Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

This post is the third in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Last week, I wrote about three areas you need to develop before you start writing your novel. Then I began thinking about it. This is a series for people starting out in writing. Perhaps you don’t have a story idea, or perhaps you have one but can’t determine if it is good enough or has sufficient conflict to last over the length of a novel.

Now, I don’t typically write short stories, and I don’t write novellas. (Check out word lengths for different stories here.) I write novels that are over 80,000 words. That means there needs to be quite a bit of a story to make it carry through all those pages. You can certainly brainstorm other ideas for things to happen in your novel, but you don’t want to fill the story with “fluff” just to meet a certain number of words. Every scene in your story needs to advance the plot.

Where to get story ideas

There are many ways to get ideas for a story. I am only going to focus on two of them here. (You can use Google to find more if you need them.)

You can save time on researching and planning if Write What You Know. This does not mean that you need to write about YOUR life. It simply means take things you are familiar with and use these as a springboard into your story.

Use your fear of snakes and how it makes you feel as inspiration for a novel. Or if you grew up on a farm, it will be easy for you to write a story set on a farm or ranch.

There is a level of authenticity that outsiders just can’t match. Someone who has lived in the mountains and braved a cold winter, someone who has done archery or competed in a beauty pageant will be able to bring a little extra realism to their work than someone who only did research.

Writing what you know can mean putting it into a different world or a different time. I am not saying to write about your life. I am talking about taking your experiences, your fears, your dreams, and your knowledge – whether it be of a location, a hobby or a profession – and put those things into your story.

So what do you do if you don’t have a story idea at all? Brainstorm!

While many authors have so many ideas bouncing around in their heads, newbies (and even a few veteran authors) may need help deciding on a story idea. Check out my blog on 9 ways to brainstorm story ideas.

Making Sure Your Story Ideas is Sound

Once you have your story idea, you need to make it is good enough to be made into a full-length novel. But there is no easy test to see if your story idea has what it takes. You can look at the plot and the main characters and still not know. Sometimes you just have to start writing to see what you have.

But here are two suggestions that might help you decide before you write.

Method #1 –

One solution is to write out a basic plot outline (even if you aren’t an outline type of person). Consider subplots that can be interwoven into the story and add those to your outline. As you do this, look for holes in your story. Keep asking yourself why – why is this happening, why is this character doing this or that? As you answer these questions and fill in the holes of your story, you will be able to see if you can develop a strong story or if your story plot just isn’t strong enough.

Method #2 –

Another easy way to have a strong story is to develop a good protagonist. Do they have a past? What drives them to act in your story? The more details and depth you have to your protagonist, the better. A good character can make a story. Of course, a good, well developed antagonist is equally important. Remember people don’t stand in your way for no reason and hardly ever is anyone just born evil. There is a reason for what they do even if it is rational only in their mind.

Now let’s say you come up with an idea, but you are thinking your plot sounds familiar. Some people say that there are no new stories. That everything that comes out is just a rehashed version of other stories, and if you look at the movie industry with all of its “remakes” of older movies it would be easy to conclude this is true.

In many stories, the originality doesn’t come for the actual story but from the tone of the story or the characters involved. If you can create unique characters, an “old” story line can be brought to new life.

For more on originality – check out my post “Can your story idea be original?

So hopefully, you have a story idea in mind. Now it is time to start doing a little planning before you write. And next week, I will start with covering the first item on my “Three areas to develop before starting to write your novel” – characters.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

Getting into an exercise routine

I have written numerous times about trying to lose weight by counting calories. (Check out those posts here, herehere and here.) And it does work. Each time I have watched what I ate and counted my calories, I have lost weight. The problem comes when I reach my desired weight and stop counting. I slowly go back to my bad habits of eating when I am not hungry or eating whatever I want rather than making smart choices.

So as you can imagine, I weighed myself earlier this summer and realized I am at a weight I would rather not be. I would love to lose 5 lbs or better yet 10. Sigh. I think many women always feel that way. And while I know counting calories works, I just wasn’t ready to do that again since we were about to go on vacation, which means more eating out.

Instead, I decided to start watching what I ate (but not going so far as to drastically cut the calories) and concentrating on eating only when hungry and not when I had a craving for something sweet (or salty or whatever.) I also decided it was time to start exercising.

I used to not really worry about working out because I walked a lot. I would walk the kids to and from school EVERY day in my heeled sandals. But for some reason – laziness, the fact it is so hot here in Texas, or the kids just liked when I drove to pick them up – I stopped walking as much. I use to walk any time I needed to go to the school for meetings or the PTA, and suddenly I seem to be driving to the school all the time rather than walking.

So my plan was to start exercising more at home. Now I don’t like running and find walking boring – plus like I said I live in Texas, and it is HOT (104 degrees this past weekend). Heck, I really don’t enjoy exercising at all. I don’t get that rush of endorphins that some people talk about after their workout. Anyway, I have some DVDs with 10-minute workouts that I use to do so I thought I would start with that.

