Tom Schreck: The One Hour a Day Novelist – The Idea

Hey folks! Time for the second installment in Tom Schreck’s series writing and being a working author. In addition to being the author of five books, he is has written for a wide variety of publications including The Business Review,, American Health and Fitness, Professional Counselor and Catfancy:

The Idea

I probably don’t have to say this but before you begin writing your mystery you have to have an idea.

Note, I said an idea. I didn’t say plot. I didn’t say outline. I didn’t say ending.

To get your book going start with an idea and start asking yourself “What if?”

For me it worked something like this:

Idea: A guy who is a human service worker during the day is also a part time professional boxer

What if…

He comes to the Robin Hood-type rescue of the vulnerable people on his caseload.

Okay, but how?

Uh, he’s a pretty good fighter, he’s got a friend who is a cop and he’s got this kind of won’t-give up attitude.

And what if?

His sidekick was a basset hound who didn’t do anything he was told.

And how could you twist that to make it different?

Make the dog a Black Muslim, a really disobedient canine member of the Nation of Islam.

And who does your boxer friend hang out with?

What if he’s a regular at a bar and the regulars are his sounding board.

That’s an idea.

It will feel phoney to you. Writing a novel will feel like a ridiculous idea and you will feel like you might as well be planning a trip to Mars because you have about as much of a chance of success getting there as finishing a book.

There’s something that will feel even phonier than your idea.

And that will be starting to type it into your computer. Would-be writers resist this action because there’s commitment in actually typing some of your idea. If you stop then you have to admit you started and failed or that it sucked or that you had the silly notion that you could do this. Yet, without typing and working the story out on the screen your idea will remain unformed.

The coolest thing about writing fiction is that you start with something in mind and most of the time you wind up some place else. It’s a brain thing that I’m sure some scientist could explain it but the action of writing generates more cogent story development than just the process of thinking.

When I developed Duffy I originally wanted a character that was a total screw up. He was to be a character who solved crimes almost by dumb luck and chance. Kind of like a Barney Fife who came through in the end.

I had a hard-as-hell time trying to make that early incarnation work.

The more I wrote the more I realized you couldn’t have a character like that in a mystery. It isn’t fair to the readers to take them on a 300-page trip and give them a resolution that is conceived with dumb luck. You can’t do it that way.

A protagonist has to be competent. Maybe not perfect, and I definitely wanted an imperfect guy, but they can’t be a total loser. A total loser won’t get the job done and ultimately won’t give the readers a satisfying conclusion.

Resist the urge to “know” exactly where the story has to go before starting. Resist the urge to write an 85 page outline. Resist the urge to wait to start on your vacation, at the end of the school year, after you lose 20 lbs. or whatever.

Start now.

As you write you may want to begin to outline but I believe outlining will be more meaningful after your work has begun. This is a cognitive process, this isn’t assembling one of those Sauder TV stands with 972 parts and 2,342 steps that have to be done in a specific order.

I got news for you. Every writer I know sucks at putting them together. They are no fun, they are boring and they are for the unimaginative. Fiction is play.

Have fun.

Don’t confuse that with doing it at your own speed whenever the Muse (whatever the hell that is!) hits you.

You have two things to do after reading this.

  1. Write your idea and begin
  2. Ignore the voices that tell you this is a silly way to spend your time.

Tom Schreck writes the Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries and his newest release THE VEGAS KNOCKOUT, will be available on May 15. Visit and “like” his fan page on Facebook at for a chance to win a Kindle Fire.