Buckle up. This is going to be a long ride. Get a drink, make sure you’re not reading while drinking, as we have a hobby of making as many people spit on their devices as possible, and enjoy the show!
To begin with, we would like to offer a bribe of us being adorable. We went to the V-E-T a while back, as we needed our vaccinations and a check-up. We did not appreciate this, as evidenced by this picture.
In good news for us, we were taken home after some additional trauma. In bad news for us, we were traumatized! The cruelty!
Why am I showing you this picture?
Conceptualizing a novel (series or standalone) is a little like cramming two medium to large sized cats into a small carrier. (This was Tia the Majestic’s carrier, and we are both two to three times Tia’s size. The female had not yet replaced the carrier. Soon, the female says… soon.
Let’s get this show on the road!
For the female, the starter seed, or primary concept idea, is required in order for a book to come to life. However, things get complicated quickly. There are several different classes of ideas, at least in the female’s twisted little world.
We’ll try to address most of them. Take what concepts work for you and how you write. (Writing is a very personal activity. What works for the female may not work for you.)
- Character Ideas
- World Ideas
- Plot Ideas
- Conflict Ideas
This is a dramatic simplification of idea types. This is so simplified the female is a bit twitchy over it. She’ll come to terms with that eventually. Some of this is self-explanatory, at least in our view, but we’re going to explain everything anything.
Character Ideas are when the female has a concept for a character type she wants to pursue. This can be “A character with a crippled foot (see: Janette from Booked for Murder)” or she “wants to write about a secretary” or she “would rather appreciate writing yet another fox shapeshifter.
She really likes writing about fox shapeshifters.
This class of idea is usually the most difficult to bring to life. Having a character means absolutely jack shit when trying to write a novel. The other classes of ideas are much easier for the female to work with, as those ideas generally require certain types of characters to make happen. The female cranks the writing difficulty level when a non-compatible character is forced into these situations. That is a great deal of fun, but it is much harder to write.
That’s a character development thing and not a concept thing… yet. We’ll get into the role of character development in a story later.
World Ideas are a completely different fish than character ideas. The world idea is a planet, society, or form of government that becomes the foundation point for the rest of the story. Requiem for the Rift King started as a world idea, with Kelsh as the starting kingdom. But the Rifters showed up and intrigued the female during the map-making process, and Requiem started from a map rather than specific characters. The female had the world, its structure, and its various societies, how they conflicted, and all that snazz before the female even thought about specific characters, conflicts, or plot ideas. This sometimes bites the female in the butt.
World ideas are great… if you understand that you shouldn’t waste a huge amount of time building a world if you don’t have the other stuff first. It is much harder to get a viable storyline if all you have is a world for them to stand on.
Generally, you want a character, a conflict, and a general plot idea before you decide what world they’ll stand on, because the world they stand on must allow for the character type, the conflict type, and the plot type to function in that world. So, it’s easier to go back and ask, “What sort of world is needed to make this work” rather than “Can the world I spent ten years building support this story?”
Yeah. Writing is hard. Writing a good book is even harder. Writing a great book is almost impossible. Note: that says almost, not actually impossible.
This shit is hard, so try not to let it discourage you.
Everything you screw up can be fixed. That’s what the editing process is for.
If it don’t work, change it. The content of a book is not sacred, and everything you write can be changed to be better.
Seriously, it ain’t sacred. Now, if you have someone telling you that you should change your book solely because they didn’t like it, screw ’em. Write the book you want. It may not be a great book, but make it the book you wanted to write.
A few notes on that: if you hired a competent editor to tell you what to change to make the story marketable… that is a completely different story.
Plot Ideas are when you have this fun idea for a character doing something, such as a raid into an abandoned temple or breaking into a prison to release this super nasty guy so he can help you (the character) with something. These can be hugely varied, and are often the majority of the female’s story ideas. It’s much easier to take a plot idea and add conflict to it. (It’s also easier to take a conflict idea and add a plot to it.)
