Going from Inspiration to Inception

Ciao, SEers. Last time it was my turn, I wrote about the first step in writing your masterpiece—idea generation. Some would argue that’s the most important part. Without that initial spark of creativity, wherever it comes from, there’s no story. But is it the most crucial part? That’s hard to say. If the spark can’t be developed past its initial interesting premise, it’s no more than a compelling tidbit. It may eventually inspire something larger or become a scene in a fully fleshed-out work, but on its own, it’s useless. By all means, save it in your inspiration file, but don’t waste your time trying to turn it into something it can never be.

Easier said than done, I know. If you liked it enough to write it down, you won’t want to give up on it. So, how can you tell if it’s worth working on?

Let me explain with a well-known literary example—Superman.


Image via Pixabay

I can’t tell you how Siegel and Shuster developed the character and his origin story, but for illustrative purposes, I’ll show you how it might have gone so you can extrapolate the process for your own works.

Let’s pretend the creative team was brainstorming and inspiration struck. They used the “what if” technique and came up with this:

What if one scientist knew the planet was about to die?

Okay. That’s an interesting idea. What can you do with it? A million things. Or nothing at all. There’s no conflict here. It’s just a fact. Sure, it has the potential for emotional impact and incredibly high stakes, but it’s not a story concept. It’s barely a scene concept. Keep going.

What if the scientist had a son?

Again, ramping up the emotional quotient, but it’s still not a story idea. Continue.

What if the scientist could save his son by sending him to another planet?

Better. There are a lot of emotions here. A whole planet is dying and a child is not only being orphaned, he’s losing his home and entire race and is being sent who-knows-where. Will he survive the trip? Will good people find him? Will he be able to live on this alternate world? Now, we’re getting somewhere. It still isn’t a story, though. So, we press on.

What if we don’t have to invent a whole world and a whole set of rules?

Let’s let the dying planet be not our world, but an alien world, so the child will be sent to Earth. We know how people behave here, that will make less work for us and make the story more relatable to the readers.

What if our biological rules don’t apply to him and he has superpowers? And maybe even a super weakness?

We’re getting there. We’ve now got a kid who audiences will empathize with. One who is orphaned on our world and has a bunch of super powers. This idea has the potential for a lot of emotion and very high stakes. But we’re still missing that core tension that will elevate this idea into a full-blown story concept. 

But we have to make a decision first.

Is this character a villain? If so, we’ll need an Everyman to rise above the odds and defeat this extraordinary foe. If this character is a hero, we’ll need an elite, brilliant, megalomaniac to oppose him. Both options present interesting opportunities, but the world could use a little optimism and hope, so let’s make our character a hero. A superhero. The quintessential hero. Decision made, we continue.

What if our hero is sent from his dying world to ours, where he discovers he has super-human abilities?

He chooses to use his powers for good but must face an evil genius bent on world domination. That’s not a fair fight. No conflict there.

But what if the villain hates aliens and has discovered our hero’s one weakness?

Now, we’re talking! We’ve gone from a lone survivor of a dying planet to a superhero with an Achilles heel battling Earth’s greatest mastermind for the fate of humanity.

In other words, you’ve just witnessed the inception of a groundbreaking story from the most basic of ideas.

Will all of your ideas go from infancy to inception? No. Will the ones that make the cut become as iconic as the origin story of Superman? No. I wish I could give all of us that formula, but it doesn’t exist.

What does exist is hard work and due diligence. Both of those are your best chances of developing your ideas into a workable framework for a story. Choosing to ignore them is an author’s kryptonite (Sorry. Couldn’t resist. 😁)

Let’s talk about how you take your initial ideas to the story-inception stage. Or how you decide one will never make the cut.

Staci Troilo Bio

64 thoughts on “Going from Inspiration to Inception

  1. I love the visual detail!

    This is something I’m developing in my writing.

    Years of technical documentation has kept me to facts and removing colorful words.

    Ever had to change gears from one style of writing to another?
    What advice would you give to a newbie?

    Thank you 😊


  2. I definitely start with the “what if” concept, although I don’t always call it that. And it’s almost always a character who appears first. I gradually get glimpses of their backstory and how that relates to where they are now and where they’re headed. A lot of plantsing is involved along the way, but it’s always that nugget at the beginning that leads me to explore further.

