Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Live. Write. Thrive.

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and NY Times Bestselling author, Bob Mayer.


No Matter the Genre, All Great Books Start With a Great Idea

The kernel idea is the Alpha and the Omega of your book, no matter what genre you are writing in.  By that I mean a single idea starts your creative process and it completes it.  It’s what you begin with and at the end of the manuscript, everything in the book points toward it.

The kernel idea is the foundation of your novel.  When I say idea, I don't necessarily mean the theme, although it can be.  Or the most important incident, although it can be.  But it can also be a setting.  It can be a scene.  It can be a character.

It is simply the first idea you had that was the seed of your novel.  All else can change, but the idea can’t.  It might be a place; a person; an event; a moral; whatever.  But you did have it before you began writing and you must remember it as you write.  If you don't, your story and style will suffer terribly.  You should be able to tell your idea in one sentence.  And repeat it to yourself every morning when you wake up and prior to writing.  Knowing it will keep you on track.

Every new book I begin, I write out this one sentence on a word document as the very first writing I do.  I print it out and put it where I can constantly see it. If you can't do remember this one sentence, then you need to backtrack through your thought processes and find it, because you had to have had it.  Everything starts from something.  Idea is not story.  Because every idea has been done, but every story hasn't.  The kernel idea is the one thing in your manuscript that cannot change.

In one of my early novels, the original idea was an action:  What if Special Forces soldiers had to destroy an enemy pipeline?  That's it for Dragon Sim-13.  Not very elaborate, you say.  True.  Not exactly a great moral theme.  Right.  But with that original idea there was a lot I could do and eventually had to do.  I had to change the target country after the first draft.  But that was all right because I still had the idea.  I had to change characters, but that was fine too, because it didn't change my idea.  I had to change the reason why they were attacking a pipeline, but again, the original idea was the same.

You will have plenty of latitude for story after you come up with your kernel idea; in fact, I sometimes find the finished manuscript turns out to be different from what I had originally envisioned, but one thing is always true: that kernel idea is still there at the end as the Omega.

For my first kernel idea, I made it as simple as possible to enable me to focus on the writing because when I was in the Special Forces my A-Team had run a similar mission on a pipeline.   Since I had a good idea what would happen in the story, I could concentrate on the actual writing of the novel.
I've sat in graduate literature classes and heard students say:  "The author had to have a moral point in mind when they wrote that book."  I agree, but sometimes it is not at the forefront of the story.  Many authors write simply to tell a story started by that kernel idea, which indeed might be a moral point, but sometimes is a story that they wanted to tell and the theme developed subsequently.

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A moral or theme (screenwriters call it intent) always does appear in a book by the time it’s done.   No matter what conscious expectations or thoughts an author has when they start writing, a lot more appears in the manuscript than they consciously anticipated.

After you have that kernel idea, you should spend a lot of time wrestling with it and consciously uncover your feelings and thoughts about it.  I try to look at my main characters and determine what will happen to them emotionally, physically and spiritually as they go through the story.  Who are they at the beginning of the story and who are they at the end?

This is an example of being aware of what you are doing.  I said above that not all authors have a conscious theme when they write a novel, but experience has taught me that it is better to have your theme in your conscious mind before you start writing.  It might not be your original idea, but it will definitely affect your characters and story.

The reason it is important to have a theme in mind is because people want to care about what they read and the characters.  If there is some moral or emotional relevance to the story they read, they will become more involved in the story and enjoy it more.  Even if the reader doesn't consciously see it either.  
Let me give you more examples of ideas I’ve used and gotten published:

What if the force that destroyed Atlantis ten thousand years ago comes back and threatens our world?  Atlantis series of books.

What if mankind didn’t originate the way we think we did?  Area 51 series.

What if Japan succeeded in its atomic bomb program at the very end of World War II and one of those bombs was hidden at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge?  The Gate

Another way to try to figure out what the core of your novel is this:  What is the climactic scene?  This is when the protagonist and antagonist meet to resolve the primary problem that is the crux of the novel.  This is what the entire book is driving towards.

Where’s the shiver?

What excited you so much that you decided to sit in the dark and writer 100,00 words.  That’s not normal, in case no one’s told you.  What excites people you talk to about your book?  I know I’m on target with an idea if others pick up my excitement when I discuss it.

Remember, as a writer, you are selling emotion and logic.  And Kirk always trumps Spock.
A key to selling your book is being able to communicate this shiver to other people.  To get them as excited as you were when you first began writing.

Bob Mayer is the NY Times Bestselling author of factual thrillers. He steeps his stories in military, historical and scientific facts, then weaves those facts through fiction creating an exciting ride for the reader.  He’s a West Point graduate, former Green Beret, and author of more than 50 books all available in eBook that have sold over 4 million copies.  He’s been on bestseller lists in thriller, science fiction, suspense, action, war, historical fiction and is the only male author on the Romance Writers of America Honor Roll.  He is one of the bestselling indie authors in the country.
Twitter: Bob_Mayer


Michele Shaw said...

Great advice! I love that idea of printing out your main idea and repeating it every day. It's so easy to get lost and meander away from where you planned to be. Sometimes it's ridiculously hard, overwhelming even, to find your way back. Also, keeping that main idea simple is right on. I tend to try to grow it, thinking it needs to be more than it is, which then leads to confusion. Sure the details, sub-plots, etc can expand, but you are correct that the main idea should stay simple and never change throughout the story.

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