The Goldilocks Dilemma of Novel Writing

January 9, 2019



Story ideas, in my opinion, are a dime a dozen. Often, the idea is too small to support an entire novel but just as often it can be too large for a single novel and needs to be spread between several installments. A lot of new authors, and even experienced ones, run into this issue early on in their process. Is my idea big enough to afford me enough material to finish a 300+ page novel but small enough to fit into a 300+ page novel? Remember Writer, as a new author attempting to break into the field, you will have word count restrictions. Let me elaborate by starting with ideas that may be too small.

    As I said above, novel ideas are a dime a dozen and when you are actively seeking to be inspired you might come across some dud ideas. For example, you are perusing through Pinterest and come across a photo of a girl standing in a coffee shop. An idea strikes you and you exclaim, “that’s it! I’ll write a story about a girl who enters a coffee shop on a blustery winter day and meets a boy who works as a barista who turns out to be her one true love.” Wonderful! You start drafting the first few chapters about how she loses her red scarf and it goes tumbling through the white landscape with her desperately chasing after it until finally she gives up and enters the coffee shop. You describe in achingly beautiful prose every feature of the boy behind the counter down to his crooked smile and golden flecked eyes. They have adorable, yet witty, conversation before she leaves the shop then…..nothing. Your story runs out of steam. You realize suddenly, that your story idea is too small.

    Could you save this idea by digging deeper into the character’s backstories and developing the idea? Maybe. But what I find happens more often is you run into this wall and then stop. So, unless you have something more than the love story, like a significant opposing force, you’re stuck.

    Now, say that you do have a significant opposing force. Coffee shop girl is actually an undercover angelic being whose mission is to find and capture a fallen angel who turns out to be the barista boy. In attempting to persuade him to return with her to heaven they accidentally trigger the apocalypse and are forced to team up and travel through the nine layers of hell to obtain a missing object that could stop the apocalypse before it destroys the world!


Whew, I’m out of breath just typing that.


   Now it seems we’ve strayed a bit too far in the opposite direction. There is probably a slim chance that you will be able to fit all of that into one novel. Okay, you might, but it would probably turn out to be underdeveloped with an abundance of plot holes and mediocre characters. When you have too much plot, your characters and world building suffer which means your reader is less likely to follow your characters into the pits of hell because they honestly just don’t care. This idea is much too big and needs to be broken down into smaller, more manageable, sections.

    Book one should focus on your two main characters meeting, establishing their individual personalities and back stories as well as their relationship to each other. You should also focus on story set up and world building. Give the reader the time to get to know the confines and quirks or your world. Pepper in information and keep them guessing. Then, have your characters trigger the apocalypse and reveal your villain. Save the nine layers of hell for the next two books. Nothing, in my opinion, kills a book more than too many plot points and not enough character development.

    In conclusion, how do you determine that your idea is the right size? Start by simply fleshing out the idea. You can do this by exploring subplots or writing out a detailed plot summary. Think of it as the SparkNotes version of your book. It doesn’t have to be pretty, and most likely the plot points will change slightly as you continue to develop the idea, but it will help for you to know if the idea is going to carry you through to the end of the novel or stop abruptly after twenty pages.

    Do you know of any tricks or tips in establishing whether your idea is big enough or too big for a novel? Let me know in the comments below! Happy Writing!


Until next time, here's an inspirational quote to get you through:



“Ideas are easy. It's the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.”
― Sue Grafton




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