Turning ideas into novels

I've read lots of blog posts and articles recently which ask "Where do you get your ideas?" But last week I went to a Willamette Writers' talk on "Turning ideas into novels" by Phillip Margolin. And yesterday I tried to follow his advice with my ideas for Book 2 of Hemlock, which now seems to have morphed into Books 2 and 3.

Margolin had lots of interesting and amusing anecdotes. But more importantly, he had some very wise and practical advice. I'm probably not organized enough to keep files full of ideas in my "office" as he suggested, though I've plenty in my head. But once I've got my one idea and written my one scene (25 pages or less), I'll take all the help I can get turning it into a novel.

Ask the questions, Margolin said. "Who, what, where, when, why and how?" Look at your scene. Who's there? Where? Why? etc. And when the scene's over, how will they deal with the aftermath? He said you only need one idea for a novel, then you ask your questions till the rest grows out of it. And it seemed to make sense, particularly when coupled with an example from one of Margolin's books. (I'd not read the book, but I'm sure I will sometime.)

With Hemlock, I'd already asked the questions. That's why I was on book 2 instead of book 1. But knowing where to begin and end was getting more complicated. One idea? I had plenty, so maybe that was the problem.

Margolin's next advice really helped. He went on to explain what he does when he's writing a novel. And no, he doesn't sit down and write that first scene first; I must have misunderstood. He writes a paragraph, synopsis of the tale, then turns it into two, to three, to more. At each iteration the story has more paragraphs, until each one represents a chapter and then it's time to write and tell the tale.

The advantage, he says, is that you can't get writers' block. You already know what happens next by the time you're writing it.

The advantage, I say, is it doesn't feel artificial. I write stories, not spreadsheets, and organizing scenes always felt too much like stifling my character's voices. But if I'm just writing a very short story, then finding out more and writing more, well that sounds okay. So I listened to my characters' clamor in my mind, and Hemlock 2 turned into 2 and 3. Today I plan to write...


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