How to Write a Novel Step 1: Story Ideas

Hi there! Before I dive into the topic for this week, a little personal update.

It’s been a couple of weeks, I know, (I’m learning I’m pretty bad at sticking to a blogging schedule) but not only is Seregn’s edit finished, and the blurb, but now I’m simply waiting for the formatting to be completed and to get into the cover design!

It’s on it’s way! This also means that I feel as though I can more fully devote my writing time (what little there seems to be at the moment) to thinking up new story ideas.


Now, this is a unique opportunity. I’ve written a book and am in the process of publishing it. I’ve proven to myself – and others – that I’m capable of doing this (and, hopefully, doing this well). And I’ve learned so, so much. It’s actually crazy to stop and consider how far I’ve come since deciding to write my first book, and where this process has taken me. That said, Seregn is just one book. And there’s still so much to learn.

I have to write more.

So, I thought it was about time I bring others on this adventure with me. That’s right – we’re going to write our books together.

I don’t know how long it will take, or what will happen along the way. But, God willing, I will write and publish another book. And the whole process – from start to finish – will be right here.

So, follow along with me! As I move from phase to phase of the process, I’ll be chronicling my thoughts, tips, and struggles right here.

One disclaimer: I’m a plotter. I like to do my story brainstorming at the start, and develop the story fairly thoroughly before setting the proverbial pen to paper. But, if you’re a discovery writer, please don’t leave! I’m sure there will still be some good nuggets to take away. I’d love to hear about your process!

So, without further ado, here is Part 1: Story Ideas.

Coming up with story ideas

I think there’s a bit of a misconception among the public, that authors seem to be these magical people with all these big stories in their head. As I’ve talked about before, this is not the case for me. Over time I have developed or thought up characters or concepts that came naturally and comfortably. But certainly not fully-fledged stories. I’ve never had a story pop into my head from start to finish.

So, how to come up with enough ideas to put a story together?

In his book, The Anatomy of Story, author and screenwriter John Truby says one of the best things you can do as an aspiring author is write down a ‘wish list’ (everything you’d like to see in a story) and a ‘premise list’ (every story idea you’ve ever had, every character, every scene, every setting, every theme). Then, also write out all the things that mean the most to you. From there, you can start looking for common ground, patterns, and pull out the heart of what you as an individual uniquely bring to the table as an author.

So, why not start there? Write out anything and everything that you’ve ever thought would be a good story, or element in a story. All the things that are important to you.

Author and editor C.S. Lakin describes four cornerstones of story in her book, The Twelve Key Pillars of Novel Construction. They are: Concept with a Kicker, Protagonist with a Goal, Conflict with High Stakes, and Theme with a Heart. Essentially, you have a cool idea with a motivated protagonist, meaningful stakes, and an insightful theme woven through.

Putting these two ideas together, I think, is a brilliant way to start thinking about what you want to write about. To be honest, I think these four areas C.S. Lakin discusses are often where people will have the seed of a story – either a character that comes to them, or a cool concept, or a theme that really matters to their hearts.

So, if you want to write a book but have no idea what about, here are some questions to start asking yourself:

  • what type of books/movies/TV shows do I enjoy? (E.g. drama, fantasy, historical, sci-fi, action, romance, mystery…)
  • What are the most important things to me? (E.g. faith, family, love, honesty, trustworthiness, bravery, resilience…)
  • What do I find interesting? (E.g. sports, history, cars, knitting, ceramics, science…)
  • What are the story ideas I’ve had in the past?
  • Are there any dreams I’ve had that really stuck with me?
  • What struggles pull at my heartstrings?
  • What do I find fascinating in people?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • Where do I wish I could go?
  • What’s the most amazing place I can imagine?
  • What kind of book do I wish I could read?
  • What are my favourite songs – why do I like them so much?

Feel free to add your own! Then, take those ideas and, as I believe C.S. Lakin and John Truby discuss, push the envelope by asking ‘what if’!

As a little example from my own work, for my (potential) next book, the seeds of two characters started with the song tokyo by RM. While I was living in a small country town several years ago, lying on my bed one day, the song was playing. Although RM is singing/rapping about Tokyo, the melody and the way he sings just reminded me of a breeze on the outskirts of a desert. I imagined a bluebird flitting in the branches of one of the last trees standing tall in the soil, before the earth gave way to sand.

That image inspired two characters – and no, they aren’t a tree and a bird! But that image sparked something that, to this day, I hold close. Something I’m still developing into a story with two of my favourite characters I’ve ever come up with.

When it came to Seregn, I was inspired by places I’ve been, stories I’ve read, and even a dream I had!

So, this is what I’ve been starting to do lately. Writing down all those ideas, and then brainstorming. Asking the ‘what if…’; pondering what the tale is I want to tell.

Honestly, sometimes it feels like pulling teeth. Some ideas I have had in the back of my head for ages. Others feel like I’m trying to tease them out of my bones with frustrating difficulty.

There are lots of questions that come with this kind of brainstorming. Do you want to write a stand-alone? A duology? A series? Multiple protagonists? Just one? What sort of conflict? What themes?

It can feel messy and overwhelming… but that’s kind of the point. It’s MEANT to be messy – everything is fluid and changeable, and nothing is set in stone. My advice?

Take your time. John Truby mentions this too. This isn’t the work of a few days or a week. Depending on the size of the story you want to tell, it could take weeks! Or longer! And that’s ok. Make sure you take the time to find a story that you’re in some way passionate about, that wants to come forth and needs to be told.

Personally, I’m really trying to figure out whether I want my next endeavour to be a multi-book story, or just a standalone. Part of me wants to write another fantasy. But another part of me wants to sit with my grandpa, hit ‘record’ on a Dictaphone, and chronicle his amazing life. Part of me wants to tell the story of how my husband and I fell in love… or use it as heavy inspiration for a romance.

There can be lots of options when you start thinking about it. And sometimes, it will feel like you’re spoilt for choice. Other times, it will feel like trying to bring water from a rock.

Take your time.

Just focus on one thing at a time. Don’t stress about crafting a whole, perfect story. Just start with the basics. Rest. Do other things you enjoy. But continue to ponder and think. The story will come.

So, that’s all I’ve got for you for now.

How about you? How do you start those early phases of story?

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