What shape are your ideas?

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    I don’t want to bring up the age-old planners vs pantsers conversation but I am interested in knowing what you do and how you work on your ideas before setting virtual and or real pen to paper. How do your ideas arrive? Do you sit down and consciously think about the theme, the characters and the plot? Or do bits and pieces of ideas come to you as you’re doing other things? Do ideas come as scenes, as concepts, as pictures, as bits of plot or what? Do you start writing as soon as you have the first ideas? Or do you wait until you have had more ideas even if there are areas that are unknown? Or do you make yourself fill in all the gaps, waiting until you have all the answers you need?

    For me, it’s changed. In the early days, I started writing as soon as I had a glimmer of an idea, but since then, having written myself a long, long way down a few dead ends, I hold back until I think I have a fullish idea of how the plot unfolds and resolves. I’m less concerned about the cast of characters. I prefer to let them develop as I write but I need to know where my novel is set before I start.

    At the moment I’m in that difficult place where I have half an idea and need to find its other half. Maybe I’m looking too hard!


    INteresting question. Funnily enough, sometimes the first thing I get is the setting. I’m very into the atmospheric setting & its role in the story, so that’s definitely there before I start any planning or research or even think about characters! The other thing though is a pretty formless idea of some sort of ‘issue’ I want to explore. Not big grand issues, but something little like (current wip) the conflict between your adult self, and the child-self your parents still see you as. Or like the story of St. Kilda (last wip).

    Those two might happen in either order, but I need both before I can do anything else at all.

    Half ideas are frustrating! Maybe, I don’t know, read some poetry dealing with linked emotions, google images, make up a character using one of those model things, and then see how they fit with your half idea? If none of those work, feed it tea and chocolate til it breaks down and confesses.


    The project I want to do next came as a result of one of the monthly comps – the one Daeds set about doorways. I wrote about twelve pages of notes at the time and added to it at odd moments when things occurred to me – obstacles, dialogue, conflict.
    One thing I have learned over the past year, is the part backstory can play in giving my characters reasons to do things or to feel things.
    Try music you wouldn’t normally listen to, free writing and dedicated day-dreaming.
    And chocolate.


    How intersting Sea. I have a couple of short stories that are often in the back of my mind as having potential to develop into something else. And back story is often the first idea that comes to me and then I have to work out how the situation will play out in the now.

    Yes, Raine, I absolutely have to know where the setting is, or I can’t write a word. No idea why!

    Just talking about this has made me realise that it’s mainly plot elements that I need to tie down a bit in advance. Characters and issues seem to come along as I write. But if I don’t have a grip on the plot, it all goes horribly wrong.


    I can’t remember what inspired my first WIP.

    My second was inspired by a trip to Benidorm and I thought it would be fun to make a character suffer it too.

    The current WIP was inspired by reading something about the Ten Pound Poms and thinking that would add an interesting aspect to a novel. Another couple of ideas have been sparked by stuff I have read in the papers, although in all cases what I have read has sent my mind off at a tangent. That happens to me a lot. I was really stumped for one of AlanP’s challenges on the Cloud until I read some stuff about cryotherapy in the paper and that, together with the choices I’d made for the challenge gave me the germ of the idea.

    I don’t generally start writing until I have a beginning and an end, although my beginning is always too early and the end has been known to change quite dramatically as I get to know my characters. I have a lot more of the structure planned for my current WIP and it’s actually proving a bit more of a challenge because I worry that I am forcing my characters to fit the story rather than allowing them to steer the action.


    Interesting conversation.

    For me it’s start with an idea of a character or a scene. Depending on how well formed the idea is I might start writing straight away or if I don’t I will stick it in my notebook for future use.

    I often don’t know the end before I start writing. For example, I worked on a longer flash last month and for a few weeks I didn’t know how it would finish until the idea came recently so I went back and finished it.

    I can’t think that I’ve every waited until I had a fully formed/planned idea before I started writing.

    I appreciate that my process would drive most people mad, but seems to work for me (so far).

    John S Alty

    I’ve never started a piece of fiction knowing the ending. I like to start with a scene, put a character into it, and see where it goes. I enjoy the ride.


    Before I start writing (these days, anyway) I need to know the beginning (obviously) and some idea of the ending, but not necessarily everything that happens in between. Nothing is set in stone, though, and either may change before I’ve finished, depending on what happens along the way.

    The two novels I’m prepared to own up to came about in quite different ways. The first (the one you’ve just read, Jane) started with the setting, inspired by a farmhouse I’d seen not far from where I live. It wasn’t derelict, but it was very isolated, and it started me wondering what it would be like to live in such a place, far from help, if things turned toxic. Then I thought of making it a ghost story.

    The other came about in a much murkier and more indirect way. Short of inspiration for a follow-up, I dusted off an idea that had been knocking around for many many years. By the time I’d ‘finished’ it just about everything except the basic premise of the MC’s initial situation and a couple of characters’ names had changed. Including the genre.

    Philippa East

    Just seen this post…

    I too am floundering about in the “half-idea” realms…. I think I usually need two sort of “touch points”: an inciting incident of some kind, but then another event of some kind to head towards in the narrative. At the moment, I sort of just have my inciting incident and not another “way point”. Grrr.

    These days, I find it hard to put pen to paper unless I have a fairly good sense of where the story is headed, the main drives, arcs, characters, etc. I’m trying to develop ideas for novel 2 right now, slightly under time pressure, and it’s a challenge! (I’ve had to abandon my original novel 2 idea for now, and go with another one, so I’m back to the blank page. Literally.)

    This morning, I got a stack of blank paper and brainstormed. Like, asking myself a question (e.g. “what is my MC’s secret burden?”) and then just chucking down every idea I can think of in the hope that something will resonate or stick.

    It’s all very messy right now. I think this stage requires a lot of faith that the “right” story will in time emerge if we keep brooding away on it.

    Chocolate, tea, etc. good too.


    Sounds like you might be doing spider diagrams, Philippa – more poshly called mind mapping I think, but ‘mind mapping’ sounds too abstract for me. Anyhow, I find the technique very helpful. Completely agree with the two ‘touch points’. I need somewhere to head for – that itself is the basis of an idea. Also need to know the main theme before I start anything. Then the main characters’ names, and from there their strengths and weaknesses. Setting is very important but as I start to plan the novel after the current WIP, I’m trying to keep the setting decision open. The current WIP has sent me travelling to various locations. I’d like to avoid some of that next time round.

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