How To Flesh Out An Idea For Your Novel

How To Flesh Out An Idea For Your Novel

When writing a novel, one of the very first things that you usually plan is the plot. Although you might have ideas for characters and particular settings in your head, it is the plot of the novel that gives these characters a creative platform. Now, I’m going to do things slightly different in this blog.

As someone who has made enormous mistakes with ‘fleshing out’ my own book, I feel that I’m very experienced in being able to tell you what NOT to do! And hopefully I can provide you with some great tips on how to avoid making the same mistakes as me, and write up a fantastic plot!

Write out the plot beforehand.

There are two parts to this, one of which I’ll cover in the next point. The very first thing you need to do however, is to actually write out your plot. Have you ever read a book synopsis on Wikipedia? If not, go look at one now.

This is essentially 6 or 7 short paragraphs, summarising the entire plot of a book and the events that take place. If you think this seems easy, then I’ve got some bad news for you – it’s not! However, I think it’s a really important exercise. It’s really essential to get as much of the plot worked out as you can BEFORE you start writing. When it came to writing my book, I did do all this, but realised halfway through that the plot didn’t work.

Worse still, I had almost 100 pages of content which now needed to be drastically altered and changed because it had all been written against the backdrop of a plot which didn’t make sense. Disaster! Which brings me onto my next point…

Don’t overcomplicate it.

If there’s any piece of advice that you take away from this blog, let it be this. Don’t make life more difficult for yourself than it already is.

Keep your plot manageable and simple (to the point where you can write it). I did the previous stage in enormous detail, but the problem was that my plot was ludicrously complex and ultimately I didn’t realise this until it was too late. Planning your plot isn’t just for the benefit of knowing what’s going on, it makes the writing process so much easier. I also advise you to do something that I didn’t do – which is to get your plot checked over by others. Similarly to giving your work to a friend or colleague for proofreading, get them to check your synopsis.

As a writer, you will always have an unfortunate blind spot for your own work. An unbiased opinion is really valuable in this situation.

Write about somewhere that you know.  Here’s (yet another) mistake that I made when starting out. Unless you are writing a fantasy based novel set in another world, or intend to perform enormous amounts of research, write about a location that you know and are familiar with.

I started out writing in 50s Los Angeles; despite knowing almost nothing about the city. It didn’t work, and when I moved the plot closer to home (Kent) things immediately got better. Look at it like this: yes it’s true that there is a certain beauty about certain cities and locations, and you might be romantically inclined to write about them, but what about places that the reader doesn’t know? You have the chance to put somewhere close to you, somewhere unknown, on the map.

You have the chance to give it your own spin, present it to the reader in a way that cities like Paris or Milan or London have been presented 1000 times by 1000 other writers before. That is infinitely more valuable, and the reader will appreciate your expertise.

Characters carry the story.

Writers generally tend to lean one way or the other. Some writers are more interested in characterisation and as such concentrate less on plot. Some writers are more plot driven.

Regardless, you always need to remember that when writing, your characters are the ones who will carry the plot. There is no point in having a great narrative if you don’t have strong characters to back it up. In another blog I used the example of an opening scene car chase. This is the perfect example here.

What’s the point in having a mad, action packed opening when we aren’t yet emotionally invested enough to care about the characters involved? Yes it generates excitement, but excitement alone cannot hold the reader’s attention.

When we are reading, we are looking for something deeper, a remote connection with the characters that (from our perspective) only we can feel. That’s what keeps the reader turning the page. Not gunshots, not car chases – human connection is the key and if you can get your characters to do this; then you are on the right track. The very best plot in the world is nothing without characters to drive it forward.