I thought it might be cool to do a blog post about how a single idea can turn into enough of a story to make a novel. After doing a rough draft, I decided that it would be too long for one post, so I'm going to split it into two.
Part One will be about the spark of the first idea. The one that starts it all.
So what is a good starting place for a book?
What comes first? Where did the spark of all of your favorite stories come from?
The answer is yes. And no. All of the above. Take your pick. Basically the answer is that a novel can come out of anything, so long as it lights your imagination on fire. Before you have a book, you have to have a character, world, magic, or piece of the story that you can connect to, one that can fuel the creation of an entire story. You are going to be devoting an enormous amount of time to this story, and you have to love it enough to make it worth it.
For me, with Soot of the Stars, that connection came from my character Soot.
The first scene that I wrote (which you can read at the bottom of this post, or on this page) is where Soot of the Stars began. I wrote the scene over a year ago in a Narrative class in college for some random homework assignment. All I had was an image of a mechanic with a connection to the stars and a dream to escape the planet she was trapped on.
That image of this character was enough for me to turn this scene into my BFA project, a full length portfolio manuscript that I would work on for the next four months before I graduated, and one that I am still working on today.
A lot of the details and plot around the story may have changed, but Soot has remained who she is: grumpy and determined and drawn to the light of the stars. Her character is what made me want to write the story in the first place, and it has been the once constant thing in this mess of a writing process.
Find an idea...any idea
So. The first thing you need before you write your story is an idea (or character, world, magic, image, scene, trope, random story fact, worldbuilding tidbit, setting). Anything. Something that inspires you. Something that makes you ask: what next? what if? what happens when?
Answering those questions is what will bring you your story. Or rather, it will get you started on your story. In Part 2 I'll cover how to turn your single idea, or character, or setting, into a fleshed out book.
Where do you get ideas?
Ah the hardest question. How do you come up with an idea? And if you do, how do you know that it's a good one? We'll cover that last one in the next post. For now, you can find your initial ideas in any number of ways:
The truth is there is no right or wrong way to find your ideas. I think I'll just ask you: How do you come up with your ideas? And how do you know when you've thought of something that could become a full book?
Soot hated the stars, sometimes.
Craning her neck, she glared through the open roof of her workshop and into the night sky. They hung above, taunting her. With a jerk she pulled her mind back to the present, pushing away the memories of what it had felt like to be among them, traveling through the light-filled space.
She looked down, squinting at the piece of machinery in her char-stained hands. Spreading apart the gears and wires, sticky with oil and muck, she struggled to find what didn’t work. “If there’s any part of this that did work I’d be surprised,” she muttered to herself and then grimaced as another screw fell to the table. That’d be a pain to put back. Her brow furrowed and she tried to ignore the faint pain of a budding headache. The thick scent of grease and dirt and the stifling heat of the still-burning forge only added to her bad mood.
It wasn’t really the wire she was irritated with.
There was a time, so long ago, when she’d built ships of light and air. Infused with stardust from distant moons and equipped with the latest in nano-tech, her creations had flown across the sky, star-trails in their wake, and she had flown with them through galaxies and past asteroid belts and planets ringed by crystals of ice.
Now she was stuck in a workshop on a primitive planet where science was seen as nothing more than magic, building a patchwork boat from iron and scraps of scavenged stardust. It’d taken her three dozen years to get even this far.
Sometimes she just wanted to scream.
Despite her impatience, Soot tested each of the wires for damage, moving methodically down the circuit board. She came to a particularly rusted socket and moved the piece out of the shadows, holding it up to the starlight to get a better look. Soot may be angry with the stars, but there was a reason her workshop had a retractable roof — starlight was the best to work under. The steady white light let her pick up the tiniest grain of dirt, the slightest difference in the shades of wires, the meager twist of every filament. She felt the light play across her face, creeping its way beneath the sweat and grime; her headache faded to a whisper as the power soaked into her bones.
And yet she still couldn't find the one crusting wire that was loose. With a sigh she tossed the chunk of metal and gears onto her workbench. Already the charred table was littered with bits of scrap and wire. It landed with a crash, sending screws spinning across the floor. She ignored them.
It was just a distraction anyway. Fixing that little hunk of crap wouldn’t get her any closer to the stars. She stared at her pages of notes and outlined mech plans plastered to the walls. What she really needed was more stardust. Well, stardust and one other thing. But that was a whole other problem. For now, dust. An asteroid, preferably. The last one her crew had found had given her the materials to finish a good portion of the ship’s hull. A few more scores like that and they could finally leave this rock behind.
You could find everything you need if you went back to the desert.
Soot growled at the voice in her head. “I know.”
You have to go back eventually. You can’t do this without him.
“I know.” She clenched her teeth until her jaw ached. It was a bad sign when you start talking to your subconscious, she thought. But dammit, it was right. She would have to go back to the desert, to the remnants of their crashed ship. She knew he was there already—he hadn’t ever left. Damn fool never could give up.
And are you going to?
Irritated, she pushed herself off her stool and pulled the lever on the nearest wall. Gears clunked to life out of sight and chains slithered through the walls. With a great scrape the roof of her workshop began to close.
“No,” she said.
Soot watched the final stars blink out of view before the metal slammed shut.
Megann is an editor, writer, and artist specializing in fantasy, sci fi, and basically anything with magic. Or dragons. Or starlight and spaceflight and gods that walk the worlds. She has a children's book published (co-authored with her sister) titled Bellow of the Beast, and she is in the middle of writing her first full-length fantasy/sci-fi novel.
writer. editor. artist. photographer. aikidoka. list-maker. landloper. meeko.