Writing 101: The Five Commandments of Story Ideas

Where do you get your ideas? This is the first question that you, as an author, will be asked when your work goes out into the world. It’s also the question that you, as the aspiring author, probably ask of yourself. To write a book, you need ideas – good ones, ideally – but how do you find them? And how do you know the difference between good and bad ones. Read on…

  1. There are only two sources of ideas – one is your imagination, the other is observation. Here, I define observation as everything you see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and most importantly, read – books, newspapers, blogs, emails, anything. I draw mostly from observation, with a little bit of imagination thrown in. But, believe me, there is no magical ideas genie. It’s just about taking notice of the world around you, and your thoughts. In the case of After the Party, many of the ideas came from my personal experiences over of a decade of hosting kids’ parties. I also asked myself the question – what if one of the parents never returned to pick-up their child? What-if questions are fabulous for generating story concepts.
  2. A good idea is one that makes you feel excited.
    It keeps you awake at night and interrupts your thoughts when you’re doing other things, like walking the dog, or trying to talk to your kids. A good idea won’t leave you alone, until it does… (see below)
  3. WRITE THEM DOWN! The big ideas around setting, character and plot won’t leave you, but it’s in the detail that a novel comes to life. Snatches of dialogue, character mannerisms – they are the kind of ideas you need to record because they come and go in a flash.
  4. To write a book, you’ll need more than one good idea, you’ll need thousands.
    Every word is a choice, and every sentence contains the kernel of an idea. In a 90,000 word book there’s roughly 5,000 sentences. That’s how many good ideas you need.
  5. A good idea opens doors, it doesn’t close them.
    You’ve got an idea for what your character does next. Excellent. Now, what happens after that initial step? Does it naturally lead to others, or does it take you down a dead end? The point is – you need take your good idea and skip ahead a few places to see whether it creates opportunities for more story, or shuts them down.

Still stuck? If all of the above is still too non-specific for you, then I suggest you read Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas. It contains an excellent, systematic method of generating story ideas.

 © 2019. Cassie Hamer- Author | All Rights Reserved.