Idea development - how do you do it?

edited April 2015 in The Toolbox
Quoth Owen Jones:

Idea development - how do you do it?

I ask because I was seeing if I had 20 cool ideas like Eric posted in his blog* and then looking to try and develop them further. So I wrote them all into a new note book, each on an individual page, and just scribbled down whatever came to mind with each idea. A few I got several pages out of but for the most part they stayed at the original few lines. Obviously this may suggest there isn't any juice in them BUT how can I tell? Hence the question and curiosity about if there are any right questions for developing ideas? Or does anyone use a specific plan or format for testing ideas?  

*I only managed 14 for the record but they were all new or snippets that had been combined.  


  • I always start with...

    What does the protagonist want?

    What is keeping her from having it? (Often, it's an antagonist who wants the opposite.)

    How will she attempt to overcome the obstacle?

    Does she succeed?

    The answers to those questions basically give you the spine of a three-act story. Taking one of the abstract ideas you have, can you answer those questions? If yes, then you can build a story around it; if no, put it back in the oven. It's gotta cook a while longer. 
  • If I wrote down a bunch of cool ideas that I hadn't developed before and brainstormed stuff for them... I'd probably only get as far as Owen did, too. That doesn't mean that the ideas I didn't get anywhere on weren't worthy or whatever. Just that something was missing — the right angle, the right element, me being in the right mindset.

    Honestly, my idea generation process is closer to what Owen described than to what Eric described — those are questions that come much later for me, when I've got enough basic material to start putting a story together around. Early on, it really is just spitballing.

    (The other thing that I cue off of is research. I do heaps of it, into real-world stuff and into fictional topics related to what I'm working on. I always find either bits I want to include or bits I want to avoid, or it spawns unrelated ideas in me.)
  • Thanks guys, haven't had much browsing time recently. I did however set-up this template after reading some of Jim Zub's website stuff, which is awesome. I haven't filled in half the details for the handful of ideas I'm working on but it did help me think more about them in a logical way, if it helps:-


    What’s the hook?


    Character traits:
    Character changes or revelations:







    Story notes

    Scenes or excerpts

  • I start with what interests me and brain-storm and day-dream from there, taking notes and visualizing... eventually when brainstorming on paper, I notice a story structure starting to form and and overall mood/vibe to the project.  I then stat refining and making a ton of notes, backgrounds for all characters, their character arc within the larger story,  structuring and restructuring (sometimes if you take apart a plot and try to move things around it suggests possibilities).  ...But day-dreaming and brain-storming and just thinking about what sort of story I'd want to read, but which I haven't seen, is where it starts.
  • edited May 2015
    I try to construct the plot to let me do the stuff I've dreamed up.... I've realized from reading, that a perfect;y constructed lean plot is NOT what I read for.  I'll do all the mechanical storytelling work to make the narrative work better, but plot itself is a means to an end, for me, not the goal.
  • I had a long post but here's the short version:

    I do it mostly in my head. I rarely outline unless I have a limited pagecount, in which case I will produce and issue summary and often a beat sheet to make sure I hit the right places at the right time.

    But for the most part? I generally let the story accrete out of random ideas in my head until I'm ready to start writing. Sometimes I have everything worked out, sometimes I just strike out towards a vague destination and see what I find on the way.
  • I do a lot of work in my head before I get started. I come up with concepts, conflicts, ideas, characters, scenes - whatever. I usually write down my favorites in a doc I keep in google docs (I can't access it from my phone, so it's super convenient). 

    I then start to develop those ideas by thinking about them more. While I'm cooking, brushing my teeth, in the shower - wherever the ideas start to come. I'll eventually start to write them down, once I think they're ready. 
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