Characters usually ‘show up’ for the female after the plot and conflict are in place. The world just gives the characters something to stand on, although they’re often an intricate part of the plot, the conflict, and the character. Funny how that works out!
Last but not least, Conflict Ideas come into play when you have things like “Volcano erupts, threatens town.” Essentially, you know the obstacle the characters have to overcome. Conflict ideas differ from plot ideas because the conflicts usually come to the character, rather than the character creating the plot. When a character opts to go into a death temple, the plot is of the character’s creation. Where conflict ideas tend to involve something challenging the character. The lines between these two can be blurred. And that’s okay. They usually go hand and hand–and when you’re refining an idea, all of these things should be forming a great big ol’ cuddle pile.
That leads us to the next portion of conceptualization…
Turning the Basic Idea into a Working Idea
Now that you have a seed, you need to take that seed and plant it so it will grow. Honestly, this is really one of the hardest parts of writing a book.
Not every idea is a good idea, not every idea you concoct should be used, and even when you get a good idea, it might not fit in the book you want to write. Ideas aren’t sacred. They’re tools you use when you write to keep the story moving along in the direction you need the story to go.
People talk all the time about how characters just go right off the rails, and that they have to adapt to this.
What’s actually happening is that the author, while writing a book comes up with better or new ideas that changes the initial design for the book. This happens to the female all of the time.
She will begin with a perfectly good idea, but as she is writing, she will realize another idea fits the book better. She will begin implementing the new idea, which requires going back and correcting prior parts of the book, because in order for the new idea to actually work–or make sense for the character to do–subtle things must be changed.
To give you an example, in the original Outfoxed, the female had outlined to reveal who had done that really mean thing that ultimately sent her to a new location.
The female realized she was playing the card of a good idea wrong, and she had to change the entire story around that point. Instead of $this_event happening, she changed it to $that_event, melded the two ideas, and came up with a better whole that extended better into the series as she wanted to write it.
New Orleans wasn’t even in the original outline; that became a consequence of the $new_idea. New Orleans is an arc insertion, which fits perfectly between the originally planned arcs. This will ultimately mean some stuff she intended to write won’t happen, but other fun stuff will make an appearance.
There is no one tried and true way to put together a book plot. There really isn’t. (The idea of one ‘tried and true’ way of writing a book results in utterly formulaic books. The female has quit reading several authors because they insist on using the same old character development formulas. It’s boring. She wants to be surprised. But when someone uses a formula to make a set course… that’s what happens. Formulaic writing.)
This is not saying the female gets upset over repeated tropes. If the female’s current favorite author is the female’s favorite author because she likes how they approach the werewolf trope, the female becomes sad if the werewolf trope is not present in some form of another. That’s why the female is there.
That’s why the female has a few very distinctive fan bases.
Some like the tropes used in Witch & Wolf.
Some like the tropes used in the Mag Rom Com world.
Some like the tropes used in the Royal States world.
These fan bases have segregated themselves based on their reading interests. There is another fan base, who will read anything the female writes. (We love you, super fans. We also love you, people who only want their preferred trope.)
But if you want to see this in action, just pick any one of the female’s books and start reading the reviews. You’ll see it evidenced in how people talk about the books.
Some people get pissy they perceive a repeated trope. (Dude, the female has written over 50+ books. When you write 50+ books, you can come back here and try to tell us that you can write 50+ books without a character or plot trope being reused. That is when we’ll bust a gut laughing at you.)
Let us give you a sample of how a trope can be reused in interesting fashions.
In Outfoxed, the society has legalized slavery. The slaves do not have a choice in being dragged into the system. They can sometimes buy their way out of the system. They are paid to cover up that it is legalized slavery. It’s still slavery.
In Booked for Murder, the society has a contract system, a form of legalized indentured servitude, where those who are “enslaved” in the system do so by choice. Janette sold herself into the system to pay for her parents retirement and make sure she could take care of them.
