If you missed Part 1 of How to Develop Your Kickass Novel Idea, it’s here. I’ll wait.
Write one sentence that describes the basic premise of your novel idea.
Encapsulate it such that you could describe it to me quickly, if we were in an elevator and I asked “What’s your book about?”
That sentence should make me want to read your book, right away, right there, in twenty-five or so words. But what is it that would make me want to read your book right away in so few words?
The key is: a meaningful struggle.
Make sure there is a struggle. A girl going to the grocery store, buying her food, and coming home and cooking does not involve a struggle. She did something fairly unimportant that most people do on most days and did not face any opposition in doing so. No struggle, no interest from the reader. Your hero must overcome obstacles — that’s part of what makes your reader care about him. (It’s also a huge part of why people read fiction in the first place — they need to see characters overcoming obstacles in pursuit of things that are important to them; it gives them hope and inspiration and fuel for their own struggles. This is why good art is necessary for the soul.
However, the struggle must also be meaningful. Physical action by itself does not give your reader a reason to care. If we add an obstacle, say, the girl gets mugged on her way home, the story is still not that interesting, because it doesn’t have much meaning. The action here is solely physical. The only thing at stake is the girl’s money or food, or even, in a worst-case scenario, her life, but because we don’t have any deeper connection to the girl, we don’t yet care about her life. To care about her, we need to know what matters to her. We need to know what she values. That is what shows us who she is.
Now imagine we add something else to the story that begins to show us what matters, not only to the girl, but to the mugger. The mugger is the girl’s boyfriend. Now, without us knowing anything else about anything, this story has just become interesting. Two people who value each other are now facing off in a situation that leaves them very likely to lose the love of the other person. Something big and important, something that matters — their love for each other — is now at stake.
We are also, of course, interested in his motivations. Whereas before it didn’t matter to us why the mugger was doing the mugging (he was just a thug), now we want to know what could have made him do it. Are there exigent circumstances? Is he a bad guy, or is there something else going on? Also, what’s with the girl? Does she know he’s a robber? If so, why’s she with him? And still, why is he trying to rob her now?
So many delicious questions.
Make the struggle of your novel as meaningful as possible. Make those obstacles as tough to conquer as you can and put your characters’ deepest values in conflict with each other, and you’ll have readers on the edge of their seats.
You don’t necessarily have to know all the details of your conflict yet; I’ll talk more about that in the section about planning and outlining your plot. But make sure that your original idea contains the seed of a deeper, more meaningful conflict rather than no story or physical action devoid of important values.