap. Every novel started out as one simple plot line and grew into a beauty of a world (hello Lord of the Rings).

Does it take time? Yes, and that's usually why writing an entire novel is so impressive. But nothing will happen if you don't take the time everyday to do something related to your story idea.

In other words, a seed won't grow into a flower unless you water it. Your novel idea is worthy of your effort and I'm convinced that any story can be made into a great one.

How do you go about making it great?

Once you've got your initial brainstorming down, think about all the different elements that go into a story. It's not just that one plot line beat to death for 300 pages. There's diverse characters, action, drama, tension, emotion.

This is the very next thing I think about when brainstorming, and some authors call this the "what if" stage. What if your character has a deadbeat dad who shows up randomly at your character's low point? What if the witches in your story are secretly rebelling against the Supreme witch, whom your main character is loyal to?

Don't be afraid to branch out and write down some things that might be crazy. Usually you'll end up throwing some of these ideas out, but others you'll end up keeping and loving!

For those of you that don't know, I'm an engineer. One of the big things I learned in Engineering school is that you don't hold back in the brainstorming phase. If you're in a team, everyone blurts out all possibilities and writes them down. No one argues why one would be stupid or why another would be awesome. Each person brainstorms until the entire team is satisfied.

Then you analyze each one. Why? Because even if one of your ideas isn't right, it could spark the correct answer in another person or even yourself. Someone could have a part of the correct answer but if they're fearful of being judged, they might not ever say it.

Worried some of your ideas might seem planted only to create a hurdle for your character? You can get around this by introducing the problem before it actually becomes a hurdle. The deadbeat dad example above? Introduce that backstory early in the novel and it'll seem like a genuine issue when it comes up again. Don't just have him show up out of nowhere! (Hint: you do the same as far as magic is concerned in fantasy novels...don't suddenly make your character capable of blowing peoples heads up to get out of a bad situation. Your readers will think it's a cop out!)

This takes a long, long time because you're passively developing your novel. I do this all the time, no matter what stage of my writing I'm in. Force yourself to put your novel on the back burner while you go about your day. Then keep a look out for material you can re-imagine in your novel.

See a funny person that sparks a comedian role in your novel? Use it!

While watching a movie, you might like the tension that a sibling rivalry gone deadly brings. Use it!

Keep a look out for things that pull on your heart-strings or get you angry. Those are things you want your readers to feel, so think about how you can recreate that for your story.

I have these ah-ha moments maybe once a week, so it's not that often. But when you have one, boy is it a BIG ah-ha moment. I'm usually incoherent for a minute or two while I write my idea down. Yes, this can be embarrassing when you're at a nice dinner and suddenly can't say anything intelligible (Oh...I...Yeah, and then what if...) while you're scrambling for your phone to jot it down.

That's okay, we're creative people! It's normal for us to be weird, so just embrace it!

This tip is not about stealing ideas, though. Don't make your antagonist's name Woldemort and have him love snakes and killing innocent people. Using the general idea of something will keep you from getting too close to the source you're taking inspiration from. Like Harry Potter? Keep the magic, but don't keep the particulars (quidditch, muggles, etc).

It's illegal to steal peoples ideas and none of your readers will like you for it. Trust me, they'll be the first to throw you under the plagiarism bus.

Note: this hint applies more to fantasy novels or science fiction novels.

One of the reasons readers love books/movies like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and any superhero movie comes down to two main things: characters and development of the world.

Because that's what these novels are: they're worlds. They each have very intricate lines, filled with things that don't necessarily affect the story line.

Is it important that Thor comes from a shiny city? No, but it paints the fine details of your story.

What about the fact that hobbits eat all day? No, it's just something unique and quirky that people will find interesting.

All of these things are normal and every day for the character, so it makes it more believable for the reader. Explain these elements of your story!

The Elysian Prophecy has an Island where new recruits go for training. Am I going to leave it at that? Nope! I've gone into what foods they eat, the futuristic technology they have, their library system, where the young kids go to hang out, their curriculum, what everything looks like, how their magic works. Not all of these things will be important in your novel, but they could definitely come up later if you decide to do a series.

This last bit is super-ultra-mega important and should never be skipped. Sure, your plot line is important, but how your characters respond to that plot is equally important.

What if Malfoy was the one that survived Voldemort as a baby? It's the same plot point so shouldn't the story be the same? Uhh, no. Why? Because Malfoy is obviously nothing like Harry.

I'm all about stopping my story-line plotting in lieu of character development. Once I get through the main chunky ideas, I'll switch to focusing on the people that will affect and be affected by the story line.

Back to the deadbeat dad example: what if he finds himself on a jury for a trial about a father abusing his son? He would react understandably different from the jury woman to his right, who had a perfect childhood. (I mean, I would hope they would both see the wrong in it but you get my point)

To get readers to connect with your novel, they need to connect with your characters. Making them diverse and intricate people emulates what we see in reality and allows the reader to believe in your protagonist.

Sure, there are main character types that most novels have: the mentor, the comedian, the best friend, the British villain (shout out to Deadpool). But their backstories are different, hence their reactions are different. So don't just peg one of your characters as the villain and be done with it. What made them evil? What horrible event took away their compassion? Plus, I mean, who doesn't like developing their villain? It's kind of the most fun.

I hope this was helpful in some way to those that wanted elaboration! The brainstorming and developing stages can be the best part of getting your novel all the way to publication if you let yourself be creative with it!

A lot of times, one specific idea will ring out ahead of all the rest and dictate where your novel goes from there. Let these ideas come, no matter how silly they may seem.

Remember, don't make this stage such a serious thing because, really, it's your world.

What do you want to see in it?

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