How Ideas Become Stories

When I come up with a new story it’s never fully fleshed out.

It’s just an idea, a concept….maybe a single scene, a hint of something I hope would make a good story but am entirely not sure.

So how do you take that glimmer of an image and make it into a fully fleshed out story?

Well, the answer is usually a heck of a lot of work.

I spend *a ton* of time commuting, so this is where I do a lot of my plotting and fleshing out. I start to imagine the scene or the world…character names become very important here. If a character doesn’t tell me their name I’m bound to obsess until I find the right one.

I’m a “detailer” and I will spend hours world-building while commuting. (Yes, I plot and drive. I need a bumper sticker to warn other drivers.)

Sometimes a story comes to me easily and I’ll write everything down so I can save it for later—99% of my ideas come when I’m not in a place to work on it. Some of these are complete plot outlines; usually it’s just a few paragraphs, maybe a character description, or concept page.

 I do have a “to be written” pile. Yes, I get distracted by stories and work on projects when I “shouldn’t” but I’m usually good about working on them for only a certain amount of time as a “break” then returning to the task at hand. Usually. 

Innocent Darkness was one of those stories where I had an image and a concept, came up with a whole plot, complete with character names, wrote down a summary, and saved it for later. My MG Elfpunk was another.

But those are exceptions, not rules.

Usually, when I start a story—like the Super Sekrit Project—I only know what’s happening in the first few scenes, I may not even have a plot. Usually, I have no idea where the story is going. I am much better at concepts and worlds than plots and have to do a lot of pondering to come up with one.

I don’t use sticky notes or charts or white boards. For me it’s my imagination and BICHOK (butt in chair hands on keyboard) or, if you will, plug computer into brain, push “download.”

When I don’t know where a story goes, or what happens next, writer friends (and betas) can be very handy. You can bounce ideas off them while trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B and still have the story make sense.

Even when I know exactly where the story will go, my stories tend to grow and change as I write—evolve if you will.

My MG is so much more than the very simple one-page summary indicates.

And Innocent Darkness? Well, let’s just say it wasn’t called Innocent Darkness – nor was it Steampunk. That happened all on the fly while writing and Steampunking the story changed *a lot* of stuff.

I usually keep lists of things to add and change once I finish my first draft. That way I can keep pushing forward and not stop and go back and fix things. For me it’s all about momentum. I’d rather vomit out a draft then go back and fix things or I’ll get distracted and go work on something else.

Even after the story is written things still change. Characters get removed. Scenes get added. Darlings get killed. Something entire new layers to the story are added after it’s already written.

Oftentimes the end product is *nothing* like the original idea.  Nothing. 

But in the end is (hopefully) a really good story.

So, how do you get from idea to book? Do you work on a new idea as soon as you can or do you wait until you’re “free” to start a new project?


Theresa Meyers said...

When I get a flash of inspiration I usually will jot it down on a idea sheet and then file it away in my idea trunk on my computer. I find if I pursue a new "pretty shiny" idea beyond more than a one page sketch, I get too distracted from the work at hand.

Once I pick out an idea sheet and actually start working with it, that's where all the plotting charts, running numbers on character names and other plot work comes into play for me.

Amanda Ashby said...

Sometimes I get an idea I really love and I can just sit down and write the whole thing really quickly, while other times the ideas come through in small dribbles and then they sit back and laugh at me as I try and figure out what it all means. This second method is not what I would call ideal!!!!!

katjameson said...

For me sometimes ideas come at the strangest times. Like when I am sitting in the car waiting to pick kids up from school, in the shower, cooking dinner, or last night while I was partially reading a book and listening to something that the husband had on tv. Well okay so last night a solution to an idea that I already had was what appeared but who am I to be choosy.
I keep a 5x6 thin notebook in my purse in case it is an inconvenient time and I'm out somewhere. I think it's important to jot down the basics so the brain can remember the details when it's time to sit at the keyboard.
Great topic Suzanne =)

Suzanne Lazear said...

@ Theresa -- Idea sheet? That sounds so organized!

@ Amanda -- yep, far from idea, and frusterating. I hate it when my characters mock me, lol

@ Kat -- a notebook is always handy so you don't forget things.

Yahong Chi said...

I find waiting never really helps, so I make sure I write down at least the opening scene (or at least, the opening scene for now) so I don't forget. Plus, when I'm stumped on one project, I move to the other. And then I feel super-productive. :P