An Idea is Never Truly ‘Finished’

26 October 2011 | 3 Comments » | Kevin Cioffi

I am guessing this has happened to many of you:

I began work on a novel about two years ago. The process began with the spark of an idea, nurturing it through plenty of world-building into the semblance of a flame. After a couple months of kicking this idea around in my head, November was coming around, and with it NaNoWriMo. I decided to go to town on this new idea, working with some pretty robust world building and a very loose outline, and managed to hit the 50,000 words, but was only about halfway through the story as I envisioned it in my head.

After November, work on the novel inevitably slowed, and that passionate month of writing began to resemble the opening act of a romantic relationship; I was enamored with the idea in November, it was lovely and infallible. Afterwards, glaring imperfections began to surface and the idea wasn’t so flawless anymore. It needed work. I put it on the back burner to simmer. There were aspects I needed to reconsider.

I worked on it off and on the following year, considering new ideas and beginning new projects all the while, but I always seemed to come back to the original; indeed, I never stopped developing the world, or my ideas on how the outline should play out.

I will tell you a bit about it so I can make a point later. I will try to be pretty general rather than get locked down in specific details. The setting was a jungle type environment, something I had never seen before as the prime location in a fantasy story, and one that I was really excited to work with. Within the jungle lived a single tribe with a terrifying history. Some time ago, perhaps hundreds of years, the world was locked in eternal war, human blood spilled constantly and endlessly. The earth was forced to drink this blood, and with enough of it, a terrible evil quickened beneath the crust, giving rise to a malicious jungle. Most of the population was wiped out as the vegetation sprung up overnight, choking with vines, stabbing with roots, cutting with razor sharp leaves, what have you; quickened through decades of violence, this villainous jungle craved human blood to fuel its growth.

Humans fled as the jungle took root, and the few survivors were able to convene and establish a horribly burned and scarred track of land where nothing whatsoever would grow. And so they were safe from the onslaught of the jungle, and in time, were able to form a community and begin to slowly grow the human population.

Those are about all the details necessary. The point is, I worked with this idea for some time, beginning work on the actual novel with interruptions here and there for more world building about what the society was like, how their struggle for survival would play out.

But I began to feel limited. I was working with a relatively small population, in a relatively cramped and concentrated pocket of the world. The society itself was nowhere near as complex or established enough for me to tie it allegorically to problems in modern society, which I very badly wanted to do. What was once a spark, then a fire, eventually dulled and burned out; development ceased and I was unable to overcome these glaring problems with the established world-building.

Recently, a few weeks ago, that unmistakable spark hit me again, and I began to solve my problems. I had new, vaster ideas; ideas that took all the work I had done into its fold and established something larger. Suddenly, the old idea was but a facet of the new. The world, and the story, grew in scope and complexity and have become much more relatable, much easier to work with.

I have heard it say that many works of art – poems, paintings, songs, and novels – are never truly finished. The artist eventually has to pick a point and sort of walk away, presenting it to the world in its current state. This makes more sense to me now than it ever has before. How many of you have experienced the same: an idea that never stops growing, that always becomes richer and more refined. An idea that will grow over several days, then months, and eventually years.

It is clear to me that an idea for a world and a story is never “finished’ and ready to write. It is true, at some point we will be forced to take what we have and run with it or else it will never see life, but I am sure many of us could sit and incubate a single idea for the entirety of our lives – I can only wonder how imaginative and complex these could grow.

As for me, I am more excited than ever for November to roll around, to give my newly reborn idea another shot at NaNoWriMo and see if it is finally ready to take its first steps into life.