The Joy of Realizing Your Novel’s “Concept”

Concept phase complete. You are now free to develop some kind of a plot.

Yesterday night was miraculous 🙂 I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep and running all kinds of plans for my next novel–a prequel to my Herezoth trilogy–through my head, and I hit upon the perfect scenario, or “concept.” I’ve been trying for MONTHS to come up with an idea that was both interesting as a prequel and workable. I couldn’t envision anything that made sense according to the history and the culture I had established for Herezoth and that would also hold a reader’s attention.

Anyone who’s ever written a novel could say–along with Stephen King in his “On Writing”–that a novel doesn’t start with plot. It starts with a concept of some situation that has the workings of a fun story. Plot and characters come LATER, either through an outline or via flying by the seat of your pants (my preferred writing method!). When you can sum up a novel in a “what if” question, that’s your concept (again, this is King). For “The Crimson League,” the first Herezoth novel, my concept was, “What if a noble-born sorcerer took control of a kingdom in a coup and a resistance group arose to fight him?” What I have now for my prequel is that “what if,” and I could not be more excited.

It’s a magical moment to have that concept firmly in hand and to start pondering the possibilities it opens up. It’s like a wide-open road that could lead anywhere at all, because you can’t see the specifics and the details yet of where you’re going. You’re like Dorothy at the start of the yellow brick road, except you don’t know whether it leads to the Emerald City, or Kansas, or somewhere else entirely. Personally, I think it would be cool to walk a yellow brick road back to the New Orleans of my childhood. I miss home.

Now, I’m a “rank sentimentalist,” just like Rick Blaine in my favorite movie (cool points if you can name it!), and I’m SO stoked to think about writing about some of my favorite characters again. Since “The Crimson League” paints a civil war, many characters don’t make it through, and it’s been years since I’ve worked with some of them to any real extent. I’ll be able to take some of my beloved secondary characters from that first novel and make them the focus of their own adventure, pre-coup. I might even cross over to the dark side for this one and outline something ahead of time!
I cannot wait to see where this novel takes me! And I just have to know: How much are you a rank sentimentalist when it comes to your favorite characters (those you wrote or those of others?) If you’re a writer, what’s the concept of your novel? Please comment with a shameless plug. I and others are always looking for something new and fun to read! (As for MY shameless plug: “The Crimson League” will be FREE in e-book format September 3-5. Mark you calendars for the download!)

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4 responses to “The Joy of Realizing Your Novel’s “Concept”

  1. I enjoyed your post. I spent countless nights working on characters and plots that sometimes I wonder when I sleep. The novel I am working on now has took so many turns and every turn it takes goes further than I had originally intended. The story has almost written itself and the characters have evolved into their own.
    As for my shameless plug: check out two of my books for free on Smashwords.com (Tender Flames & With All My Heart…) and the other two are also available at Smashwords. All four are for sale on Amazon. I will check out “The Crimson League” when it comes out. Keep me informed.

  2. Awesome! A fellow writer that agrees with going by the seat of our pants! I always start out with either a concept or a couple of intriguing characters. The plot ALWAYS develops as I go. Thank you! (I’m tired of everyone saying you HAVE to have an outline or plot from the beginning!)

  3. As a reader I can be pretty damn sentimental when it comes to my favourite characters. I have thrown books across the room and I once woke my mother up at 2am with a particularly loud wail of despair. As a writer, though, I can be pretty ruthless. I will hurt people if it makes the story better.

    The concept for my novel is a little bit…nebulous right now. It started out as one thing, and now it’s evolved into something different, but I don’t know what just quite yet.

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