Writing a novel is hard. We’ve heard that line all before. I’ve been asked many times where I get the ideas for my novels. I’ve also been asked how I turn those ideas into actual books.
It’s a difficult question to answer. A few years ago, I attended a convention in Montreal, Quebec, where I was one of the panelists alongside Deborah Beale and Violette Malan. We spent an hour debating this very subject. There was only one thing everyone could agree on: Ideas get easier with practice.
Everything else was up to the author, but each and every one of us came to the conclusion that our ability to come up with ideas of stories was directly tied to how often we tried to come up with those ideas. I wouldn’t compare it with riding a bike, but more of getting caught up in a landslide. Once the first pebbles start bouncing down the hill, more ideas follow.
I often decide what kind of story I want to write before I come up with the actual book idea. Sometimes I want to tell a story about something I like—for example, dinosaurs. I like dinosaurs. I also like dragons. I’m also a fan of horses. This eventually turned into creating something that mixed dinosaurs, dragons, and horses and setting them loose in a fantasy world.
Sometimes my ideas are weird but that is part of what makes writing so much fun.
My latest novel, Winter Wolf, has a bit of a story behind it. About five or six years ago, I had a phase where I really found studying infectious illnesses to be quite intriguing. I read about all sorts of viruses and how humans have evolved resistances to them. Genetics plays a large role in how susceptible someone is to certain illnesses, which fascinated me almost as much as the process viruses use to get around those resistances.
So after that much reading, of course I had to sit down and try my hand at a disease endemic story. However, I’m not usually a fan of the end-of-all-humanity stories. I find them depressing. As a result, I limited the spread of the virus to certain supernatural creatures. This led me a very interesting conflict: if humanity had the choice of saving a race from being wiped out from plague knowing the race being saved is dangerous, would they? Or would they take the safer route, letting these people die for their personal safety?
Thus the idea for Winter Wolf was born. I strayed from that path a little, but the idea is still within the pages, a red thread weaving the actions of protagonists and antagonists alike. It’s a survival story but at the same time, it goes deeper than that.
Sometimes the idea for a novel is a simple ‘What if?’ question. Most of my stories are—they just grow from there.
And sometimes, I never do find the answer to the question that birthed the novel. And that makes the speculation all the more entertaining, as there is no definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
At the end of the day, the idea is a small part of the process of writing a novel. A good story is about people. Create interesting people to write about and the ideas will come—after all, those characters are interesting for a reason, right?