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Writing a Novel: Finding Your Topic

Hello all!

Today I'm going to write about the first step you'll take when you begin writing a novel.  Actually, this doesn't apply merely to novels -- you could be writing a short story, a poem, anything.  One of the most important things you'll do?  Finding the topic you want to write about.

If you have to think and scrounge around for an idea, it won't work.  It's as simple as that.  Like anything in the natural world, if something is forced, it likely will not work out: it'll break, it'll be unnatural, or it will simply just be dropped due to a lack of interest.  In my opinion, the topics you want to grab hold of are the ones that are passing thoughts.
What if...this happened?
What if the weird noise I just heard at work is really....?
(This is my personal favorite; I'm convinced that the odd thumping from behind a wall at my place of work is really a prisoner that someone stuffed in a wall alive, and they're living off of the grease and crumbs that seep through buckling seams in the wall or something).
Why does THIS happen in the universe? What if something different was so?  
What if things had worked out between my ex and I?
Who/what kind of person is the individual I bumped carts with at the supermarket? 

Those kinds of thoughts!  Whenever you come across something that you see has potential to become the subject of a book, go for it.  It's a good idea to take a pocket notebook with you everywhere so you can jot down ideas.  That way, you won't forget your moment of genius.

Now, these passing thoughts don't always work out.  They still peter out and end up being something you didn't plan on them being.  This last option is a double edged sword: the great J.R.R. Tolkien once said that he was oftentimes surprised at the direction his own writing took.  Obviously, sometimes your work turning out differently can be a good thing, and sometimes it can be a bad thing.  It all depends on the topic and why you think it's a good idea to write about it.

I recently read in one of my college textbooks about Simon Sinek's Start With Why.  Mr. Sinek has some excellent ideas that can pertain to any aspect of life, but his explanation of why we should have a "WHY" (instead of a "WHAT" or a "HOW") for every project or ambition is very compelling.  To paraphrase, why we do or write what we do attracts individuals who will support us / our work more so than what we do or how we do it.  This connects back to how the limbic system in the brain works -- WHY we do something appeals to human emotions (the limbic system is what causes those 'gut feelings' people are likely to follow), whereas WHAT or HOW appeal to the more logical neocortex.  According to Sinek, decisions made by the limbic system are far better because we don't think ourselves into oblivion about it.  Anyway, long story cut abruptly short: make sure you know why you're writing about this topic because it will essentially add the 'heart' into the story.  Even shorter explanation still: Punch people in the 'feels' and they'll love your work. Proven strategy.

Why do we need a WHY for our stories?  Without it, we're just explaining a story with no morale, essentially.  There are no lessons to be learned, it's just a bunch of words explaining how something happened.  Sounds boring, right?  No character arcs, epiphanies, etc.

For example: a book I'm currently writing is about two gifted individuals' character arcs from hating one another to falling in love.  However, WHY am I writing about them?  First of all, I want to spread information and interest in gifted/high IQ individuals, since it's a topic that is rather untouched, at least with accuracy.  I also want to display humbleness, faithfulness, and that pride always trips people up.  It's really hard for me to explain why I want to write about these kiddos.  Why is it hard?  The limbic system can't process words like the neocortex can.  Like how you can't say why you love your true love --you struggle to find generic terms that never really fit!  Therefore, if you have a deep conviction about the topic but struggle to explain why you want to write about it to someone else, don't be surprised.

Therefore:  why do you want to explore what would happen if...?  Why are you curious about something?  Why do you want to write about a specific topic, person, etc.?  Why is the most important question you want to ask yourself in writing, but don't get tripped up if you have an inability to summarize it to someone else...that's why you're writing the book.

Okay.  You have your topic and why you want to write about it.  Now what?

Next time you see me, I'll likely be writing about mapping out a plot (yuck, I know).  Are you having flashbacks to those elementary school essay outlines yet?

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