In my pursuit to write my first book, I’ve decided that it’ll be fiction. I had assumed this would be the case, but didn’t want to rule out creative nonfiction, poetry, or some other possible incarnation of wherever this is going. Somewhere in my head there is a story to tell…now it’s just a matter of choosing the right one!
They (well, the proverbial they) say that if you want to be a writer then write. I know that’s where I need to be, so choosing the right story to start penning is my first challenge. I’ll need your help!
Choosing the right novel idea for your book
I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I did some research on the old Google and consulted the blog-o-sphere for tips on choosing the right story.
Nathan Bransford, an author from Brooklyn, says to choose the idea that you hold above all others. Nathan also writes, “Committing to writing a book is kind of like getting married. You’re in it for the long haul. And if you want the marriage to last, it’s best to choose the one who makes you truly happy, the one who makes you a better person/writer, and the one who doesn’t mind how your jaw clicks when you chew.”
To be honest, this advice, while valid and certainly coming from someone with more literary accomplishments than myself, didn’t resonate with me. The story that I hold above all others is one too big for me to write in a year. It’s the story I want to write when I’ve made enough previous mistakes to get it right. To Nathan’s note about getting married, I agree it’s a long-term commitment, but I have this uncanny feeling that a decade from now, I’ll want a divorce for my first book.
I don’t intend this first book to be my last, so if we are truly to be wed, would I not be betraying my love when writing my second? Dramatic, sure, but let’s be clear – I don’t intend to be married to my first book. If writing is going poorly in a few months, I’m starting from scratch.
Focus on strong characters
I found another blog post by K.M. Weiland titled “7 Ways to Decide Which Story Idea You Should Write.” This was a very nice read, and I recommend it. Here are some key takeaways:
The list kicks off with “Look beyond the premise.” The argument is that a well-constructed premise isn’t enough. You need to know where the story is going, and who are the characters that will take it there. Later, point number 4, K.M. recommends you “look for characters with strong voices and interaction,” and reminds us that a great premise that lacks great characters is going nowhere fast.
I agree whole-heartedly that characters with strong voices and interactions are vital to the health of your story, but I do not think you need to know where it’s going. I can’t cite the source, so maybe I’m making this up, but I remember reading that Tom Robbins used to write his novels one word at a time, and rewrite each word until he got it right. Robbins just let the words dictate the story, and his characters led the way. Wish I could find that interview.
For this reason, I don’t care if I know where my premise is going if I feel the character interactions are strong enough to get somewhere. Even if they don’t get somewhere, consider the TV series Lost. The world may be disappointed with the ending (for the record, I loved it,) but mostly everyone was fascinated by the characters and their journey.
Make it readable
Another short post I read was How to Choose a Story to Write by Courtney Carpenter. In it, she lists get lots of ideas, look for the big idea, and write your back cover copy, as three ways to choose. I already have lots of ideas, and already mentioned that I’m not interested in my biggest idea. What I took away most from this blog post is the final point, write your back cover copy.
I’m not intentionally writing this book to be traditionally published. In fact, one of my favorite writers, Tom Perrotta, wrote his first novel at age 30, and it’s still unpublished. For that reason, I’m less interested in writing the back cover copy to excite publishers, and to make sure I have a “seller.” I want to write the cover copy to make sure you, the readers, would even be interested in picking this up. I can’t write just for me, because then only I would want to read it.
I also like this exercise because it doesn’t require you to know how it’ll all end. The author just needs enough to set the stage and introduce the character and conflict.
Help me choose
Back to Tom Perotta. In an interview, Tom was questioned where his stories came from, to which he said:
“I usually start with a situation or a setting. For months before I begin writing, I’ll think to myself, I’m going to write a novel about a wedding band or about young parents on the playground, or about a high school election. The characters come next, and the plot comes after that.”
I have those premises in my head, and to some extent the characters, and to an even lesser extent the plots. Here’s how I plan to share them with you.
First, thanks to all those who already signed up for my newsletter. I’m excited to send some updates along the way. On Thursday, I will send out a survey with four story ideas, and you will have the opportunity to anonymously vote on what story you think I should write. I’ll use this data to help choose. After that, it’s time to start writing!
Have you written a novel? What was your process for selecting a story? How did you know it was the right one? Please share in the comments.