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Sunday, October 1

Day One: Idea to Novel Workshop: Brainstorm Your Idea

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day One of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. The first twelve days will focus on developing the story and getting all the pieces in place so we can more easily plot the entire novel.

Today, we’re letting our creative brain run free.

Step One: Brainstorm Your Idea

Brainstorming is a great way to dig deeper into an idea and make sure it really does have the legs to carry an entire novel. Any idea that falls flat after a few minutes of brainstorming is one that probably would have you banging your head against the keyboard by chapter three. Since you won’t have time to rethink your idea in November, it’s better to hit those walls now while you still have time to adapt.

The goal of this brainstorming exercise is to generate enough information about your idea so the later exercises will be more effective. Let your creativity flow and generate as many potential directions for this idea as you can. Don’t try to confine anything at this point—write it all down even if it doesn’t seem to fit or work yet. Some details you’ll use, some will fall away, and others will spark even better ideas. This is only a jumping off point.

Consider how the following questions might apply to your idea. Write down as much as you’d like, and if you have several possible answers, go ahead and write them all down. You never know which details will work best together. No idea is off limits today.

1. Who wants what and why?

This will help you narrow down your protagonist(s) and core conflict of the novel.

2. Who would be against these goals and why?

This will help you determine who (or what) your antagonist is and where the conflict of the novel will come from.

3. Is there one major conflict or problem that needs solving?

This will help you determine how many conflicts might develop from this idea (good for both external and internal conflicts, character arcs, and subplots).

4. Where can huge failures occur (because that might just turn out to be what your protagonist is after)?

This will help you with potential key turning point scenes and moments where the tensions and stakes might be raised.

5. What situations would lend themselves well to the growth of a character?

This will help you determine what potential scenes or issues might also serve the character arc or internal growth of the character.

EXERCISE: Write Down Your Idea

After you’ve explored these questions, write out your idea. Don’t worry if it’s vague or unformed at this stage, the goal is to get it on paper so you can study it and determine if it has what it needs to become a novel. It’s also for you to keep track of that original spark of inspiration so you can refer to it later. It’s not uncommon to lose track of where you want the novel to go or what inspired you about your novel in the first place. Having it written down can remind you if you go off track later.

This is also to give you some direction so later exercises can be more focused and more productive.

The first step in developing a novel is having a clear idea on what you want to write about.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Two offers multiples tips and exercises on finding and developing an idea. Workshop Three goes into more extensive detail on developing your idea and choosing the best way to tell your story.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at developing our novel’s hook.

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

Paperback: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound  | Google Books | Books-A-Million | Chapters/!ndio

Ebook: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Overdrive | Kobo | Inktera | Chapters/!ndio

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 her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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  1. Excellent thoughts and tips. I'm looking forward to this course!

  2. Thank you! I am temporarily without internet right now, but I am going to library my heart out so I can get in on this course. Wonderful tips!

  3. Great tips. I just started writing my novel again after four years. I'll follow along when I can.

  4. This came at the right time. I am planning a new novel. TY so much.