From Spark to Draft: How to Take an Idea and Develop It Into a Story

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Photo by Ethan Hoover on Unsplash
  1. Brainstorm all around your idea — use diagrams, word lists, word maps, pictures. Fill at least one whole page with whatever comes to mind. Push your idea as much as possible, and don’t censor yourself — no matter how weird or unconnected, get it down on the big page.
    I use A3 sketch pads for this. Don’t rush it. Come back to the page several times over a day or more. Add more pages if you want to. Add ideas about your characters and your settings.
  2. Use a highlighter marker and mark anything that connects to your initial idea in an exciting or different way. Keep a look out for anything that creates a little buzz in your brain.
  3. Now go back to your first idea and be open-minded about what you can add from your brainstorming. You should look first at the things that created the buzz. How do they connect to your idea? How will they add to your idea, make it more interesting, more original? Most importantly, how will they add depth to both your characters and plot?
  4. Think about structure. Yes, right at this point! You need a story that has a central “problem” or conflict, and this may well have been part of your initial spark. You need the conflict to increase, and you need the tension to increase throughout the story. If you’re not sure, look at your brainstorming. Are there ideas in there that can be used to increase conflict?
  5. Who is your main character? What is different about them? How do their character traits help to both increase the problem and create the solution? These might sound like formulaic questions, but they are the basic structural elements that so many people ignore at their peril. The story you build on top will be yours alone, and original as you want it to be, but without the structure to hold it up, the story will falter and maybe fail.
  6. Where is the highest point of action in your story? Is this the climax? (It should be.) Is it going to come about ¾ of the way through the story, or near the end? If it’s in the middle, it needs to move.
  7. How does the story end? Does it bring the reader back to the beginning in some way (circular) or does it take the reader to a new place? What do you think the theme is — what the story is really about? Is it layered underneath? If you don’t think you have a theme, can you see where you might add a little more to suggest it?
  8. How will your story begin? Can you start with a great sentence or two that sets the scene, starts the action, will lead to the problem (or introduce it straight away, perhaps)? For some writers, once they have these opening sentences, the rest of the story will flow. For others, they will have to start with a “holding place” sentence or two and come back later to rework it.
  9. You will start to feel as if you want to write the story — now! Hold off until you have such a strong sense of the ‘whole’ of the story that you know you can write a first draft. This doesn’t mean you should outline it, but that the story feels fully realised enough to write it all now without getting stuck.

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