Idea Development

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:

  • Readers
  • Editors
  • Agents
  • Publishers

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. 

But –

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.






Idea To Realisation; How To Write A Novel


A while ago I put out a tweet on my account asking if anyone, anyone at all, would be interested in live updates about what the process of writing a novel looks like start to finish.

Well, the answer was yes (as you can imagine, given you’re reading this now), and I’m a balls-to-the-wall kind of person…


So here it is; ground zero. That moment when you have an idea, and literally nothing else. For me that idea, that concept, consists of Four things;

  • Sound
  • Sight (an image in your mind, or in the real world)
  • Feeling
  • Texture

And it looks like this;


I suspect I’m neither unique, or unusual in this, but I’ve never seen anyone talk about how to turn these things specifically into a workable plan for a novel or short story. Here’s how I begin; I write down that concept, the sight, sound, smell, and taste of it. Even if it makes little sense, even if it sounds like I’m describing a painting; I get it on paper. Sensory people, in my experience, have the most trouble with planning, and the easiest time when it comes to writing – so if you’re like me and this stage is hell, don’t worry it gets much, much easier.

This is the first step.

Then I add to that with working titles, genres, themes, potential plots and subplots. The end result is a messier version of this;


From here I move on to what I call the “mini-snowflake”.

I’m sure you all know what the snowflake method is and so you probably have a good idea of what the mini-snowflake is, but I’ll explain anyway. The mini-snowflake is a replication of stage 2 of the full method applied with the idea of helping to create a concrete idea of how to progress before you start planning in earnest. Start with a single sentence which explains the premise of your starting point, then follow up with a paragraph which explains the rough trajectory of the middle, and then finish with a sentence that gives a rough shape to the end of your story. It could look like this;



Now,  at this point most people would go into a full-blown snowflake, right? Well, not me amigos. If that would work better for you, and you’ve got what you need from my advice, then crack on, but I go to characters next. Stephen King once said that you’re either a planner or a pantser by nature, though most people have a little of both, and I’m a pantser. I fly by the seat of my character’s pants, though, not mine, and so I fill out my protagonist and antagonist, along with any main characters, before I do anything else. Now, this is where you might think it gets weird; my character sheets are reminiscent of D&D, but I promise you they work. Well, they work for me.

Interestingly enough this similarity predates my jump into D&D. If I’m honest it comes from playing RPG’s like Dragon Age: Origins, Oblivion, Skyrim, and, of course, older offerings. Here’s what my character sheets look like;




The idea is to build a character type that can deal with the obstacles in their way, but not with consummate ease. By setting things like skills (for example research, literacy, two-handed weaponry… it all depends on your genre), feats (passive qualities which can be improved with work, e.g. strength, flexibility, intelligence) you can get an idea not only of how they will react but what they can do. Likewise, by setting things like their drive (the overall goal that pushes them through life), and their short-term goal (the thing motivating them through the story), as well as the overall ideal to which they subscribe you can begin to build a relationship with your character.


Once you have a cast of viable main characters return to your initial ideas sheet and ask yourself which of these ideas fit best with the characters in question. How would they react to each situation? Are the needed motivations realistic? Will there be enough tension?

Make a list of the top 3 ideas you have and note the pros, the cons, and the unique selling point for each of them because it’s time for idea development. In all honesty, you’re most likely to end up with an idea that combines aspects of all three, or even one of your top 3 with some of the disqualified contenders. Roll with it; all you need is a viable idea to work with. Think of this as a malleable hypothesis – it will change as you go through the stages of plotting, writing, rewriting, and editing.

All you need, at this point, is an idea that has 4  qualities;

  1. A HOOK

If you’re not excited and passionate about the idea, the novel is going to fizzle out. If you have these 4 things, you have a good foundation from which to kick off.

Resources for moving forward;

30 Story Starters

The Genres in Fiction

3 Mistakes To Avoid

3 Cardinal Sins of Writing

3 Ways to Level Up Your Prose