Story Development and Execution Part 1: Ideation

Ciao, SEers. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday. I intended to spend my time off entirely work-free, and while I didn’t open my laptop, I couldn’t turn off my mind. When I wasn’t soaking up every second I could with my daughter, I was thinking about my workload for 2022. I have stories in various stages, from conception to ready-to-publish. That got me thinking… maybe this year, I’d write a series of posts discussing important points from coming up with an idea through getting ready to publish.

Today is part one: idea generation. We’ve already discussed this topic (see earlier posts from me and Denise), but I’m going to approach this in a slightly different way. Instead of talking about where to find these ideas, I’m going to talk about how to find them and what to do with them once you have them.

We’ve all heard the adage: write what you know. If you already know a lot about a subject, it does make it easy (or easier) to write about. That’s why so many lawyers write court dramas, why so many doctors write medical mysteries, and why so many detectives write thrillers. Their professional experiences lend to realism in their work. On the flip side, it can also lead to readers not connecting because they’re unfamiliar with the jargon or flat writing because the author is bored with the work.

That leads to an improved adage: write what you’d like to know, or write what you’re passionate about. Does this require a lot of research? Yes (and you can find excellent posts on research by Joan, me, and two by Mae on place and time). But if you’re excited about these topics, you won’t mind the research, and your work will have an enthusiasm to it because of your attitude.

So, you have your idea. Now what? David Baldacci says to look at life through a “writer’s prism” to develop your idea further. Everyone “people watches” at some point, but writers need to look at life a little differently. Where most of the world sees a groundskeeping crew mowing grass and laying white lines on a football field, a writer sees a potential school shooting or hostage situation. They imagine problems, then conceive of solutions. And not just the easiest solutions, but ones the average observer would never think of.

Taking that concept a step further, it’s not always enough to see one situation and start to build your scenario. Try two. Or three. The reason mashups are so popular in fiction is because (in their simplest forms) every story has already been told. To keep your stories fresh, try combining two genres or two conditions that you’d never expect. We all know West Side Story is essentially Romeo and Juliet. What made it a hit was that it took the concepts from Shakespeare’s tale but set it in modern times in a city. That new angle made it fresh. S.E. Hinton took that rival gang aspect, downplayed the romance angle, and created a poignant coming-of-age tale about what defines a family in The Outsiders. These mashups of different genres or different focuses result in new stories that surprise and delight viewers.

Finally, when you come up with your winning concept, don’t dive right in. Give the seeds of your story time to germinate and grow before you move on. That way, the idea will root and flourish or it will wither and die. The idea that grows and thrives is the one to develop. The one that languishes isn’t worth working on. Tend to the former, not the latter. It’ll save you time and aggravation if you wait for a while to make sure you’ve got something worth seeing through to the end.

To summarize:

  • Write what you know (if you can sustain your passion for it).
  • Write what you want to know (if you can do it justice through research).
  • Study people and situations through a “writer’s prism” to generate ideas.
  • Combine more than one idea or genre for a fresh story.
  • Give your idea time to take root before moving on with it. If it doesn’t develop, cut your losses and move on. You haven’t wasted any work/time on it yet, and it’s easier to walk away.

Next time, we’ll discuss plot development. Until then, I’d love to know more about your ideation strategies. Please leave a comment below. Grazie!

Links to the Whole Series:

January 7: Idea Generation
February 2: Story Bible
February 28: Character
March 25: Dialogue
April 20: Plot
May 16: Constructing Chapters
June 10: Pacing/Tension/Suspense
July 6: Writing Suspense
August 1: Writing Action
August 26: Macro-Level Self-Editing
September 21: Mid-Level Self-Editing
October 17: Micro-Level Self-Editing
December 7: Planning a Series

Note: Links will only work on and after the date the post goes live.

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66 thoughts on “Story Development and Execution Part 1: Ideation

  1. Pingback: Year in Review and Signing Off for 2022 | Staci Troilo

  2. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 10: Macro-Level Self-Editing | Story Empire

  3. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 9: Writing Action | Story Empire

  4. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 8: Writing Suspense | Story Empire

  5. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 7: Pacing, Tension, and Suspense | Story Empire

  6. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 6: Constructing Chapters | Story Empire

  7. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 5: Plot Development | Story Empire

  8. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 4: Dialogue | Story Empire

  9. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 3: Character | Story Empire

  10. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 1: Ideation – Jackanori, (MPD)

  11. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 2: The Story Bible | Story Empire

  12. Hi Staci, I’m so pleased you had a good holiday even if you were in quarantine. Like you, I have a lot of manuscripts in various stages of completion. It is just time, our most precious commodity, that holds me back on completing them. One day. I agree with your commentary here, either write what you know which provides a ring of truth or do the research for something new. I do a mixture of both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do a mix, too. I know close-knit families and cooking and building houses. All three filtered into my first series (and those elements still pop up). But I have an insatiable curiosity and can’t help but dive down those rabbit holes of research. I enjoy the combination.

      Thanks, Robbie.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I am so looking forward to this series, Staci. I’ve always written from that “write what you want to know” angle. To me, the research is the best part of the early legwork in writing a story. I get to learn new facts while creating a new story. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for moving from “write what you know” to “write what you want to know,” Staci. My ideas started with curiosity that led me to research and discoveries that fascinated me. This is the first time I’d considered mash-ups and love how you explained it. I’m looking forward to the rest of your series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Writing what you know is a good place to start, but it’s quite limiting. There’s an enormous world out there, and infinite worlds waiting to be imagined and explored. Why stop with our knowledge-base?

