Thinking up story ideas

It’s been nice in a way, waiting patiently for the next round of Seregn edits this past week. I’ve had the space to be creative again, and start coming up with a new story.

But, how to do it?

There are so many ways to hunt down or pull out a story idea. So many different ways to write or plan a book. But how to get started?! Here are my tips!

Try short stories

One thing I want to experiment with is short stories. They’re an opportunity to get my head out of my main story and mindset, and allow myself to experiment with other genres and modes of storytelling. Short story writing is a way to hone your craft without working on a full length novel, and in doing so you may even discover cool settings or awesome characters for your book. There are plenty of different types of writing prompts online, so if you’re struggling to think of ideas jump on Google, search for writing prompts,, and pick something that pops up to springboard your creativity. This is great too if you know you want to write but might not *feel* that creative, and are struggling to figure out what to write.

Ask about your characters

Characters. I’ve had a few in my head for a while now. But when I say ‘characters’ what I really mean, is ‘vague ideas for characters’. Images of them in my head. So, I’ve started writing them down, getting them out on paper, describing them, and then asking ‘why?’ and ‘what if?’.

For example, ‘why is that character a lonely wanderer?’ and ‘what if it was because …’. If course you don’t have to go with the first idea that pops into your mind, but this kind of thinking can be helpful to open up creativity and delve deeper into why characters are the way they are.

More examples: Why does the character carry a scarlet knife? Are they a knight, a prince, an assassin, a famous chef… and why would each of those people have it? This ties into my next point.

Chilling in my armchair writing away!

Think about theme

While I’m pondering a future story, I’m thinking about what I want the story to mean. What are the key themes of the book? For Seregn, two of the big ones are ‘love is as strong as death’, and ‘there’s no greater love than laying down one’s life for one’s friends’. These statements helped me to frame my novel, to highlight these themes at critical moments.

When you get started you might not have a strong idea of theme – and that’s ok. Think about what matters to you, or what intrigues or interests you – compassion? Love? Why some people seek vengeance and others move on? What do you want your writing to be about? Once you know that, it can be used to help give your characters motivations.

Want to write about overcoming wrong – have a character who was wrongfully accused trying to get out of prison. Have a counterpoint character in the book that perhaps deserves accusation but walks free. Perhaps have another minor character be charged for something small but which has a big impact.

The last point comes into play here – is that assassin with the scarlet knife after something? Or are they after revenge? Will they succeed? What will that say to the reader?

Where is the story set?

As I consider my next story, the theme, the characters, I’m also thinking of the world I’ve built. I want this story to be set in the same world as Seregn, but taking place, at least mostly, in another geographic area, and another time in history. This means I’m partly bound by the maps I’ve already laid out, but also means there’s a lot of room for creativity. As I’m planning, I’m thinking about the cultures I’ve created, and how to enrich them and the history to make the world feel real and genuine.

This is a bit different for something like contemporary fiction, but deciding where the story is set (e.g. are two friends having a hushed conversation in a little cafe, or curled on the couch at their home?) is just as important. Settings speak volumes – a conversation in a cemetery is completely different to a conversation in your boss’ office. Even which country and state and city is the story set in (and why) can contribute to the feel of the story.

What’s the ending of the story?

For me, I need to know the end of the story before I write it.

I’m not talking about short stories (those I can deal with if I have to), but what I really mean is a full length novel. You see, I’m a planner, and I need to know where my story ends to know where it should begin, and what should happen on the way.

For this next book (or books) I’m still in the midst of working on what the conflict will be *exactly*, as I develop characters, their flaws, their strengths, the themes. But knowing where I might want these characters to end up can help me work backwards to find the character arc and the conflict – the things or people my characters need to overcome, or navigate, or learn, to grow and eventually emerge victorious. Conflict should really tie into all the other points too – what your character wants, what their goals are, what the theme is. it’s all interlinked.

So, what’s your process? What do you do to start coming upwith a new idea?

On of the most helpful resources I can recommend in this story building area is The Twelve Key Pillars of Novel Construction by C.S. Lakin.

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