Story Ideas: The Complete Package or the Fragment

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January is StoryStorm month during which author Tara Lazar challenges other writers to come up with an idea a day. Because of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we generate ideas and what each writer considers an idea.

Some writers claim to have very few writing ideas. After talking to one or two people who have made this statement, I realized that what they consider a writing idea is a fairly complete package. They know who their main character is, what they want, what stands in the way, as well as when and where the story is set. My definition is much more flexible and fluid.

Sometimes I know who the character is but only in a fairly broad sense. He might be a boy who is a ninja but only in his sleep. She could be a girl who is so easily startled that everything makes her jump. I write a lot of nonfiction so I might read about a historic figure such as Thomas Henry Huxley and decide that I liked to share this person with young readers. Or I might get curious about an animal like the cicada.

Other times I only know the character’s motivation. Last week my son’s engineering professor detailed the problems facing the world today. Then he challenged his students. “It is your job to learn enough to find solutions. You need to decide, do you want tomorrow to look like Mad Max or Star Trek.” I don’t know yet who my character is, but I find myself imagining a character who would be motivated by this statement. What would it be like to believe it was all on you to use science to determine the future of the planet?

Other times I’ll see a title that immediately brings a story idea to mind. This week, I saw a listing for a book called No Immediate Danger. I have no clue what the original book was about but now I’m noodling over a nonfiction book about the many real dangers people ignore while panicking over something much less significant.

Another title I recently saw was How Can We Harness a Hurricane? That inspired a fictional idea about a society that has used up all fossil fuels and has to harness energy from global disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanic eruptions.

None of these ideas are complete enough for me to sit down and start writing, but that’s okay. I keep a list of my ideas. This year they are in my bulleted journal. When I’m stuck in the middle of a project and need to ignore it for a while, I page through my journal or scroll through an old list. Because there are so many things written down, something invariably catches my attention. I have the germ of a project to play with and maybe something will come out of it.

Complete package or scattered fragment. Depending on how you define idea, in a month you may have 5 or you may have 45. Either way, jot them down. That way you’ll have something to develop when it is time to start your next project.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins March 12th, 2018.


Nicole Pyles said...

I'm a bit like you in terms of being more fluid with I consider an idea! I have bigger ideas based on personal experiences (once my google search for a company that could help me change my life led me to wondering if that type of company DID exist, would it really have good intentions)? Then sometimes I'll just get scenes in my head that wait in the wings for a story to attach itself to. I count those as ideas too! You never know where they can lead.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Sue, I love the way your mind works! All your ideas are inspiring and thought provoking. :) I tend to fragment as well, which is kind of neat because you can combine the fragments to create something totally unique.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Glad to know that I'm not the only one whose brain throws down these bits and pieces. It is interesting to see what kinds of things show up again and again.

I love your idea of the company with bad intentions. One day a friend said something about wanting a self cleaning house. "Yeah, but you do get that it would probably just toss you out in the yard, yes?"

Happy Writing!

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