      I’m glad the concept of mash-ups made sense to you, and delighted the series interests you. Looking forward to your thoughts as we progress.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This looks like it’s going to be a wonderful series, Staci! I can relate to your advice. Drake’s story has been simmering for quite some time. I’ve yet to walk away from it. I have 17K words written, and I’m determined to finish it this year. It’s sat for two years with barely a word written. I left him alone while I worked on HYPE, so it wasn’t time lost, but he’s been calling to me again, so hopefully, he’s ready to have his story told.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Excellent post on idea generation, Staci. I like the systematic approach. I tend to get story ideas haphazardly. Usually, a theme and characters will pop into my head, and if they’re strong enough, I go on from there. I do like the idea of letting ideas stew for a while before outlining. Once they’re tapped into the laptop, they seem to stiffen up a bit.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. A good way yo approach ideas and writing, Staci. I like cominbining one than one idea it makes for an interesting story. It’s true if the interest isn’t there the passion isn’t either. Great post on what to do with ideas and when to let them go, if they don’t bloom for you.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. For me, the strongest point I took away from this post was not invest time in the story ideas that don’t root and flourish. Too many times, I have wanted to fit a square peg in a round hole, and it just isn’t possible. We all know about killing your darlings, but I guess sometimes those “darlings” can be story ideas that lead no where. An excellent post. Staci. I’m looking forward to the whole series!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Wow! By the end of the year, you’ll have written a smart, concise how-to book. Like you, one of my hardest lessons was learning which ideas NOT to write. In the beginning, when an idea popped into my mind, I was sure I could whip it into something. Not so. That’s why I take the time to plot at least a little before I write the first word, so that I know the idea will go somewhere and develop into a story. I’m looking forward to your posts on writing and editing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I do think that’s one of the most difficult, and most valuable, lessons.

      I hope by the end of the series writers have a basic roadmap from start to finish. Or at least picked up a point or two on the way. Thanks, Judi.


  20. This looks like a great series, Staci. You’ve captured my attention with this first post. “Write what you want to know” — that’s what drove my thrillers. Now I’m addicted to research!. Bravo, this will be an exciting journey! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  21. This is going to be a fantastic series, Staci, and I look forward to each post. One thing you said really struck a chord with me when you talked about studying a common scene through a writer’s prism. Rick explained to me, one time, the difference in the way an artist looks at a doorknob, as opposed to the way a non-artistic person looks it. He showed me shadows, lines, angles, and dimensions I’d never thought of. So, it is the same for writers. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. I love the point about letting the ideas sit awhile. I’ve whittled down a ton of ideas to one I’m going to run with this year. I’ve made notes for the ‘cast offs’ that I may circle back to once my new WIP is finished. This looks like a great series, Staci, and I look forward to the rest. Thanks for sharing 💕🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  23. The “write what you know” move to “write what you want to know” is a fabulous upgrade to that advice. This series looks great. I also liked your summary of points at the end. Made the whole post stick in the memory. Thanks, Staci.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 1: Ideation | Legends of Windemere

  25. Great beginning to what I know is going to be a fantastic series, Staci. I like the idea of allowing an idea to take root before moving on with it. I’ve had many ideas in the past where I would jot down a few lines so I would know where I was going with the story. Later, I’d come back and say, “What was I thinking?” Looking forward to all of the series.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. I think your ideas are spot on. The part about letting things wither is important. I have a lot of ideas, but many of them don’t develop into a story. Sometimes I get something I can steal for a different story, so it’s worth jotting them down.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. I like the idea of moving from “write what you know” to writing something that we are passionate about. I work in law enforcement. I see and hear terrible things each day that often don’t have a happy ending. I can’t see myself sitting down to write a story that mirrors my daily life. I couldn’t agree more with you thoughts on giving ideas time. Great post, Staci!

    Liked by 3 people

  28. I hadn’t come across ‘ideation’ before. You live and learn! Genuinely useful blog, Staci. You’re spot-on about those writing about their jaded lives – I’ve come across a few of those and it makes for a dreary read. I have ideas on scraps of paper. Some of them I follow through, usually as I’m drifting off to sleep, and once they begin to develop legs I put those scraps together. Those that don’t pester are left to take their chances in my chaotic work area. Looking forward to the next! xx

    Liked by 3 people

    • At my last job, the word “ideation” was used about a thousand times a meeting. It’s practically part of my DNA now. But that was the first I’d heard it. I don’t think it’s very common.

      It’s the ideas that pester us that turn into something great, right? Makes those sleepless nights worth it (I think). Thanks, Ales.

      Liked by 3 people

  29. Your approach makes sense to me Staci. Let the idea sinks in and set roots before moving on. I have folders of all kinds of research because I’m interested in many things. Your series is interesting and I’ll be back for sure to follow along. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Miriam. I’ve tried to develop an idea too early only to discover it wasn’t going to work. I learned the hard (and painful) way that I should have taken more time in the conception stage.

      I also have a full folder of ideas. I wonder how many of them will develop into full-length works.

      Liked by 2 people

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