Late last year, I read the book ‘The Successful Novelist’ by thriller writer David Morrell (which I discuss in more detail here).Â In the book, Morrell has an interesting suggestionÂ for working out story ideas. He recommendsÂ having a conversation with yourself, asking yourself questions, playing the role of skeptic, etc, until you’ve hashed out the details of the story. He says it’s a great way to get to the root of what is interesting about a story idea and quickly figure out whether a story might orÂ might not work.Â He recommends doing this in written form so that you can refer back to it later.
Today I was going through some old files on my Google Drive, and I found a document called ‘New Novel’. I had no idea what it was and opened it, hoping I’d written an entire novel and forgotten about it. Sadly, that was not the case. Instead, it was a written discussion with myself. I was pitching myself the idea for a new novel.
The conversation ends rather abruptly (apparently I wasn’t able to convince myself), but I thought it would be fun to share. Here’s how one crazy person thinks about stories. Take it away, PT1 and PT2!
PT1: Hello, PT. Back again, I see. Must need my help.
PT2: Yes. I doâ€¦ and hello. Itâ€™s time to start thinking about the next novel.
PT1: Oh? The last one finished? You get all the rough edges sanded off, then?
PT2: I wouldnâ€™t go that far, but, yeah, itâ€™s done.
PT1: So what are you thinking for this next one?
PT2: Iâ€™m thinking about a thriller.
PT1: But our kind of thriller, right? Lots of mystery? Supernatural elements?
PT2: Yeah, of course.
PT1: So, whatâ€™s it about?
PT2: The protagonist is this ordinary dude. He gets a call one day from some kidnappers. â€œWe have your son. Pay us three hundred thousand dollars.â€ That type of thing. The twist? This guy didnâ€™t know he had a son.
PT1: Okayâ€¦ thatâ€™s not a story; itâ€™s an idea.
PT2: Yes. Thatâ€™s why I am here typing this like some kind of maniac with a split personality.
PT1: So, he gets the call and then, what, he has to go find his lost son?
PT2: Something like that. Maybe the kidnappers donâ€™t want money. They want some piece of tech or something that he has. And then he has to make a decision, the kid or his â€˜lifeâ€™s workâ€™.
PT1: Ah, a job vs. family situation.
PT2: Exactly. And maybe he choices the career and lets this kid he never met die.
PT1: OR maybe he doesn’t even believe the son exists.
PT2: Yeah! He says, ‘Screw you. You’re lying.’ to the kidnappers.. Then they kill the kid, and he realizes he had a son he never knew about.
PT1: And maybe thatâ€™s just the prologue.
PT2:Ding ding ding. Now we are talking. The rest of the book is this creepy haunting/home invasion as he starts being visited by this kid. Heâ€™s not sure if itâ€™s a ghost. Heâ€™s not sure if the kid was really killed. Heâ€™s not sure of anything.
PT1: This could be really scary. Definitely our type of story. A couple questions. Who is this guy? Whatâ€™s so important that these bad guys will kill a kid to get it?
PT2: It has to be something that is truly important. Like a cure for a disease or something. Or information that will save or ruin someone important. He didnâ€™t know the kid was real. The kid ended up dying (or did he?). Now Nick is paying the price.
PT2: Yeah. Thatâ€™s his name Nick Aarons.
PT1: Okay, we can come back to the job. The kid dies, and then, what, we jump to a few years later?
PT2: Say, ten years laterÂ later. Â Nick has gotten all the success in the world and then lost it again. He is down right now, and we are going to kick him for a while. Then he will have his shot at redemption.
PT1: Redemption like saving the kid?
PT2: Maybe. Or another kid. Or maybe letting the kid die for a REALLY good cause. Weâ€™ll get to that later. Lots of creepy stuff to do before that.
PT1: So this is almost the opposite of a biblical storyâ€¦ the guy gave up his son for a cause that ended up being worthless.
PT2: Really happy thought there.
PT1: Hey, weâ€™re brainstorming.
PT2: Okay, so now Iâ€™m thinking maybe the novel is broken into four sections – 1) the kidnappers contact Nick, and he fails theÂ kid 2) kid shows up. is he a ghost or whatever 3) Nick and the ghost 4) Nick goes on adventure with the ghost, everything comes full circle.
PT1: A couple of problems. The first section sounds like a thriller. Then you are going to just throw a ghost story on them? What the inspiration for this thing? Whatâ€™s the feel?
PT2: Good pointâ€¦ weâ€™d have to bring in the supernatural elements early. This is a Rosemaryâ€™s Baby type thing, at least from a plotting standpoint. The supernatural elements have to ring throughout. I feel like there is an opportunity to bring in the supernatural with whatever the kidnappers want.
PT1: So what is it? A magical object of some sort? A ghost detecting device? A haunted relic.
PT2: Not exactly, but that last one is the closest. A book? He rediscovered an ancient book?
PT1: Blah. No.
PT2: Look, I want to do a ghost story, but I also donâ€™t want to get too occultyÂ with this. Iâ€™d love it to be alagorical.
PT1: Okay, step back. What is interesting about this idea?
PT2: Parenting is the biggest and most rewarding responsibility ever, right? Iâ€™m interested in this guy who is conflicted about his own life and whether he wants to be a parent at all. And then he suddenly find out he’sÂ a parent. And then he isnâ€™t again. Itâ€™s like his parental responsibilites are flickering in and out of his life. At the end of the day, he is a lost soul. But the lesson he needs to learn is that being a lost soul doesnâ€™t mean he canâ€™t be a good parent.
PT1: So, this lost soul is drifting through lifeâ€¦ whatâ€™s he do for a living?
PT2: Thatâ€™s where I am stuck. Maybe a photographer? Could it be he took a picture of something he wasnâ€™t supposed to see?
PT1: I feel like weâ€™ve seen that before. We are on the right track though. Maybe something a little more techy, but not trendy or to â€˜of the nowâ€™.
PT2: Sorry, got distracted for a minute. Went over to the Twitterâ€¦
PT1:Â Bad idea.
PT2: Right? Aynway. I need to figure out what these guys want from our guy. Thatâ€™s an important step. I almost feel like once I have that I can start writing.
PT1: Okay. Think it over.