From Fiction University: I'm currently taking a blogging/writing break during the month of September to deal with family health issues. There will be no new posts until October. But please feel free to read through the archives for posts you might have missed. Thank you for your patience during this difficult time.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Starting a Novel? Let Your Idea Simmer

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Story ideas tend to simmer in my brain awhile before I turn them into a novel. I like to think about them, brainstorm them, discuss them with writer pals and my husband, and play with them to see the different facets.

I usually do this as I’m working on another project that’s past the fun, creative stage and well into the hard work stage, such as revision. It’s a way to flex my creative muscles while my analytical muscles are doing the really heavy lifting (and get a jump start on the next book).

What I like about this brain simmer, is that nothing is set in stone yet. I can take an idea in one direction, run with it for a while to see where it leads, and if I don’t like that route, change course and try again.

The idea remains, but what I could do with it changes.

I’ve started off with a cool idea for a young adult fantasy novel that ended up being much better suited to adult paranormal suspense.

I’ve brainstormed adult stories that wound up as great middle grade novels.

I’ve plotted fun, lighthearted adventure tales that worked so much better as dramas.

I’ve even taken title options for one series and turned them into novel ideas for another series (in a completely different genre and market no less).

First thoughts aren’t always the best, and letting an idea simmer is a useful way to see what other options that idea might have. We have the freedom to explore it without a plot or outline restricting our creativity, or directing us down a predetermined path.

Pantsers probably enjoy this all the time, but I think it’s especially good for us outliners and plotters. Once we decide on a course, we tend to stick to our maps and keep our stories nice and tight. We have an outline, and we’re going to follow it!

But a brain simmer needs no outline.

It just wanders around the landscapes of our imaginations until it finds a place to settle down.

And then we can fence it in and write it.

How long do you think about a story before you write it? 

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my bestselling Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  
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  1. It's certainly true for writers with discipline, or rather, a pretty good focus, but for people like me who tend to run in circles not knowing when or where to start, it's better to just get started whenever the fire is burning!
    Hopefully one day I'll have enough focus to follow this advice. I'll let you know =D

    1. If your process works differently, then run with what works :) I can easily see this being something pantsers do naturally.

  2. So far, I've been lucky enough that the next idea strikes me before I'm finished with a WIP. I've had one simmering for months while I polished another novel. One advantage of doing that is I realized that my idea had enough to it that it should be a trilogy, and my original climax wouldn't take place in the first novel. I also had plenty of time to get a beat sheet done, and now I'm just beginning to fill in the outline.

  3. I'm mostly an ouliner, but I too like to percolate an idea for days or weeks first. The problem I've seen with some writers is they percolate...and percolate...and percolate as a way to procrastinate the real work of writing it.

    1. True, that is the downside. There are those who like the idea of being a writer without actually writing.

  4. Editing the current WIP, on chapter 4 in the next, outlining the one after that.

    1. Wow, you have quite the assembly line going. I love it!

  5. I've learned to outline, but stories percolate for months before they're complete enough to let out of the barn :-)

  6. I have something like that going on too. I'm currently working on my first contemporary fiction. But a fantasy fictional character keeps coming to mind for a moment or two. It finally stayed long enough for me to have a good at it. It's a dragon. Wicked looking with all that weaponry, but a friendly one. Still no clue about it's story. No amount of plotting is helping right now, because there's not enough to plot. May God help me.

    1. Keep taking notes :) I have a few ideas like that myself. I know they'll be fun books once I figure out a plot, but it's a long time coming. We'll both get there!

  7. While writing one story other ideas intrude for another story. I have to write out these ideas somewhere and sometimes I find myself working on more than one story at a time. I read somewhere that it is not helpful, that one should work at one story at a time. What are your ideas?

    1. It's up to the writer. Some can work on multiple books with no problem, others need to focus on one at a time.

      I usually have one I'm writing, and I make notes on others as the ideas hit me. Sometimes I'm writing one and revising another.

      The risk of working on multiple books at once is that they can pull you in so many different directions you can't get anything done. You can also forget which book is which and mix up storylines.

      If you can work on more than one book at a time and be productive, do it. No rules against it. But if you find it hurts your productivity, you're better off doing one at a time.