These stories take the same basic trope and pursue different “What if” questions associated with these tropes. Yes, it is technically the same trope.
But different questions and social issues are pursued.
Those who complain that these tropes are just carbon copies, frankly, aren’t paying attention OR using their heads when they read. They’re getting surface level thoughts from the book, but they are not actually pursuing the social injustices and their variants.
That’s not on the female, and frankly, the female doesn’t give a flying rat’s ass if people don’t like it.
She wrote it because she wanted to, through the eyes of different characters, see how the same trope could be used in vastly different societal structures.
Fun fact: Outfoxed was worked on at least a year before Booked for Murder, and it just happened they released close together because Outfoxed took a huge amount of time to write and was done mostly at leisure.
They were not written at the same time like many seem to believe.
So, how does that relate to the working idea concept?
You can use the same idea in a different way to write a good book. Sure, some readers will bitch and complain, but you know what? If they don’t like it, they can write their own book.
The female writes what interests her. That does not mean she agrees with any of the socio-political issues she writes about. That’s why you see the full spectrum. Exploration is how an idea becomes a good book. Or even a great book.
But sometimes, an idea is just plain bad and it should be thrown out with the garbage. Sometimes a good idea just doesn’t fit. It, too, should be thrown out with the garbage.
We recommend every time you trashcan an idea, you put it in a cut or idea folder, and every now and then, revisit the folder to see if that idea might become a good idea in the right book.
But, a word to the wise: good ideas don’t make good books.
Good books are created when an author takes a good idea, plays with it, refines it, and melds it with other good ideas to make a cohesive whole.
To accomplish this, you need to understand the base structure of a book.
Conflict -> Pursuing the conflict -> climax -> resolution.
This is very, very basic. These things are often repeated numerous times during the course of one book, with one overlying conflict that links into the resolution at the end of the book or series. (A good series has a conflict arc that starts in chapter one of the first book and resolves in the last chapter of the final book.)
Conflict is conflict. It’s the problem the characters have to solve. Pursuing the conflict is when characters go to solve the problem. The climax is the process in which the characters finally resolve the problem, for better or worse. Resolution wraps up everything nice and neat and ties it off in a bow.
The series finale must have a strong resolution. Leave a few plot threads open for a spinoff: compare Catnapped to Client from Hell. Catnapped is why Client could happen, but while Catnapped has a hefty amount of resolution, there are threads open allowing Client to happen.
Another day in another post, I will go into the specifics of strong novel structure. It is varied, but the four base concepts mentioned are how books ultimately come together. If you’re missing one of these four things, you don’t have a strong book. Period.
Note: this applies to fiction, not non-fiction. Non-fiction is a totally different fish.
Let’s talk characters…
In reality, having a plot or idea is only scratching at the surface of what is needed to write a book. At the end of the day, a book is about the characters. Plots and conflicts are the direct result of character decisions.
The only exception to this is the ‘environment versus man’ conflict type, because the environment is not technically a character, but the environment alters what characters will do.
A volcano erupting is not a character decision, but you better believe it alters the decisions characters make.
If your story idea railroads the character then you have a plot-driven story.
Hint: readers much prefer character-driven stories. Unfortunately, there is definitely a segment of readers who couldn’t actually care less about the characters and just want twisty, thrilly storylines that have cardboard cut outs for ‘characters’, and well… there’s nothing you can do about that beyond cringe when the reviews come in.
So, when you build your story, ask yourself one question: What would these characters do?
That is your story. Do what the characters would actually do… not what you think is oh my god!!!! thrilling and exciting?
What would your characters actually do?
And sometimes, the answer to that question is “Flail incoherently.”
(Me, too, characters. Me, too.)
For now, this should be a decent start to unraveling the mysteries of plot development. In a future episode of On Writing, we’ll discuss scene and chapter pacing, pacing variations, outline creation, and many other tricks, tips, and tools you can use to create a book of your own.