As a writer, you must have tons of ideas. You probably think of dozens of new things you could use in your writing every day. How do you choose just one to start? What separates that idea from the rest of the things that floated into your brain?
This is one I was asked recently. It’s at the top of the writing FAQ:
- Q: When brainstorming ideas for your next book do you come up with multiple ideas? How do you choose the one to push forward with?
A: I pretty much always have a number of novel ideas to play with. I tend to talk about them with Scott and my agent, Jill, as well as my editor, Melanie, and a few writer friends. I’ve been talking about writing a book about a compulsive liar for ages. Whenever I mentioned it people would get very enthusiastic. I was too afraid to start though cause it seemed like it would be really hard to write (I was right) so I delayed until Scott and Jill and Melanie all ganged up on me. That book will be out in (the USian) autumn of 2009.
I guess I let people bully me!
Though honestly all the bullying in the world wouldn’t have gotten me going if I hadn’t finally figured out a way to write the Liar book. So I guess my real answer is that the book that begins to grow and make sense is the one I wind up writing.
But I realise I have a bit more to say on the subject. Namely that one idea isn’t enough for a novel. If you only have one idea then what you have is a haiku not a novel. (And that’s unfair to haikus.) I’ve had the idea for the liar novel since early 2005. I imagined a character who at the outset of her story declares that she’s a liar but that she’s not going to do it anymore. She’s turning over a new leaf. She then starts telling her story only to pause a couple of chapters later to say, “So I think I’m doing pretty well so far. But, um, you know how I said that I’m eighteen? Well, actually, I’m fourteen, which is practically eighteen so it’s not that big of a lie.” And so on and so forth.
Except that she didn’t have a story. I needed more than my unreliable compulsive liar protag; I needed a reason for her to lie. I wasn’t able to start writing in late 2007—almost three years after the initial idea—until I had that second idea. And I wasn’t able to keep writing the novel until I had a bunch more ideas.
A novel requires more than one idea.
NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.