Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Writing Question

For all of my fellow writers out there - and anyone else who'd like to chime in - I have a question regarding the initial germ of a novel idea.

Let's say you have an idea. Maybe it's only a quick glimpse of an old woman alone in a room with the shades drawn or an exchange of angry dialogue between two people whose names and relationship you don't know. It's only a germ, a seed. You plant it, let it grow, eager to see what blooms.

Now, somewhere in your mind, you're thinking the old woman idea will grow into a novel about aging and generational relationships BUT what actually springs up is a horror novel. You're thinking the argument was between two lovers and will be a novel about love lost BUT it turns out to be a funny, chick lit story about a woman who finds her backbone and adopts three dogs.

My question is, how do you know when the idea has evolved into what it's supposed to be as opposed to if you've really just gone all off track and need to go back to the original germ and begin again?

(I've been struggling with my novel and I'm just wondering if it's because it's very far off from the original germ. I like what's developing but I feel like the original idea wants to be told in a different way and not the way this novel is going. Do I have two different novels here? Am I even making any sense? Maybe I just need more coffee...)


  1. If you are questioning the idea it should be explored. Go back to the original idea and try for a different outline. It if takes off you could have your answer.

  2. Thanks, Sally. Part of my problem is that I sometimes don't know when to stop exploring and to just go with something, with anything.

  3. Oh, that's a really good question, Madeline!

    With me, it depends on what I'm writing...with a short story, I have a beginning idea and the ending, and have to work out how to get there.

    But with my novels, I have an idea, then I spew out a story. The story changes from the original spewing as I go through revisions.

    Um, what was the question? :-) Oh, I remember! Yes, I agree with Sally. Finish THIS story, then go back and write the story that's also calling to you.

    P.S. I think it's funny it ended up horror. I have a ton of stories that end up horror. What does that say about our psyche, I wonder?

  4. Madeline, I hear you. Lots of ideas blush a different color once fleshed out. I try not to give too much intention to the end result, unless I set out plot points that I want included, that give the story a map to follow. For me, an idea can end up being a poem, a flash fiction piece or a novel. But I agree with Sally, if you're still questioning it, then there's more work to be done. Explore and play with it. Those story questions are worth asking. Always! :)

  5. Thanks for coming by, Cathy! I can't remember the last time I wrote a "happy/lighter" story. I don't mean for them to be sad or heartbreaking or scary - that's just the way they come out, the way they want to be told.

    And let's not analyze too much what that says about me/us... :)

  6. I love that image of the ideas blushing a different color, Stacy. It's very true. I think in this instance, it just threw me that what I have now is SO different than what I thought it was going to be. But maybe that's a good thing - maybe it means it's alive...

  7. I've noticed sometimes that one germ can have many offshoots. I'd say, if the story's going well, go with it! Then come back and try the next idea.

    Congrats on being a March Martian, by the way!!

  8. Yay for March Martians! Onward and upward!

    For me, if I'm struggling, it's usually because I'm fighting the story, trying to make it go where I want it to go rather than following where the story is actually going. If things aren't flowing along anymore, I go back and try to figure out where the trouble started. It'll usually be a character that did or said something I hadn't planned.

    The funny part when this happens: I usually don't like the story that turned out. Maybe I'm miffed that it didn't follow my brilliant plan. But those are the stories that are usually accepted for publication or winning recognition in contests. Go figure.

  9. Thanks, A. S.! I think that's what I'm going to do.

    And congrats right back at you! :)

  10. Hey, Sparklecat - thanks for stopping by! I find, too, that a lot of the time the stories that took the oddest turn or went in a different direction are some of my best work.

    Go, March Martians!!!

  11. "I like what's developing" -- that's the important thing! Go with it. And, perhaps, you'll write that other novel at some other point in time.

  12. Hi, Milo - I wonder if one seed can be the seed for more than one novel? My example of the old woman in the room with the shades drawn - would/could that same scene be used as the germ to start a second novel? And could you actually use that scene/that concept to do something different even after you've developed one way? Questions questions questions...