If you don’t already have an idea, check out these 102 ways to formulate ideas. ; if you want a structured way to develop your characters and plot, please feel free to use this booklet (it’s still in development, so any feedback would be appreciated!)
If you already have an idea you’re hot on – welcome, welcome, to the idea development workshop! The biggest problem people have when it comes to successfully plotting and outlining really boils down to having an under-developed idea.
Not true – I hear you cry.
No doubt it feels more like one of these bad boys is the issue:
- Writers block
- Lack of research
- “It’s just not good”
- Unruly characters
- Stagnation and ‘waffling’
Well, the truth is it could be that you haven’t researched quite enough… but unless you’re writing historic fiction there really is a limit to how much research is prudent. If you are writing historic fiction and you want tips on historical researching for authors click here. Likewise, if you feel your characters are causing the issue, you might need to develop them just a little more!
If, however, you feel that you’re blocked, that the idea is just bad, or that it’s losing drive and ‘waffling’ (meandering, losing focus, has no main point etc) then I can assure you it’s because you need to develop your idea.
Why, How, And, Then – The Four Questions of the Apocalypse
If you want to develop your idea and find a new angle to come from you need to ask questions of it. For example; ‘a man is getting ready to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge, but a cop steps in and saves him’ is an idea.
It’s a decent idea with the potential to make a compelling story, but not as it is.
Now you could wrestle with that simple, clunky idea like a woman trying to French braid her own hair behind her head with no mirror… (no I am not salty that I can’t do this), or you could develop the idea into something that plots itself.
I’m glad you asked that question, because you’re going to need it!
No-one Expects the Spanish Inquisition!
Except you should:
These people will all ask many questions of your plot, and so to ensure that they are merely small ones, not huge, terrifying ones that expose plot-holes, you need to interrogate your idea long before you write.
Here’s how; we take our idea from earlier (handily lifted from one of my own short stories), and we question it like it’s a teenager just in after dark smelling of weed and covered in hickies…
A man is getting ready to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge –
He lost his job and his house because of his mental illness and feels he has nothing to live for.
Ok – that’s a more developed concept, but it’s a bit hackneyed. What about this instead;
He doesn’t actually want to jump – he’s late for a big, life changing meeting and his presentation script blew out of his hand. It’s on the very edge of the ledge, caught under his foot, but he’s too scared to move.
That’s a bit more unique. What about the cop? Now we know the cop is out there because they think he’s a jumper, but what happens if they find out he’s not?
A cop goes out to talk him down, and finds out why he is actually out there.
They lean down, pick up the paper, and he makes it to his presentation with hours to spare.
It works, but seriously? YAWN.
Ok, what about this;
A 24 year old entrepreneur is on their way to a lifechanging business meeting, hours early, reading their script, when a wind blows it away.
They chase it all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge where it gets caught on the ledge, by pure luck.
They climb out to get it, trap it under their foot, and suffer sudden vertigo when they look down. They freeze and a passing police officer thinks they’re going to jump.
The cop finds out they aren’t going to jump, but are simply stuck. They chat, and the cop tries to get the paper from under their foot.
A strong gust of wind throws it out over the river.
The cop suggests that they print another, but they can’t, it’s unique. And so the cop suggests they go looking for it as they saw it blow towards the nearest river bank.
The cop is new to the area and wants to make friends, and anyway it’s a slow day.
They search for the script together, find it, and race across the city to the entrepreneurs meeting, making it just in time.
So, as you can see – by taking that one concept and prodding it until it bled I took a hackneyed, cliched idea with potential, and made it into a short story outline (which I am now getting ready to send out – I’ll let you know how that goes).
Once you have your idea you can begin to flesh out your characters, and strengthen your plot.