Is it ever too late to save a story? - Nikki Young Writes

Developing Your Writing – From Story Ideas to Full Blown Novels

I regularly blog about how to find writing inspiration: from music, images and paintings, stories, inanimate objects and even Literary Agent’s wish lists, inspiration is everywhere. Sit in a café or on a park bench for half an hour and you’re likely to spot an interesting character or two who may have the potential to feature in your next story.

It’s one thing to come up with the idea for a story though, but how do you turn this in to a full blown novel? I know people who tried and failed at NaNoWriMo last November because the story they were writing came to an abrupt end before they got to 50,000 words. They felt as though there was nowhere for it to go and although I never read the stories, I’m not entirely convinced that upon editing, they wouldn’t be able to flesh it out somewhere by developing the characters and some of the plot lines. With NaNo, though, you have the deadline of one month and that doesn’t leave you with much time to flesh out those ideas.

So for the rest of us, with all the time in the world to write a novel (we wish!), it leaves us with the opportunity to develop our ideas to ensure that we get to the end of that elusive novel. What does it take to do this? I hear you ask.

This example comes from a previous post but I’m going to use it to illustrate a point.

Friday Fiction - Finding Writing Inspiration - Nikki Young Writes

When I read this article about the horse sanctuary, it got me thinking how sad it was that no one wanted those horses. I used the principle of ‘what if’ to think of different scenarios – what if the horses had a voice? I don’t mean in terms of talking to humans, but to each other. Then I also wondered what if it wasn’t as safe a sanctuary as it was made out to be? I imagined that there was a fire which then led to thoughts of, what if the horses could help solve the mystery of who started the fire? From a simple newspaper article, I have the beginnings of a story idea.

Now let’s move on to think about character development. What is the background of all these horses? Where have they come from and what happened to them? We can create descriptions, personalities and character traits for each one of them and before we know it, we’re building up a kind of cast list for our story. Getting behind the psyche of our characters by imagining how each of them feels about coming to live in the sanctuary and we have the potential for resentment, pain and sadness, perhaps even relief.

Structure the story now. We know there’s a fire and we’re going to say that it was started deliberately, to make the story more intriguing. What if the owner couldn’t pay his debts? Did he start the fire? Did the debtors start it? At the same time as developing a story about the horses themselves, we can also build up a story about the sanctuary and its struggle to stay open.

As all these ideas begin to unfold, we can start to order them up. Starting with jotting down potential scenes, then putting these together, we get the beginnings of a chapter. We can change the order around until the structure of the story looks right and then we can start to write our story….

The characters will develop as you write and may lead you to vary from your original structure. That’s ok, but make sure you take a step back now and then so you don’t waver too far from the plot. I suggest putting together a separate plan containing each chapter with a brief summary. If you make changes, you can edit this plan, plus you can also keep a timeline to make sure that events follow in chronological order.

Good luck with your writing. If you have anything to add to this, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

I’m sharing this for What I’m Writing.

Writing Bubble

This post was written in collaboration with Agent Hunter. All opinions are my own.

Comments (0)

  1. Emily Organ 19th May 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Great tips Nicola and I agree, you can use just about anything as a prompt. I’ve never tried NaNoWriMo but it strikes me that you have to be prepared before you start it. I can imagine if you’re aiming for 50,000 words with no plan then you are likely to burn out before the end. WE focus so much on word count, but the development of ideas (as you describe here) is crucial.

  2. redpeffer 19th May 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Yes, I agree. The development of ideas is the crux-after all it’s what holds the story together. I’ve always found I have a lot of ideas but not enough time to spend developing them to see where they might lead! I’m trying to be more focussed on at least recording ideas and coming back to them, perhaps developing them slowly over time. I guess you have to work with the time constraints you have in the end.

  3. Mummy Tries 20th May 2015 at 9:18 am

    More fantastic tips Nikki, thank you! Totally agree with what you’ve said – which is why NaNo doesn’t appeal to me…

  4. Rachael 20th May 2015 at 10:46 am

    Great tips Nikki! I started a novel some time ago but the plot was very complicated and I managed to confuse even myself. Then when I wrote the outline I realised I simply wasn’t ready to write some of it. I’m closer now but not quite there yet – I’ll be sure to edit the outline before I start! I don’t like the idea of NaNo, although I do know someone who wrote and published a book through it! While deadlines are good motivators for me for shorter pieces (like blog posts), for a novel I think I’d just get overwhelmed and give up!

  5. maddy@writingbubble 20th May 2015 at 11:05 am

    Useful tips Nikki! I enjoyed Camp Nano because I could just write a bit of a novel and it helped me to focus, but I think the full NaNo would be too much for me! I know I need to develop the characters for my novel more and also work out the details of how to get to my conclusion. The problem is I’m so distracted by other writing projects (not to mention the rest of life) that I haven’t touched the novel since last year! Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting x

  6. sophieblovett 20th May 2015 at 5:36 pm

    I think the evolution of a story idea is so exciting – these are some great tips for how to move beyond that initial flash of inspiration. One thing I’ve realised as I’ve gained experience in writing is that it doesn’t necessarily take a hugely in depth plot to create a novel – that’s just the backbone really, and the flesh comes from the characters, settings, atmosphere etc, all the stuff that really immerses a reader in your world xx

  7. Chrissie@muddledms 2nd June 2015 at 9:02 pm

    It’s always fascinating to see how ideas develop and how two people can take the same idea and end up with entirely different stories.

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