Converting an idea into a novel

My good friend, Aindrila Roy has come up with a fantastic, practical guide to that irritating problem: having a good idea but not knowing how to turn that into a novel. Here goes:

You have an idea in your mind – an idea that doesn’t let you sleep. You can clearly see the action happening in your mind’s eye but you have a problem. You have no clue what to do with it. Your heart tells you that you that it’s a great idea and can be made into a novel but your mind doesn’t know how. Sounds familiar?

Then this tutorial might help. It is a lengthy write-up, so please bear with me. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to fleshing out an idea but what I’m showing below is the way I do it and it works for me. It may not work for you or you may happen upon a method that would work even better. What I intend to do with this tutorial is to give you an idea of what can be done. I will be providing a link at the end of the article that will give you another very popular method of planning it out.

 Step 1- Write down the idea:

Now it may seem like a very silly thing to do, but often seeing your idea actually written down may help you visualize. Eg: A boy discovers that he is a demon.

Step 2- Chalk out the big six:

At this point, ask yourself six questions. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Let me clarify what I mean by this, based on the example above.

  1. Who? Who is the boy? – His name is Michael Healy. He is seven years old and lives with his parents. – The answer to this question will give you your protagonist.
  2. What? – What is the problem that Michael has? – Michael is a demon. He finds that he can’t play with other children because they seem scared of him. He is much stronger than he should be. He ends up killing two kids in his school. – The answer to this question will give you the plot’s conflicts.
  3. Where? – Where does Michael live? – He lives in Lawrence, Kansas. – This will give you the location of the story.
  4. When? – When does the story take place? – 2010.This will give you the time and therefore the ambient atmosphere as well.
  5. Why? – Why is Michael a demon? – Michael is a demon because his biological father is a demon. His mother doesn’t know it. – This will give you the back story of the protagonist.
  6. How? – How does Michael know he’s a demon? – He starts suspecting something is different about him when he realizes that he’s abnormally strong and is mature far beyond his age.

Step 3- Character sketches:

Now that we have a rudimentary outline, let’s plot out the characters. We will need the aid of an excel sheet here. The excel sheet will have an in-depth analysis of each character. It’ll be your ready reference for every single character. For example: Michael Healy


Step 3(a): Relationship Chart:

While this might not strictly be necessary for a simple story, for a series that has many characters and some political themes woven in, this step is recommended. Those pesky family trees can get very confusing otherwise.

Step 4- Outline:

By now you have a fair idea of the plot. Now you can start working on the outline. Start writing your outline slowly, gradually increasing it in size. Start by making a half-page outline. Then expand it to a one page outline. Then make it a two pager. Finally, you can start doing a chapter-wise outline, which should be a summary of the events that happen in that chapter. A couple of lines for each chapter should suffice. As you’re doing it, work out the ending of the story.

Now you’re ready. Go write the story and enthrall the world!

PS: If this method doesn’t work for you, here is another method, known as the snowflake method, which is a popular way of planning it out. Do give this a look as well.


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