The problem with exercising is that in the past, I have never stuck with it for long. I would usually start off the New Year with plans to exercise, but then I would end up getting sick and get out of the routine. Or life just got busy and exercising wasn’t a top priority. Heck, I can’t even make writing a top priority, and I love that.

So in July, I made two changes. I made both exercise and writing top priorities. Instead of putting off writing until I have time, I have been doing it first. I have set a minimum I want to do and have been pretty good about following through. I have not only finished my first draft of my latest novel I am well into draft two because of my dedication. (Of course, course my PTA responsibilities pick up this month, so we will see if I can keep this up.)

The other change was to start doing 20-minute workouts three days a week (Monday, Wednesday & Friday). My husband also purchased a stationary bike with the hopes that we both would use it. I have been trying to use it three times a week and using it if I don’t get to my DVD workout. It is pretty easy to use while watching TV.

I must say I have been doing pretty well with this new exercise routine. Of course like my writing goal, I have to see if I can maintain this routine when PTA responsibilities pickup.

Now has this exercise plan helped at all with weight loss? Not so far. I know I need to get better at watching what I eat, but it is hard during the summer when the kids and I are out and about. Maybe after school starts and I get i a school-time routine, I will add counting calories back into my life. Until then, I will just keep exercising and writing.

Today’s Featured Author – Danyelle Scroggins

Today I welcome author Danyelle Scroggins to my blog. She is currently on a book tour promoting her book, Put it in Ink, which came out last year.

Interview

Please tell the readers who are the main characters?

Put It In Ink is definitely the story that shines a light on Nikiya Barnett a top of the line salon owner and Raja Abrams (businessman). These two were once madly in love with one another until things drastically changed.

Sappora Ink the new talk show host of a syndicated blog talk show (owned by Raja) is a woman with a plan and enough wisdom and knowledge to make the world pay attention. She skillfully sheds light on some situations that causes the women in Salon Select to pay attention.

Monica Abrams is Raja’s wife who has some undercover things going on outside of her marriage.

Michelle and Leslie are both co-workers of Nikiya who are more like sisters. They help in every way they can, even as they experience their own situations in life.

What or is there conflict in the story?

No one could have never imagined that Nikiya and Raja would not be married, and to one another. Just when their storybook romance was blossoming into something great and worth lasting a lifetime, something happens.

Getting over heartache is one of the hardest things but both Nikiya and Leslie lean on one another and God steps in as they learn to trust Him.

Take us inside “your book.” What are two major events taking place?

Raja is caught in a compromising situation that changes the course of not only his life but Nikiya’s life.

Which characters are most like you?

I am a whole lot like Nikiya and she is actually me in my twenties.

Are your characters from the portrayal of real people?

My characters are fiction characters but they are based upon the reality of Christian living.

Describe each character in three words?

Nikiya- Saved, Considerate, Lonely

Raja- Wise, Sad, Productive

Monica- Selfish, Sneaky, Liar

Sappora Ink- Wise, Saved, Knowledgeable

Michelle- Witty, Understanding, Loveable

Leslie- Nosey, Funny, Secretive

If your book became a movie who would play the characters?

Nikiya- Sanaa Lathan

Raja- Lamman Rucker

Monica- Gabrielle Union

Sappora Ink- Debbie Allen

Michelle- Regina Hall

Leslie- Queen Latifah

Your lead characters have “baggage” that keeps them from wanting to pursue a new relationship. Do you think sometimes we let our past get in the way of what God has planned for our futures?

Not sometimes but all the time. We often allow our past baggage to get in the way of our future (what God has in store for us) trying to prevent what has happened in our past. We will never fully move on from the past until we forgive the people that we feel caused the things that has happen and we accept our problems as our process (the avenues to our purpose).

How do you see yourself in your character’s story, if at all?

Nikiya is a lot like me because I experienced the same type of heartbreak with someone whom I just knew I would marry. Like her, I poured all of my energy into something greater and I expected God to move. I wanted to be sure that when God did move, I would know that it so I prayed for discernment.

Book Blurb

Nikiya Barnett aka Nikki, is still secretly suffering in silence concerning losing the love of her life, Raja Abrams. She desires total healing from God, but somehow seems to be stuck in her heart and mind. She alongside her two best friends who happens to be her coworkers, are trying to make Salon Select the new ‘it’ spot but this does not happen until they invite God in, by way of Sappora Ink.

Sappora Ink is the new blog talk show host with a show entitled, RFRT~Real Folks, Real Truths. Sister Ink is a straight to the point, raw, doctrinaire Christian girl trying to help her friends in this sinful world. She is changing the world one show at a time, and taking Shreveport by storm with the help of Nikiya Barnett, the owner of Salon Select, who has opened her salon as a hosting spot. Little does Nikki know, Sappora is closer to Raja than she thinks?

Raja is stuck in a world wind of adversity that he seems to have created for himself. Through R.A.B.~ Raja Abrams Broadcasting, he is trying to secretly for Nikiya and Raja, or is the plan that has been laid before them all a part of God’s plan?make Nikki aware that their time together was not a waste, but will his method be the same method used to change his life forever?

