Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Can You Find a Topic for Your Novel?

You want to write a novel for kids, but you have no idea what to write about. The problem is there are so many novels out about vampires and werewolves or paranormal worlds with fantasy settings that you might get lost in that genre. First you need something about which you know more than a little bit and that touches you. If the thing you are writing about is not genuine to you it will come out on the page.

When I needed to write a story for a workshop a situation was happening in my own life that lent itself to a story for teens. I decided to use this and of course changed a great deal for the story. However, the bare bones of the topic were there. I had to research a great deal, because this had not happened to me personally, but instead to someone close to me. Also I decided to increase the intensity of the situation and the research allowed me to write from other people's experiences. By that time I was already thinking of expanding to a novel.

I put a call out on the internet within my message groups that I was looking for people who had this problem and I started getting emails back with the most amazing information. I had told everyone that the information was going to be anonymous so they were very willing to disclose very personal experiences and feelings. I put a lot of these almost word for word into my story.

But this was for my secondary character. For my main character her situation was a little different and again I pulled from my own life's experiences, because her story is so close to mine. So I started the novel with my main character a little unformed. It's always good if your main character can grow during your story. But you have to be careful. You want the reader to identify with the character almost immediately, even if he or she, and in my case it is a she, has issues that make her a little different.

Also, you have to give your main character a goal that will resonate with readers and allow them to root for the character. My character has the goal of wanting to be a cheerleader even though she is not the best in tumbling. She wants to be popular, but her body is "too large for fashion." How will she do this? See you are already asking questions about her, which means the topic is working. The other thing is this topic has to continue throughout your story, so you don't want everything to happen too quickly.

If you are lucky, your story will flow and you will complete your novel in a timely fashion. If you aren't lucky, the story will bog down somewhere while you figure out the plot for your secondary character. You have been concentrating on your main character and suddenly her story seems to be decided, but there is your secondary character who has not gotten the attention she deserves. If you can write through this and figure out the plot by yourself that is great. But if in my case you have a problem with this there are always people available to help you. I went to The Children's Writers Bootcamp for help and it worked. After that my story continued without any problem.

So to summarize how you can find a topic for your novel. First choose something you know about or can get information about without too much difficulty. Second, decide if you are emotionally involved with your topic. Third, choose a main character and a strong secondary character who will keep the story going. Fourth, choose a goal for your main character. Fifth, choose a goal for your secondary character. Of course, in between you are going to want to make sure you have a good character description for both characters. Then it is only a matter of sitting down and writing your novel. It may not go like clockwork, but it's best to go with the writing. If suddenly a character doesn't work or a situation doesn't work you can always get rid of it. But the best is when you are looking at the finished first draft!!!

This is basically the frame for my first published YA novel coming this September from MuseItUp Publishing called If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. The main character, Carolyn Samuels has body image issues and the secondary character who bullies Carolyn, Jennifer Taylor has an eating disorder. Mainly it's about keeping secrets and guilt. :)

Oh yes, did I say this was only the beginning of preparing your novel? My novel had nineteen revisions.:) But that is a topic for another blog.:) Please feel free to ask me any questions or make any comments. I will answer them.


Pat McDermott said...

Lots of good points here, Barbara. I sometimes set thin versions of characters or events as "place markers" in a story until I figure out where the plot is going. Then I can go back and fill in the details. Thanks for sharing your experience, and congratulations on your upcoming release.

lionmother said...

Thank you, Pat. That's an interesting idea that I never tried.:)

BarbaraB said...

Hi Barbara,

Sorry it has taken me a few days to get back to you, but I have been swamped.
I like the way you describe the way to get started on a YA or MG novel, especially havaing that emotional conneaction.
My problem is I have too many ideas and I'm not fast enough to get to them all.

Ginger Simpson said...

I suppose I'm lucky. My characters come with a title. I can honestly say that I haven't had to spend time pondering what to call a finished product. I knew at the beginning what each would be called. One heroine came with three suggestions, so I did have to pick the best...I liked them all so I polled my friends. I must say that Cindy in Shortcomings definitely had the best idea.

Emily Pikkasso said...

Great post Barbara with tons of good ideas. Thanks for sharing.