What a novel idea!


So far I have written six novels, each of which is a standalone book. Three of them take place in the St. Paul, Minnesota and three of them are located in Europe (one in a fictitious prison camp somewhere in England, one in London and one mostly in Milan, Italy). In the past few years I haven’t written any novels at all, but instead concentrated on nonfiction and poetry. Nevertheless, I have, from time to time, tried to come up with plots that might lend themselves to a full-length novel. Here are just a few of the possible contenders:
1.     A guy who is having a midlife crisis decides to quit his job and head off on a road trip across the USA. The story also involves his relationship with his father, whom he had always admired, until… he discovers a dark secret about him that changes his whole perspective. His route takes him through small towns and large cities and he has encounters with various people, including a number of weirdoes, criminals and crackpots. At one point he is held hostage during a bank robbery. The back story unfolds, as he travels, through the use of flashbacks.
Here it is unclear whether the story has “legs.” Is there enough of a basic plot to last a whole book? Possibly not. There would need to be several subplots tied to the main plot in order to make it credible as a 70k+ word novel. Also, the idea of a guys simply doing a road trip seems kind of aimless. He would need to be searching for something specific.
2.     A comic novel in which a middle aged man who has a boring job is inadvertently drawn into the dark underworld of organized crime and achieves a reputation as a tough guy and mastermind despite his protestations.
This seems barely credible (plus, so far, my world seems to be peopled by middle-aged guys in crisis. Is this involuntary autobiography? I hope not.) How do you inadvertently get drawn into organized crime? The credulity of the reader would have to be stretched beyond breaking point to accommodate the premise.
3.   A comic novel in which a businessman is in debt and is trying to gain money by posing as a psychic. His home is being foreclosed on and at the same time he is trying to persuade his wife to come back to him. She left because he was spending too much time at work trying to save his business. James became a psychic by accident when he boasted that being a psychic was easy and was dared to do it by his friends. It turned out to be a fairly simple matter of deduction and subterfuge and he freelances as a psychic working from home. At length he becomes a consultant for two rival mob bosses. The plot revolves round how he plays one side off against the other while getting deeper and deeper into difficulties.
What!!! Again, suspension of all disbelief would be required by the reader. On the other hand it is a comic novel, so it might be possible to write the story and still be credible. However, the sad fact is that this scenario or something like it has already been covered by the TV show “Psych.” Oh well, better luck next time.
4.     An aging auditor takes early retirement. His wife is just about to retire when she drops dead of a heart attack. He takes on various odd jobs for a temping agency and at each job he casually informs management as he’s leaving that such and such a person is committing a fraud. Then he stumbles upon a big fraud at one of the companies he works for. He finds himself caught up in the criminal world and an insider trading scam. He threatens to blow the whistle on the perpetrators of the fraud but that gets him into deeper water and he finds himself trying to avoid being killed. His deceased wife appears as a character who is in the background having imaginary conversations with him. The love interest is provided by his joining a dating agency and by the various dates he stumbles through unsuccessfully, until he eventually meets Miss Right.
Another middle-aged crisis story in the making! However this one has something to recommend it – what that is, I’m not entirely sure. The plot is provided by the various frauds he investigates, including the serious one. The tension is furnished by the threat to his life. And the love interest is supplied by the dating agency. The comedy could come out in his conversations with his dead wife. One possible drawback is that fraud is not necessarily as compelling as murder or a heist scenario. But still…

Those are just four of the potential blockbusters I came up with. Going over my notes, I discovered I had quite a few novel ideas that were never written, some with complete outlines for thirty or more chapters. For some of them, it’s a blessing that they never saw the light of day. Others start off as serious plot lines, but then degenerate into more and more fantastical flights of fancy that are farfetched, incredible, or just plain stupid. Despite that, I think it is worth pursuing ideas for novels. Who knows? One day I might hit on an idea that no one has thought of before and has the potential to be a bestseller. And one day I might become a crowned head of Europe and receive an inheritance worth millions.

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