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 October, 2009

A Novel Idea
 by Bruce L. Cook
Need an idea for your next novel? This isn’t something you do often, but it’s as important as the novel itself... (continued below...)


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A Novel Idea.. (continued)

I’ve been working on this lately, with a few false starts, and thought it might be helpful for other writers if I could share some notes on the process I seem to follow. (Seem to follow – meaning that there probably is no perfect way to do this.) Please write cookcomm@gte.net (with the subject – A Novel Idea) and share your methods, and we can report them here.

First, I back burner the very idea that I am going to start a new novel. While this is important for my literary output, it’s also a great defense mechanism. For, when I start marketing my just-completed novel to agents, I am saddened to realize that it’s all but impossible to get them to even consider my work. So my new novel takes my focus off a dismal task.

Back to the process. As anyone knows, I should simply create a protagonist, confront him or her with fantastic obstacles, and let them overcome (or fail to overcome) the obstacles. But that’s too antiseptic. It is the correct approach, but it can hardly foment creativity.

Actually, for me, the process is quite personal. During the day, as my mind scans through its usual kaleidoscope of memories, I find myself fixating on one and saying “That’s it!” Then, during idle moments such as when I am driving, I test the idea.

The first test is “Danger One.” If I write from my memory, will I document an experience which should not be publicly shared? For example, I once agented a novel in which the author dramatized two characters who had an affair. Later I showed the manuscript to someone who recognized the characters, even though their names had been changed. Fortunately, the book was not yet in print. In this case, just skip the idea and go back for another. No worries – something will emerge in a few days.

Eventually I will encounter what I call a firm thread. This is a memory rich in implications for a story. Something into which I can invest myself. For example, recently I thought of a person who was comatose. When he came back from the coma, each day his memory had gained about five years. On day one, he was 21 years old. Day two - 26 years old. And so on. That had rich possibilities for fiction, for my character could remember the past gradually even as his life went on in real time. But I set this one aside too. It was insufficient on its own.

I recently settled on another thread that permitted a jump back in time. This time it was tied to an object that was exported from a foreign country and purchased at home, where it later found its way to second-hand stores. Eventually, its location was lost. In the novel, the owner will discover that it contained a vital secret. Now it must be found. This is relevant for me because I can tie it to an actual object I purchased while overseas. And, since it can contain any information I like, I can plan my novel around it, just being certain that the secret is truly vital and, hopefully, of social significance.

Note how I have unconsciously referred to threads and ties. Maybe that’s a better way to plan a novel. Like weaving a piece of fabric. In any case, this is a start for me. Now I have a background to develop my novel. And it’s up to me to go change my mind or go further.

Hopefully you can back burner ideas of this kind and start a novel on your own.

Bruce L. Cook

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Publishing New Writers,

October, 2009 (no. 1010)


Bruce L. Cook
6086 Dunes Dr,
Sanford, NC 27332

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