Where Do the Big Ideas Live?

Susan DeFcraft, fictionLeave a Comment

a person overlooking a horizon that is colored blue, yellow, orange, and pink

When you work with me as a book coach, we start with an outlining process I’ve developed–a process that helps the writer translate their big ideas for their novel into a fundamentally solid plan for the story.

It’s a process that gets to the heart of the project: What’s most meaningful for the writer about the story. Why they feel so compelled to write it. The ways that their personal truths are reflected in the journey of the protagonist. The themes that feel so urgent and important to share.

It’s heady, exciting work. You can see the big picture, how it all fits together, the effect your book going to have on the reader. It’s inspiring.

But then–well, you probably knew this was coming, right?

Then there’s the process of actually writing that book. Which often just feels like work.

Recently, one of my coaching clients brought this up, noting that when we did the outlining for her novel, we focused a lot on these really meaningful themes. “I get that you have to get the story down on the page,” she said, “but this sort of just feels like building a house.”

What this client was saying, basically, was this: How do all those big ideas we talked about actually show up on the page?

It’s an excellent question. And I love that my client used the metaphor of building a house, because the answer to her question can be meaningfully addressed by extending that metaphor.

If you know me personally, you know that I am an eco-geek, and for many years, I worked as a blogger covering green building. Which is why I was so psyched when I discovered that the house my husband and I had fallen in love with here in Santa Fe had been designed according to passive solar principles.

“Passive solar” doesn’t mean that that a building has solar panels on the roof. Rather, it means that the building has been sited and constructed in such a way that the low winter sun floods the house in the cold season, and some type of thermal mass (in our case, brick floors and adobe walls) holds that heat, reducing heating bills–while in the summer months, when the sun passes overhead, the house lies largely in shade, and the same thermal mass holds the cool of the night, which reduces or eliminates the need for AC.

There are so many big-picture ideas at work in that building system: Working with nature, rather than against it. Doing more with less. Working smarter, not harder. Care for the Earth and its resources. You might even go so far as to call it a Taoist sort of building philosophy.

But can you feel all that when you’re just laying out a brick floor?

Probably not. Probably, it just feels like work.

Even so, if you’ve developed your blueprints for your house based on the ideas that matter most to you, you can trust that they will be apparent in the house itself when it’s done.

Living in this passive solar house of ours is living inside an idea made reality, and I like to think you can feel it when you spend time here: the intelligence and care of those who designed and built it. For our vsitors who haven’t yet encountered passive solar design, I’d like to think it offers inspiration as well.

A novel can offer just that sort of inspiration, and food for thought, in the form of an experience, a story–and if you structure it right, that novel will act as a sturdy vessel for your deepest truths and ideals.

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