I was browsing the usual websites I go to for inspiration when I found on Nathan Bransford’s blog a compilation of his best writing tips! After jumping for joy, I browsed the links and ended up looking into the one entitled, “How to choose an idea for a novel.” Granted, I’m currently taking a break from my novel in order to work on basic writing mechanics, but I was still fascinated about what Nathan had to say on the matter, especially since I’m coming up with new ideas to write about every week!
As always, Nathan didn’t disappoint. The second I started reading the post, I fell in love with quotation after quotation (a few of which I’m going to share!) and understood right away where his pointers were coming from. Based on my personal experience thus far, I wish I had read this post sooner! And in terms of currently writing short literary sketches, the tips Nathan shared were insightful.
The core message of the post, which he pretty much summed up in the beginning, is “The only reason for choosing something to write about is because you love the crap out of the idea.” While this sentence was enough for me as I reminisced on the times I tried to force an idea to work, Nathan went into further detail that explains the decision process beautifully:
“When you’re choosing an idea for a novel, you’re choosing something you are going to be spending more time with than many of your best friends and your most demanding family members. You’re choosing an idea that will render your bathing habits irregular and your sanity patchy. You’re making a terrifically important decision that will shape the next six months to seventeen years of your life. You have to choose wisely.”
And if you’re still wondering, “How do I pick the right idea?”:
“By listening to yourself. By keeping the thought in the back of your head that you’re waiting for a really good idea for a novel. By eavesdropping on the people around you. By letting your mind wander in the shower. By silently thinking, night and day, that you want to write a novel and that you are merely waiting for the right idea.”
On a similar note, I found the ideas for my literary sketches (based on my mentor’s prompts) from whatever came to mind. After mulling over the given phrase, I’d let my mind wander and start to formulate a scene or a main character. My first ideas didn’t always work out, but after playing around with a number of options, I’d eventually come up with my story.
In the case of my most recent piece, “For the Sake of the Public,” the prompt (“Fragile hearts and minds”) reminded me of something a political figure would say. Without straying too much in the direction of Scandal, I started determining who my two characters would be in terms of politics, what their relationship to each other was, which one would use the phrase, “Fragile hearts and minds,” and in what circumstances would he/she say it. Just as Nathan pointed out in his post, it’s going to take a number of tries to get your idea exactly the way you want it. Although I don’t think I hit the piece exactly on the nose, I’m still pretty satisfied with how it turned out. Here’s my latest sketch, “For the Sake of the Public,” (I wonder how Olivia Pope would try to fix this political problem):
Just a bit thinner, perhaps a lighter color, and the blood spatters on the carpet would have looked like juice stains. At least, that’s what Jason would have hoped it was the first time he’d seen the remnants of a kill. Back then on the first day of the job, it stained a white speckled carpet, the blood seeming more like paint than a drink. The fluids’ appearance varied depending on what the new carpet for the office was, today’s being a powder blue with a white floral design. But the spatters didn’t bother him anymore, just as they hadn’t for many years now.
“Shall I call Mr. Louis, governor?” After tucking away his smoking gun, Jason pulled out his cell and prepared to hit the speed dial for the interior designer. When no response came to his question, he looked at the governor beside him, sitting in the big chair behind his cherry wooden desk.
“Sir?” he tried again, watching the governor with steady eyes as the man stared at the bloody mess in front of them.
With thin lips, sad eyes the same green as Jason’s, and a creased forehead, the governor asked with a hard voice, “When did you stop caring?”
“About what, sir?”
He sighed remorsefully, running his shaky hand through his dark wavy hair. “It’s like he’s not even there to you, isn’t it?”
At last, Jason looked up at what the governor was referring to. Limply sitting in the chair before the desk was the body of the man he had just killed. A dark ruddy hole remained from where the clean shot to the forehead had hit, blood streaking the blonde man’s emotionless face and still running down onto his button up shirt. Spotting the blood that reached the cushion, Jason grimaced internally; the shot was smooth but once the corpse was gone, the chair would need to be reupholstered as well.
“I’ll have the cleanup crew remove the body right away, governor.”
The governor’s hands tightened into fists as his head whipped in Jason’s direction. “It’s Jimmy,” he snapped. “Jimmy, Jim, Jimbo—anything is better than my brother using those titles.”
While Jason’s face remained as blank as the eyes of the dead man in the room, he felt sympathetic towards his younger sibling. Knowing how much Jimmy hated being called Jimbo when they were kids, his brother had to be particularly desperate to ask for even that. But things were different now; Jason was different now. His job had taken over and changed who he was…had changed the both of them.
“That would be inappropriate, sir,” Jason said monotonously. “It would send the wrong message to the rest of the team.”
Jimmy glared back, though the fierceness of the look weakened from his growing weariness. The bags under his eyes had darkened since he’d taken on his position too, the number of gray hairs increasing on his head. The fiery youth that used to argue with Jason had fizzled out over time despite Jason’s efforts to maintain him. But it was Jimmy’s determination to protect—no, to save Jason that had won out.
“I wasn’t referring to the cleanup before,” Jimmy said, giving up on the use of titles for now. “I meant, when did you stop caring about—” He glanced in the direction of the rebel’s body again before shutting his eyes tight with a sharp exhale, as if the sight was too much to bear.
Jason did frown, then. “That’s how things work, sir. You know that. Anyone who shows resistance—”
“You mean anyone who has another opinion? Not everyone who thinks differently is a threat, Jason. You know that.” Jimmy fixed his gaze on him, searching Jason’s cold face for a sign of the older brother who used to balk at the government’s atrocities, resolute in his way to get justice for them. “The plan was for us to fix things, not to worsen them! With me in the office and you as the head of my protection unit, we were going to expose what happens behind the scenes! Rebuild our country on real democracy, not the lies the military leaders spread!”
“Lower your voice, or someone will hear you, governor,” Jason said with urgency, eyeing the doorways and windows.
“For God’s sake, what happened to you?” Jimmy snapped, now getting up to stand face to face with his brother. “Don’t you see how they’ve ruined you? How you’ve lost your…”
Humanity. Yes, Jason noticed it decreased and remembered clearly how it degraded away with every man and woman he killed. But it was them who had taken it away; not the government, but the true face of the people. It was from them he was trying to protect Jimmy, protect his innocent mind from knowing that with every person Jason shot down, there was a gun hidden inside their coats, ready to kill Jimmy. It was Jason’s job to prevent his brother from losing his humanity, too.
After recomposing himself, Jason said, “The public have fragile hearts and minds, Jimbo. Society would crumble if they knew what really goes on. Maybe one day things will change. But for now, it’s up to us to make sure things run as they’re supposed to.”
Pain and disappointment came over Jimmy’s face as he looked away from Jason, sitting down again in his desk chair.
“You’re wrong,” he said under his breath, though loud enough for Jason to hear. “This isn’t how things are supposed to run.”
For the first time, Jason allowed himself to smile slightly. Perhaps the fire hadn’t burnt out completely in his younger brother, but was taking it’s time rekindling the old Jimmy. And Jason would ensure that it had the chance to do so. Until then, his priority was protecting the fragile hearts and minds of the public.
“I’ll call the maids to clean up the blood as well, sir.” And he hit the speed dial.