I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has told me that they would like to write a book someday. I’d have at least a $100 by now. My question is: Why wait? Do you have an idea? Do you have an idea, but have no clue where to start?
Personally, I’ve never had too much of a problem coming up with story ideas. My head is filled with them (perhaps overfilled, one might say). Most writers are the same way. We just can’t turn our imaginations off. Maybe that’s why people look at us funny. Our minds are so stuffed with characters and ideas from our fictional worlds, that sometimes these things just start slipping out. On occasion, my husband has to say to me, "Come back, Kristina. Come back!"
Okay. I’m back. So you’ve got lots of ideas. Now what?
1. Buy a notebook. Make it a nice one, cool or pretty - whatever turns you on - and start considering it as another appendage to your body. In here, you are going to make a list of your story ideas. While doing this, make sure you leave plenty of pages for adding to each idea. Come to think of it, you’d better make it a big notebook.
2. Pick out an idea that you really, really like. Then figure out if this is a story someone else might care about. The trouble in this day and age is that most of us have to cater to the almighty dollar if we want to get published. Will your idea sell? Will people want to read a book on the topic you want to write about? Yes? Then keep reading. No? Then pick another one.
Special note: I don’t want to discourage you from being innovative and groundbreaking. So if you think you’ve got a unique idea, develop it and don’t worry about the money. Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. Yet look at how we revere his work today. Of course, he didn’t have much to eat and he cut off his ear, but he’s considered a genius now!
Seriously, you should write what you love. At the same time, you might want to avoid putting out the same old stuff that is already out there. I sort of ignored that advice when I wrote about Anaedor. I love writing fantasy, but in these days of Harry Potter, everyone else seems to love it, too. I did try to make my story somewhat unique - the angle, the characters, the setting. Yes, I tackled a genre that is filled to the gills with J.K. wannabes, but I tried my best to do a unique take on it. Whether I succeeded or not will be up to the readers. Basically I didn’t follow my own advice, so maybe you shouldn’t even be listening to me.
3. Okay, so you’ve picked out an idea. Now, do your research. See what’s big out there. Or not big and needs to be filled. Here’s a freebie… When I search for books to read to my kids I’m always on the lookout for ones that fit their interests. My one son is a natural-born inventor. But there are not many books aimed at a 5-year-old budding scientist, though maybe for good reason. Another one of my sons loves to cook (he’s 3). But I can’t find anything on that kind of thing, and certainly not for a 3-year-old (yes, he’s the same one who lost my measuring spoons).
If you want to write children’s stories, question parents with young children about what they’re looking for (library storytimes are a great place to find such parents). Or, go to Amazon and type in a genre…see how many books pop up on the subject. Too many? See if you can narrow it down to a unique slant on the genre. For a wacky example, let’s say I want to write about action/adventure. You will discover that there are thousands of action adventure books out there. But how many of them star a rock as the hero? None. Same genre, unique slant. You get to do the area you’re interested in, but are making it sellable by being different.
4. So how do you develop an idea? I spend a lot of time thinking about my stories. Some writers say they will spend years developing an idea. They are writing other books, in the meantime, so don’t use that as an excuse to delay getting started! Think about your idea while you’re showering, while lying in bed, while you’re driving or taking a walk. Imagine yourself in the story. Who do you meet? What’s the conflict? When does it take place (past, present, future, different plane of time)? Where does it take place? Do research on your topic. That’s the beauty of the internet. Get online and type in your idea. There’s so much information out there, that it should stimulate your creative juices. If it doesn’t, consider yourself a hopeless case.
Additionally, I create a special document just for notes on my book. My latest is 80 pages long, almost a book in itself (though a lot of it is cut and paste - just don’t plagiarize the stuff, please - consider the information merely a tool for writing your book and stimulating story ideas). It’s actually quite fun to do and at the very least, you’re learning something.
5. Now that you have a general outline of what you want to do, it’s time to get more specific. Take each character and describe them (what’s their favorite food? If they were to vote, who would they pick? Bad habits? Unique physical characteristics?). Make a map of your setting (whether it be a house, a town, a world, or all of the above). Be as detailed as you can. I actually draw pictures. I’m terrible at drawing, but it helps me to visualize things. Oftentimes, you can get tripped up in your book because you don’t have everything set out. You could end up with a river that flows upstream (which is only okay if you wanted it that way). Or, you might end up with all the characters having similar names - not good. Readers will confuse them. Maybe your main character has green eyes at the beginning and blue eyes by the end. Details matter!
6. To sum up, you develop your story idea by immersing yourself in it and living it. I think the best way to do that is to join that world and be that world. This may cause problems in your real life - you might start confusing fiction with reality, something I often do - but this should be temporary. Until you start working on the next book, that is!
So that’s my take on developing story ideas, for what it’s worth. I hope this blog helped and if it didn’t, then I don’t know what to do for you. I sweated blood writing this blog. I have nothing left to give. Make my efforts worthwhile…get started on developing your story idea!