On the Subject of Ideas

I see a simple problem standing between writers and writing. It is obvious, ever-present, and without it no writing can be done or even started.

I’m speaking, of course, of Cool Ideas. All stories come from them, but unrefined and unfocused they’re unlikely to do more than swirl around in your head, giving you vague good feelings or perhaps just frustration. Maybe they’ll even entertain a couple of friends for a minute or two in an aimless conversation about what You’re Definitely Working On. What they’re not doing, however, is being written into stories.

Ideas require refinement. This means, in effect, creating an elevator pitch. Only instead of trying to convince someone else, you’re trying to convince yourself the idea is workable. It’s starting from that initial point, which can be incredibly broad, and summing it up in three to five sentences. This is useful for a number of reasons, but most of all is because it forces the idea down to what is most important so you can focus on building those aspects up during the writing process.

Let’s provide an example by starting with a broad idea and refining it into this format. How about a magical war with vampires that has combatants on both sides finding common ground, fighting for peace, and perhaps even falling in love? Now that’s a neat idea! But is it enough for a story? Well, not yet. Let’s see if we can do something with it.

“Rafael Salazar is a newly inducted magister in the war against the vampires. He has waited his whole life to serve his country in the centuries-long conflict that plagues his people. But when he encounters the alluring vampire Cybille Delphine during a battle gone terribly wrong, the two find themselves working together to survive as mysteries of the war unravel around them. And as they uncover more about the forgotten history of their world, they find themselves discovering hidden truths about each other as well.”

This has more words involved than the original idea, but it’s overall much clearer on what the story will be about. You have characters, you have conflict, and you have mystery. The stakes, even if they’re not entirely fleshed out, are enough to build off of.

Take your ideas and hone them by figuring out what’s actually important from said ideas for the story you want to write. Start wide and then carve away at the idea until you’ve got something more precise. I can assure you that if you do this you’ll have an easier time writing stories both you, and others, will enjoy.

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