Coming Up With “Novel” Ideas

I am several years into the process of writing my first novel, and it’s a lot slower and more methodical than I planned. But it’s also much easier than I thought it would be, especially when the Muse grabs me by the back of the neck and hauls me merrily along a new plot pathway. I find myself making stories and sub-stories, tying details back together and intertwining plotlines, almost without being fully conscious of it.

Question: Where Do I Get My Ideas?

I haven’t let a lot of people read the novel right now, mainly because I don’t want it stolen from me and I don’t want to show many people an unfinished product. But the people who have read it ask me sometimes, “Where do you get the ideas for your novel? This is a really unique and interesting plot, and the characters are really cool!”

Answer: My Real Life (in Bits and Pieces)!

I know this will probably sound flippant, but it’s true: My real life and the people I’ve met fund the basis of my novel’s varying stories and characters.

For instance, when something absolutely silly or sad or awesome or tragic happens to me, I tend to remember it, and I find myself drawing on that later for plots or subplots. I also draw on old family stories, especially for funny character anecdotes or certain phrases that pop out of various characters’ mouths while I’m writing. This, I feel, is a way to honor my past and my present, as well as make my characters more human.

The Problem with Using Real Life as Inspiration

Of course, the big issue with drawing on one’s real life for inspiration is that you don’t want to make the setting, the events, or anybody’s character too recognizable–otherwise, you may end up like Thomas Wolfe, who wrote Look Homeward, Angel. That novel caused quite a stir in his hometown, and not just a positive stir, either. So much controversy arose because people recognized themselves in the novel that Wolfe was prompted to write a second novel, unsurprisingly entitled You Can’t Go Home Again. Sad.

How I Incorporate Real Life Into My Novel–Sneakily

Instead of porting in someone’s personality directly, I usually combine aspects of three or more people when I am crafting new characters. I may take the looks of one person, the stature of another, the attitude of a third, and maybe with the motivations of a fourth, and blend it up with some imagination to create the character I want. This creates a character in which I can still believe (and more easily visualize), but isn’t recognizable to any of the people unwittingly involved in his or her creation. Doing this forces me to be more detail-oriented and sharp-eyed when I form characters, which in turn makes me better at crafting settings and working the characters into planned plot events.

Also, for story events and plots, I rework real-life stories, rewriting certain parts to fit the characters involved, as well as changing names and rearranging details to make the story even better/more effective. After all, I don’t want someone close to me to recognize a real-life story in the middle of my novel! Plus, with the kind of novel I’m writing (Christian fantasy-based), it wouldn’t quite make sense to have a completely recognizable story sticking like a toothpick in the middle of a cake. (Not to mention that stringing a bunch of random anecdotes together would be a little too A.D.D. to be a novel, LOL!)

These tactics ensure that I’m writing a story that is relatable and understandable, while still being imaginative. After all, if writers aren’t inspired by real life, then what are their stories even based on? Real life is just too full of interest to let inspiration slip by. 🙂

Want to Learn More about My Novel?

Hope you enjoyed this itty-bitty window into my writing process, and if you want to keep up with how my novel is coming along, check out my Novel Progress page!

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