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Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Part 2: First You Catch Your Idea

Writing A Novel In Thirteen Weeks:

If you’re going to write a novel, you have, of course, to start with an idea. Just like if you’re going to make a shepherd's pie, first you have to catch your shepherd.

One of the questions I always get -- in every panel, in every interview, at every con -- is: “How do you get your ideas?”

The normal answer is: “I get them from [insert random, remote/small town].”  I use: “Hays, Kansas. But it will cost you a dime, and you have to send a SASE.”

The sad thing is that I could possibly sell ideas and never reach a point where I have none to sell. Like with everything else, ideas are something you train yourself to have, and once you start having them, you have them all the time. You’ll be Standing On the Corner, Minding your  Own Business (the infamous SOCMOB that guarantees you’ll be jumped by “two bad dudes”) when an idea will jump out of  a nearby dumpster, and there you have it.

For instance, the other day in my blog comments, commenter CACS mistyped "High School Cemetery" instead of "High School Chemistry," and there was immediately a boarding school for vampires (children with special needs) in my head.

So, was that idea enough to write a novel?

Probably not, because it doesn’t interest me enough – but what you also have to understand is that the boarding school for vampires is not an idea for a story. It is an idea for a setting. I still don’t have an idea – and it is the idea that determines whether it’s a novel, a short story, or just a passing, throw-away detail in another story.

Let me explain: What you have there has no characters, no conflict, no… story. It’s at best a spark of a story, even if for a fantasy reader (or writer) it comes freighted with all sorts of implied problems like “do they have classes at night?”  “What do they do for the cafeteria -- a blood bank?”  etc.