    This was a really cool look at the way a story concept develops, Staci. Wonderfully done!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d just like to say that I’m so glad I found this blog!! I recently started my own blog about writing and I’ve been looking for other places to look for other people with the same passion as me. This article had some pretty sound advice. I applaud you for that. I’ll be back to read more in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Staci Troilo’s latest Story Empire post is entitled “Going From Inspiration to Inception” and focuses on exactly that: how to take your spark of an idea and turn it into a solid plot. Her step by step example makes it very easy to see exactly what she means, and is well worth checking out. A great post for you to study, then share far and wide so other writers will understand the process, too. Thanks, and thanks to Staci for saying it all so well! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can’t say my process is always tidy, either. The work was already done for me in the example, so it looks a lot cleaner than my process. I think you made a valid point, though. No matter your process (plotting, pantsing, or somewhere in between), having an ending in sight is helpful. I couldn’t write a story if I didn’t know where it would end because then I wouldn’t know what message I wanted to convey. That would be an exercise in frustration for me. Thanks for talking about your process, Robbie.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! My ideas tend to come to me through dreams. When the dreams stick, I write them down and then fantasize about the before and after of the dream. I guess you could call those the what-ifs. I will definitely play the what-if game when I’m feeling a dose of writer’s block coming along. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. What a fun and illustrative post. Your examples are awesome and a lot of our readers should appreciate them. My ideas come to me mostly as vignettes. These are similar to dreams with color and characters, but not so much they can’t be manipulated. I add these to a note and forget about them. If they keep calling to me, and there are more connected things, I start a storyboard. I have some boards that are several years old. They may mature into something eventually. If they don’t I can scavenge the interesting parts for different stories. When it looks like I have enough for three acts, I start organizing the boards that way. That usually brings more ideas and a bit of clarity. Some move through the process right away. Others take years, but I keep them and let them mature at their own pace.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Craig.

      I love your process. Mine starts much like yours. I get little vignettes that I save in a file and when a bunch of them have connective tissue or when one begs me to pay attention to it, that’s when I start teasing out the threads that I can weave into a story. I don’t storyboard, but I know you do and it works brilliantly for you. I’m delighted you shared your process here; I hope it helps people get some ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great way to illustrate your point here, Staci! I loved how you did this, and I could clearly understand the progression of the initial idea to the finished story. I’m not very good at structure of this sort–of any sort, really–but even I can understand the value of moving that flash of inspiration along toward an actual book. Thanks! Sharing, for sure, and will reblog later today! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Love the superman example. I often begin a story idea with “what if?” As you know, I’m a panster (I’m really trying to become more of a plotter). I have an idea of how I want the story to begin and the end, then I go from there.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I always say I don’t do the “what if” thing very much, but now I’m starting to think I do. I just don’t phrase it that way.

      You know I’m a fan of planning, but I always say you have to do what works for you. If you ever want planning help, though, let me know. That’s one of my favorite parts of the process.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m enjoying this post series, Staci. I love your what-if extrapolation above. I’ve gotten there via a myriad of methods. Sometimes my ideas/stories are character driven and at others they are more plot based. For me a lot depends upon where my wellspring of creativity is coming from at any one time. Thanks for a fun and informative post 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Brilliant example, Staci… I have been trying to come up with something new and different for weeks now, but one of my characters is literally begging to be written about again. With the mess the world is in right now, it might be better to stick with something I am familiar with, and maybe give him something new and different to cope with?

    Liked by 6 people

    • I’m definitely a plotter, so I’ve frequently found myself trying to wrangle a character into a situation I designed that he doesn’t want to be in. And because I write for a story studio, I’m often working on something that isn’t my passion at the moment. I say if you have the freedom to write what you want and you have a character begging for attention, follow that lead. With all our lives turned upside down at the moment, I think working with a beloved character that you’re familiar with will be a source of comfort to you. And it will be easier for you than starting from scratch on a project that isn’t speaking to you right now.

      Whatever you decide, let us know how it’s going.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Nice, jenanita, the example was wonderful!

      I’ve found it tough to throw out pages once commited, but that is often what is required to learn the lesson and continue forward.

      How do you handle it?

      Liked by 2 people

      • I keep a file folder (online) for every project, and if it’s part of a series, I embed it in a folder named for that series. My WIP Scrivener file is in there. Outlines. Character sketches. Anything I delete. The final files. Even the covers and my promo art. That way, if I need to find materials for one specific work, I know just where to look.

        Just make sure to have backups. (Carbonite, Cloud, thumb drive, etc.) You don’t want to lose anything.


      • This is gold information.

        Thank you! 😄

        I couldn’t find any convenient way to back up Scrivener files to the cloud (automatically once I save).
        Have you found a convenient way to back up directly to the cloud? I’d prefer to not have to “Create Backup” and copy/paste the backup to Google Drive or something.
        I saw some info about One drive, but that’s about it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • My Mac saves directly to my iCloud drive, and when I save to my desktop that’s linked to it (there’s a little cloud icon beside the word desktop), it saves on both my desktop and the cloud. I’m able to access the file from a different computer, and it’s updated. I also have Carbonite, which saves in real-time, so if I have to download anything I lost, I can. And if I was desperate, I could download from there to a different computer, but then I’d have to upload again. (Same is true for Google Drive.) I also have an external backup drive that I just plug in every day or two, and it makes a copy of all my files. You could do that then plug it into a different computer if you want to work on more than one device. And there’s always a thumb drive, but you couldn’t do your whole laptop that way. Well, it would have to have a large storage capacity, and I’d think it would take a while to make the transfer.

        I hope that helps.


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