How To Turn Your Story Idea Into A Novel

By Jamie McSloy / April 30, 2018
turn story idea into novel featured image

I saw this thread on Reddit today:

Here we have someone who has a common problem among writers.

Nearly everyone on the planet thinks they have fantastic ideas for a novel or a story of some kind.

The problem with these people is that they think that the idea is magical and that it will make them money.

If you have never taken an idea from that little inkling in your mind through to completion, you cannot understand how untrue that statement is.

In reality, having an idea is the easiest part of writing fiction. It is also the easiest part of creating a business and pretty much everything else too, but we have a limited scope for this article.

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This person, and many people like them, do not actually have an idea. They have half an idea. This makes the problem even more pronounced.

What Is A Good Fiction Idea?

In modern culture portrayals, “the idea” is portrayed as a very tiny fragment that blossoms into something beautiful.

Take our person’s above “idea.” They have a situation where a person is been hired as a CEO and they don’t know why.

They don’t know how to turn this into a fully fleshed novel.

That’s because it isn’t a full idea. It isn’t a synopsis; it is just a momentary fragment. A single situation.

A novel is comprised of multiple situations. And what’s more, those situations only arise because of character conflicts. Those are the real meat of a novel.

Now, the person has a perfectly reasonable fragment. I’m not saying it’s a stupid idea, but it isn’t something you can really work from and create a full blueprint from.

So what would we do to turn this into a fully realized idea?

How To Take A Fiction Fragment And Make It A Story

When you have a fragment of the story that comes to you in this way, you need to put it in context.

There are plenty frameworks for creating fiction. I recommend starting with the Hero’s Journey structure which has about 17 parts and charts the main character through a journey of discovery. It will work in any genre. That’s if you work in crime, action-adventure or fantasy/science fiction.

If you work in romance then there are about a million different structures you can use.

If you create something else, then there are probably also methods and structures available to you. Many great writers of the past simply write the methods for various magazines. Old pulp fiction writers wrote how they did basically everything, and a lot of those methods are available for free in the public domain.

Another example-H.P. Lovecraft, loved by her fans everywhere-wrote down his entire process for creating with fiction and it is available for free.

Essentially, you take that structure and put your fragment in it.

For the example above, we’d be following a mystery-type storyline. (For the missed rebuffs among you, there is a fantastic article somewhere floating around about Agatha Christie’s method for writing. Check that out.)

Conflicts And Characters

So we have a mystery. Our main guy has been hired as the CEO of a company and he doesn’t know why.

First question: why would he care?

I’m pretty anti-big business. However, if somebody said to me, “hey Jamie, come and take a seven-figure salary to be the CEO of our company that you’ve never heard of!”

I would probably take it and I wouldn’t have any qualms about it. I like money.

But I would be apprehensive. What would they want me to do?

Is he the CEO because he’s going to have to do something bad?

Or is he going to be set in the room doing absolutely nothing and acting as some sort of figurehead?

Again going back to me, if somebody told me to go and be a CEO and sit and do nothing for a million dollars a year, then there is no conflict there.

The reason I’m asking these questions is because we need to create a central conflict for our character. This is the heart of the story.

If our character is hired to be a CEO of a multinational corporation that is actually a front for dodgy deals, then your character motivation is a question of whether our guy is coerced or otherwise for to do the job against his will. It’s then a question of whether his morals again to get in the way of this. It’s also a question of whether he’s going to do anything about it if he decides that he is a moral character.

So you can see from just a couple of simple questions that you’re building these conflicts.

And this is the beginning of the story.

You then have the fact that whatever our character is going to decide to do will likely be at odds with the antagonist who is the secret owner. This then creates a dual narrative which makes content easy.

Let’s say our guy wants to blow the whistle on the dodgy corporation. Obviously the secret owner doesn’t want. What will the secret owner do?

First he will probably try to gently coerce our guy. Then he’ll try to forcefully coerce our guy. Maybe then he would try and kill him.

Three Act Structure

You don’t need a huge amount of conflicts to make a novel. I gave you three above and those could easily mesh with a simple three act structure.

But it will be hollow if we just went from conflict to conflict without back story or character motivation.

A lot of people get stuck on this and books become fluffy because of these things. I recommend everything ties into your central conflict.

But you also want to have B stories that tie in. Let’s quickly do some examples before wrapping up this article:

  • we need a love interest for our guy. Maybe it’s a girlfriend. Remember, their conflict has to tie in to the main story. So maybe the girlfriend is sick of our protagonist not having a job, and she is fully on board with him getting the job despite what it entails. Or maybe she hates the job because it’s turning him into a duplicitous liar. Maybe she has a fully fleshed out character arc and she goes from one to the other.
  • We could include many other characters. From police detectives investigating the firm, through thugs that want to get out of the vicious cycle of debt, or through to a conflicted antagonist who wishes he wasn’t in the situation he was in-these things don’t matter. They are filler, and that is why you need to add them to the main conflict and not deviate. To do that is to get fluffy.

This is really simple and if it seems, rated, then you are overthinking it.

Final Thoughts

The big mistake people make with fiction is that it’s hard to know how to create a fully fleshed out story when you’ve never done it before. That is why I recommend getting fiction books and studying the form and building structures to work from.

A lot of authors will give advice about doing whatever feels natural. The problem with that is that nothing that you need to do will feel natural. It is like telling someone to learn how to swim by throwing them in to the deep end of the swimming pool and saying just do what feels natural. It isn’t going to work and they might kill them.

Plenty of people killed their fiction ideas because they don’t ever take the time to learn how the structures and formula work.

Like I said, you can set my advice, but plenty of writers from every genre and every period of writing have given their advice and their methods. Almost none of them say, “just do what feels natural.”

Even writers like Stephen King who are notoriously promoted as not having a plan have a very specific methodology. Learn how to do that, replicate it and refine it so that it works for you.

And above all, don’t be happy with just having an idea. An idea is the first step and if you don’t take the next step you have achieved nothing.

(P.S. sorry if there are grammar or other with mistakes in this article. I have injured both of my hands from typing too much and so I am using a text to speech program to dictate this. I have tried to pick up the numerous errors that it makes, but I might have missed some.)