Saturday, September 12, 2009

I've Got An Idea--Now What?

I hope to begin drafting a new novel soon. I'm nearing the finish line for one WIP, so it's time to pull out the idea file and decide what to work on next. I've been tossing light bulb moments in a file folder for the past five years as I've worked on two different novels. So here's my question: How do you take a great idea, and figure out if it will make a great book?

My completed MG began with a problem and I built a plot around how my MC would solve it. My YA WIP, however, began with a setting and an idea for three friends within that setting. I then created a problem and kept writing until my MC figured out a solution.

Right now, I'm letting several ideas simmer. I hope in a month or so, one of them will demand my attention. But to my fellow writers, I ask, do you have a more structured process to developing your ideas into books?


  1. I do pretty much the same thing. I take whatever piece of the idea came to me, and figure out how to make it a novel. Meaning, I work out the other pieces of a novel that are missing from the origianl spark (character, conflict, setting, etc.).

    Good luck! I am interested to see other' responses to this!

  2. Ooooh there's nothing more exciting than a shiny new novel to work on!! :-)

    After letting ideas rattle around in the subconscious for a while, I do a lot of brainstorming (I start a new notebook for every novel specifically for this purpose). When the brainstorming generates a vague feeling of storyness, I outline it using the snowflake method (, which is a FABULOUS way to grow your story ideas in a structured-yet-not-too-structured kind of a way. It helps a LOT and gives you a good feeling for how your novel is going to pan out before you 100% commit to it.

    Good luck with the simmering!!

  3. J.A.-- I'm like you and Larissa, no particularly structured process. I scribble down my ideas (mostly for a cool title or concept) and keep hopping between them as I try to get one to work. I guess my strategy is to get as much of the bones of the story down as I can and then revise, revise, revise! Getting critiques is also really helpful since I often miss things with this unstructured approach (like the complete lack of a plot in one early draft of a picture book manuscript :o) ).

    Good luck with your new novel!

  4. Larissa: I just saw your "elevator pitch" thread at Verla's. Sounds like whatever method you use works!

    Joanna: Funny! I bookmarked that site just a few weeks ago -- it looks really good and I am thinking about trying it with this next novel--whatever it may be!

    Brianna: At least I'm finally getting over the notion that a first draft has to be good. I'm just looking for some bones!

  5. Great question! I tend to let ideas roll around in my head for awhile and write about the ones that refuse to go away.

  6. I'm a pantser, meaning I sit at the computer and start writing whatever my main character comes up with. I usually have a vague notion about a plot and ending, but otherwise it's freeform. This doesn't work all that well because I then have to spend months revising and getting the plot organized--which means a LOT of rewriting.

    Next time I'm going to be more organized! I'm using the snowflake method on a current rewrite and plan to use it from the very beginning on my next new project.

  7. But MG, writing like that, don't you get to know your characters really well? I've found that my meandering often winds up cut from the final, but deepens my understanding of what makes my characters tick.

  8. That's true. Meandering does help me get to know my characters. *sigh" There's got to be a balance between being organized and allowing room for creative movement. I'm envious that you're about to start a new novel and will get to play around with these ideas. Good luck!

  9. Really great question, J.A.

    A character is what usually comes to me first. Sometimes it's from an article I read or a dream. Usually, though, when I stop and think really hard about my stories, they stem from something in my own life. The character who first appears may not necessarily the main character, but they are someone with a problem. Then I build the story around that. I always know how I want the story to end, and I may know places I want the story to go to along the way, but I never know fully what's going to happen until I let the characters go.

  10. Meg, it is like having kids isn't it? You can guide your characters so far, but ultimately, it seems like they make their own decisions.