Developing Story Ideas

This is another prompt from the 105 Author Blog Prompts/Ideas post I spoke of yesterday. Seriously, you should go take a look. Not all 105 apply to me and probably not to all of your either, but it never hurts to have a few extra blog post ideas up your sleeve.

So the prompt:

How do you develop your writing ideas?

First I’m going to start with where my writing ideas come from: EVERYWHERE. I’m serious. It could be a movie, a book, a life event, a dream—it really doesn’t matter. Inspiration is a fickle thing, an uninvited guest that drops by, often at inconvenient times. But I’m always glad when inspiration pays a visit. Thankfully I have my smart phone to jot a few ideas down if needed. I recommend keeping something with you, whether phone or pad of paper to capture your inspiration when it comes bursting in.

THINKING

Now, how do I develop my ideas? I’m a ponderer. I love to think about things. There’s never a wasted minute in my life because when I’m stuck waiting for an appointment, or—if we’re being honest—stuck in boring conversation, I think about an idea I’ve had for a story. I’ve done this nearly all my life, so now it comes fairly easy to me.

Training your brain to explore like this makes it a lot easier when the time for rewrites and revamps in your novel come. My brain is already used to thinking up different possibilities, so when I give it the bad news that the story must change, it immediately goes to work and presents me with options.

Although there are plenty of occasions when I can’t use anything my brain comes up with and send it skulking back to the drawing board. But struggling like that makes my imagination stronger and teaches it to reach beyond the typical in the future. That’s how I feel like it’s been progressing lately.

PEN AND PAPER

I may give something a lot of thought, or a little. But I also couple the thinking with pen and paper brainstorming, although digital brainstorming has been known to happen. I just like the idea of being able to trace where my thoughts went on the pen and paper. Sometimes the digital brainstorming is too clean. There are still times when I’m doing graphic design that I have to sketch it out on paper, even if it’s rough, before actually designing it.

DISCOVERING

I’m mostly a plotter when it comes to story, but there’s a lot of pantser in me too. For those new to these terms, plotters like to map their stories out, perhaps with Jae mapoutlines. Pantsers like to fly by the seat of their pants and just write, discovering what the story is about.

I do a lot of discovery writing in the form of an outline. I write the skeleton version of the scene and rewrite until I’m satisfied with what I’ve got, then I give it a go on paper. But! (There’s always a but, isn’t there?) Although I stick to my outline for the most part, I’m not afraid to take little side trips off the marked path and see where they lead. I’ve come up with new characters and new scenes I’d never have thought of doing all my pondering this way. It’s because I let the story and characters tell me where things needed to go.

That doesn’t discount the importance of my outline. Like I said, a lot of the main plot points are still the same, it may just be that I arrive there a little differently from time to time.

MARINATE

When I’m working on a novel, I put my all into that one story. That doesn’t mean other stories aren’t pounding on the door demanding their turn. I often do a skeleton of the other ideas wanting attention and hold onto them. I’ve noticed that my imagination still works on them, though perhaps in a slower way. I read or see or experience something and think, “Hey, this would be great for that one story.” And so the developing goes.

In fact I was working on a different epic fantasy when the idea for SHADE came to me. I made notes of ideas I had for SHADE while still working on my other story, and when I decided it was time to shelf that other epic fantasy, SHADE had already been marinating, and was ready to come out and play.

I think sometimes rather than just write every story that comes to mind, there is wisdom in letting some marinate for a later date. Those stories will get told, but timing can be an important consideration. Plus one story idea I have (not SHADE) I didn’t feel ready to write at the time I received it. I’ve learned a lot with SHADE and I think I’m getting close to giving this other idea the attention it deserves, but it will marinate for now.

I only mention marination because a story you want published needs your full attention. You want it to sparkle like a beautiful diamond and I think sometimes when the writing gets tough another project is sought to run from that pressure. Don’t ever run from the pressure. Take a break from it if you need, but embrace it. When it starts to get difficult, this is the time you’ll grow as a writer.

What process do you use to develop stories? Where does your inspiration come from? Are you mostly a panster, a plotter, or right down the middle on both? Let me know in the comments below. And if you decide to do one of the 105 prompts, pingback here so I can come read about it. Sometimes I miss posts, but I never do if you ping me, so please! 😀

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8 thoughts on “Developing Story Ideas

  1. One of the tools I’ve come to like is Focused Free Association — essentially picking a subject and just writing down as quickly as possible anything that comes to mind. I have found this to be great not just for initial story ideas, but characters, settings, motivations, etc.

    An example: Boomerang. What kind of boomerang? Australian? Cheap knock off? Does it have special powers? It not only comes back to you, but it comes back to you with new information. It’s a surveillance device. Not the typical type. It works on data signals. Throw it over Starbucks and it cracks the wi-fi encryption and steals credit card numbers.

    Just a quick example. You come up with a lot of garbage, but when you look back and dig through things a day or two later, you’ll be surprised at what you find and can expand upon!

    • Hmmm… I like this idea, especially when it comes to writing short stories. I’ve got plenty of novel ideas, but sometimes I feel dry on short story ideas. Thanks!

  2. For me, some stories require a lot of development and brainstorming. Others run themselves full force through my mind, coming out almost fully formed within the course of a few hours. These often come from dreams, or sparks started from a mediocre book or movie. Often, my mind overruns with ideas, and it takes a lot of focus to remain on my main work in progress. Usually, I write little snippets and summaries, try to get everything out quickly, and then re-focus my efforts on one projects.

    • Sounds like we have similar processes. I know what you mean about a full force story. I’ve had that happen a few times. With the mediocre books you mentioned, is it that you’re thinking, this is fine but it totally would have been better this way?

      • Depends on if it’s mediocre to bad. Mediocre would match what you’re thinking. Bad means they totally butchered a great concept, and so my mind is ignited by all the possibilities I think they missed.

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