I think novels come from imagination, experience, and memory. Any of these might contribute to the work: start it, push it forward, add layers to it. For me, ideas come from these, but I think I need to define ideas a little before trying to write about them more.
When we talk about ideas, we might be talking about any aspect of writing. What first comes to people’s minds when people talk about their idea for a novel isn’t always the same. Some people might be thinking about a situation and others might be thinking about a theme or setting. Very different. So there are these big ideas that are at the core of a novel, that drive it, and that can come from all kinds of places.
In addition to these big ideas, there are more focused ideas such as those, for instance, about character. You’re thinking about your character and you have ideas about what he does, what he wants, what he fears, and how he fits into the novel. Some people start with character when they start their novel and the character helps ideas grow and develop and helps the author find his story and his way through that story.
Things can, of course, change and this will change your ideas. For example, you think you want to write a novel about loss. Your character’s wife dies and it’s a novel about how he copes with this terrible and difficult situation, but halfway through the novel he meets another woman and he starts to fall for her (Where did she come from? Ah, the mystery of fiction and life.) And his grief begins to fade and he feels amazement and gratitude and guilt, so then the novel becomes about this experience. Maybe the novel then becomes about this whole journey to a new life. (And so the beauty of revision because you’ll have to revise the first part with this revelation in mind because ideas lead to other ideas in a plot. They have to be connected.)
Ideas work on many different levels in a novel. I think it’s helpful to consider this and to think of ways to connect them.
Or so I think today.