Question: “I think I have a great idea for a book. What do I do next?”
Answer: Drink heavily and try to forget the whole dream of writing a book. Do it now before you get in any deeper and it becomes a damn nightmare!
An idea needs to be nurtured, turned over, pounded into the dirt, and generally chewed on for a while to see if it has merit. When I had the idea of the genealogist saving the ATF agent with her laser pointer (A Shared Fear), it made me giggle. But these two lead characters didn’t go away. I kept seeing this couple doing things together: riding in a car, having dinner, walking on a beach, and cleaning guns at the dining room table. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with them, but I was hooked on the idea of these two people sharing something.
One of my first checks to see if an idea will hold water is to ask three basic questions and just see what pops into my head.
1. How do these people meet or know each other?
2. What’s the catalyst for their connection?
3. What’s the threat?
Believe it or not, those three questions are often the make or break points for an idea. If I can answer them in a reasonable and coherent manner, I begin to take notes. My original notes for A Shared Fear read:
“An ATF agent and a genealogist meet on their way from Tucson to Portland.
They are on an airplane together and it almost crashes.
The ATF agent doesn’t know at the time that someone has taken a contract out on him and the hit man is waiting in Portland.
She’s being stalked by someone.
Maybe the same guy.
Things I need to know:
Is the connection between them the real deal or is it the OMG we’re in trouble and I’m needy kind of sex? (think Speed – find & quote about relationships)
If I set this in Oregon, where do I put them down so they have to drive to Portland together?
How do I get them from speaking in Portland to a cabin on the coast – plausibility? I want the coast. I want the tide pools. Use as the pause in the action. Use as final scene w/storm.
These can’t be kids. I think she’s retired AF and he’s a retired Marine. I keep thinking he’s a sniper, but what the hell was she? How do they connect? Damn it – who are you two?”
A Shared Fear was my second standalone novel, and I still had no clue what I was doing. Not that I really do now, it’s just that I’m much less worried about the process these days.
If you don’t know everything about your characters at this point, don’t worry. Characters evolve with the writing of the book.
So, unless you plan on drinking heavily or walking away, I suggest you start asking yourself and your characters a lot of questions. And just for the record – these are only the first of a million questions you will ask as you write your book. Not the least of which is “What the hell was I thinking?”