Things happen when we choose to let God in. Whether we appreciate His ways or not, we must remember, His ways are not our ways. Will life change for the better?

About the Author

Pastor/ Author Danyelle is the Senior Pastor of New Vessels Ministries North in Shreveport, Louisiana. She studied Theology at Louisiana Baptist University, has a Psychology Degree from the University of Phoenix, an Interdisciplinary Degree in Psychology /Biblical Studies from Liberty University, and is presently working on a Master’s in Religious Education from the Liberty University. Pastor Danyelle owns Divinely Sown Publishing LLC and is the author of “His Mistress or God’s Daughter, Not Too Far Gone, Destiny’s Decision, Evonta’s Revenge, & The Power Series: Pain, Restoration, Love, & Forgiving”. She is the wife of Pastor Reynard Scroggins, the mother of three by birth and two by marriage.

You can find out more about Danyelle on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

You can purchase Put it in Ink on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

This post is the second in a series about writing a novel. Check out post one about writing myths here

You have made the decision to write a novel. Maybe you have a character or plot in mind. Maybe you have nothing but the desire to be a writer. Either way, you are determined to write a novel. So where do you begin?

Some people just being writing. They let their ideas and thought flow freely. Their thought is just to get that vague story in their head down on paper. Or maybe they just want to let their characters dictate the story. And this certainly is one method to writing a novel. But it is going to cause you hours of editing and cutting out of scenes that don’t actually add to your story.

Before you begin writing you need a direction. Your characters need a direction.

Without a goal in mind, your plot becomes just a haphazard collection of events with no meaning or purpose which will leave your reader wondering “What is the point of that story?”

So before you begin penning your novel, before you even write one word, I suggest you consider thinking about these three topics at a minimum.

Characters

Do not just give your characters a name and start writing. You need to know them better than that. You need to know their history, their personality quirks. You need to know what motivates them. So get to know more than their physical characteristics and know what they want and why. Knowing these things is the key to bringing your characters to life and making your reader believe they are real. A well-developed character can save a story just as a poorly developed one can ruin a story.

Now this planning is a must for your main characters but you don’t need to spend a lot of time developing minor/supporting characters and you don’t need to spend really any time on characters who are just in the background with either very few lines or none at all.

Setting

You need to know where your story will take place. And by this, I mean you need to know more than just a general idea but you need to know the specifics.

I find that it helps to have a map of the area. (If you are creating your own town or world then you will have to draw up a rough map so you can keep track of where stores, places of employment and homes are located.) You also want to know how long it takes to get from one location to the other. This is particularly important if you are writing about a real world location. (New Yorkers will be shaking their heads in disbelief if you have your character crossing the city in a short time when they know it takes much longer.)

Having this information will keep things consistent in your novel. (It shouldn’t take your character five minutes to get home from the store one time and half an hour the next – unless you are going to blame traffic or an accident.)

If you are setting your story in the past, you will need to research the location as well as customs and styles of that time.

If your story is set in a fictional world, you will have to take time developing things like technology, religion and a whole other bunch of things.

It is knowledge of all these details, whether they make it into your story or not, that will allow you to bring the reader into your character’s world.

Plot/Conflict

Without a plot, you just have characters meandering around. You need to have something that these characters are doing and more importantly, you need conflict. This is what drives your story. If everything was easy, no one would want to read about your characters going through their daily routines. Your characters need to overcome some obstacle. (We will cover conflict later but if you want to know more now, check out my post on the five types of conflict.)

You need to consider whether your plot ideas can last through the length of your novel. Not every idea will be worthy of a full-length novel or even a short story. If you are writing a full-length novel that is 70,000 to 100,000 words (or even more). If you are writing a short story or a novella, you are looking at 10,000 to 40,000 words. (Rough estimates – if you want to know more about the differences, click here.)

All of this may seem like a lot of work. And it can be a daunting task to do all this planning but knowing these things before you begin writing will certainly cut back on the amount of rewriting you will have to do when you get to your second, third and fourth drafts. It is the planning – the laying down of a foundation – that will give you the best chance to writing a publishable novel.

Over the next few weeks we will look closer at these three areas of planning and then cover whether you want to outline your novel or just begin writing. But first, let’s make sure you have a sound story idea before you get working on it. Tune in next week for more on that topic.

WANTED – Authors for Featured Author Spot

wantedNOW Looking for August, September & October! 

Are you an author looking for some additional publicity for your latest book?

I host guest authors every Friday – any genre, both traditionally and self-published. In the past 5 years, I have hosted 288 authors on my site!

The Featured Author post can take one of three formats: author interview, book excerpt or a guest post on any aspect of writing, publishing, or book marketing.

Sign up is on a first-come-first-served basis, though I do have a few Tuesday openings to accommodate special requests for dates related book tours, book releases or cover reveals. (Click the Featured Authors link on the left to check out past authors.)

If you are interested, send me a message along with any date requests, and we’ll take it from there.