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Knowing which ideas to write: How-to

I always get far more ideas than I will ever have time to write. In the last year alone I’ve had the ideas for an epic fantasy series (the Winter series I’ve already begun), the plots for the second and third book in the Sherdan series, two more sci-fi ideas, a modern romance/mystery idea, an idea for how I can work a true story in the Mountifield history into a novel, and three fantasy ideas on top of the series. That’s twelve books worth of ideas.

In the same time (a year), I’ve finished writing sherdan’s Prophecy, written two fantasy shorts, begun the Winter series, the trafficking novel idea I already had and the sequel to Sherdan’s Prophecy, Sherdan’s Legacy. So I’ve added eleven ideas and only actually fully crossed off two, although I’ve got another three in the stage of ‘in progress’. So in total, sitting in my notebook I have: Seven fantasy books, five historical, three modern romances, and four sci-fi waiting for me to consider them and three started. For a total of at least another twenty-two stories! That’s about ten years worth of writing at my current rate, if I don’t get any more ideas in that time!

The biggest problem I have when I reach the end of a book is figuring out which one of these many ideas I should start next. Admittedly some are better than others. Some of the historical ones will probably never get written, but the charge still falls to me to pick the right one. My husband says I get so many ideas because I get the privilege of choosing the ones to actually create. There are days when this can feel like more of a burden than a privilege, however.

I also know I’m not the only one. Other writers share this problem. So I thought I’d share some things I do and use to figure out what to write next.

Which one is easiest to write? Some ideas sound amazing until you actually think about the logistics of the plot or the motivations of the character or where you wish to begin and suddenly the idea’s not quite well formed enough to actually begin yet, and it might never be. I prefer to leave these ideas in the melting pot. Sometimes the best bits pop up again later in other ideas anyway. So I tend to look through and think over which ones I could start without too much effort. That eliminates some from the next pile.

Which ones are going to sell best? Let’s face it, some of our ideas are just right to jump on a bandwagon and this can be a good thing sometimes. I will admit. It’s rare for me to pick a book because of this factor, but it can play a part. I prioritise the sequels of a series already on the go over other ideas simply because it keeps the fans happy and does tend to sell better. It’s important to keep fans happy, especially the ones from early on in a career, who gobbel up the books and eagerly ask for more.

Which ones are the most original? Some ideas are pretty much a rehash of old ideas in a new setting and while these can be great easy books to write to bulk up the backlist they aren’t always rewarding and can feel a little like a cop out. Something that feels original and fresh can be very rewarding to both author and readers alike. While occasionally a risk they can suddenly take a career in a brand new unthought of direction.

Which ones are the most exciting? It can take a long time to write a novel and writing the ones that give us the maximum excitement can help get through the tougher moments in the process. If our heart is most passionate about a particular few ideas then they are likeliest to be well written and to be loved through the full journey from plotting to publishing.

Which ones feel right? After I’ve gone through the above set of questions I often find I still have two or three on my list of books to possibly write. At that point I let them circulate in my brain for a few days and try to ‘feel out’ which one would be right to write next. Usually I’m led to one over the rest.

But since I’m in a sharing mood. Here’s a few ideas that might get written in the next little while or might not.

Sci-Fi – A female is woken from a coma to find her business partner has used all her companies and wealth to get their business holdings and houses into the sky, as that’s what everyone left on earth is trying to do. Dwellings are built that are added to and eventually turned into spaceships. But her business partner stuffed things up and not long after getting into space he gets captured by a space pirate who turns him into a cat and keeps him as a pet. She wakes up to find her companies in a mess and has to sort them out, get on a spaceship’s crew and go rescue him. She quickly works her way up to captain of a trading vessel and uses it to go fetch him, making a deal with the pirate for him.

Modern Romance/Mystery – A widow is applying for a new job and is hired by a wealthy bureaucrat who is trying to gain his inheritance from his rich father. He needs to move the historical and grade listed family home. She is hired as an office junior to help get his companies and his house through the move but the current office employees take a dislike to her and blame her for all the mistakes they make. She manages to find all sorts out about the house and even finds forgotten secret passages. She ends up dating him and finds him a fortune and they take over the world, sorta!

Fantasy – Choose your own adventure Dragon Steampunk. Young man works as a servant in a large household. He feeds and looks after the two adolescent dragons in the cellar. Dragons power the steam powered technology of an otherwise Victorian era civilisation. A bit like how to train your own dragon but steampunk.

And yes I do really want the box on the right. So pretty!

Well there’s three of the nineteen ideas still waiting for me to decide to write them. Maybe one day I’ll write them. Of course I fully believe in keeping the fans happy so if anyone preferes one of them over the others, feel free to say and let me know what you’d like me to write.

A female is woken from a coma to find her business partner has used all her companies to get their patch of earth into the sky as that’s what everyone left on earth is trying to do. Dwellings are built that are added to and eventually turned into spaceships but her business partner stuffed things up and not long after getting into space he gets captured by a space pirate who turns him into a cat and keeps him as a pet. She wakes up to find her companies in a mess and has to sort them out, get on a crew and go rescue him. She quickly works her way up to captain of a trading vessel and uses it to go fetch him, making a deal with the pirate for him. She then quite literally tries to take over everything and help the people back on earth.

Forming Ideas

Often people ask how to form ideas and where inspiration comes from. I thought I’d share where mine comes from and how I form that first spark into a fully fledged plot idea.

The spark

Most of my ideas are stimulated by something that has happened in my life; a conversation, something I’ve watched, something I’ve listened to. Often the link is quite tenuous, however. For example, a conversation I had recently with a friend about growing up in the perfect 2.4 family, with happily married parents, sparked an idea about a little girl of 16 who lived in a small village and had a crush on the guy next door.

The link is the perfect family but the family would make up very little of the plot of the story, at least to start with.

I also had an idea sparked recently by watching the sci-fi tv series The 4400. The tv series is about fourty-four-hundred people who are taken from various points in time, given a enzyme called promicin and dropped back all together in the same point in time. The drug they were given then produced a unique ability in each of them. Watching this series reminded me of a cute theory I’d had a few years back when thinking about humans being made in the image of God.

Back when it was commonly known that we only used 10% of our brains I came up wtih an interesting theory that it was because God had made us in his image and we used the other 90% when we got closer to God and used his abilities, like heal sick people, move things and control the weather. To me it made some sense in us being made in the image of God, why on earth would God give us parts of our brain we didn’t use? Though the original premise is no longer held to be true because we do use all our brain, just not all of it all the time, the spark of an idea is still there.

This lead to me thinking further. What if there were a whole bunch of people that developed unique abilities because they started accessing some more of their brain/some new level of concentration? Now this is beginning to sound like x-men so the next question I can ask myself is how can I move this idea on so it’s more my own idea again and not the same as others.

Well so far I don’t know of anyone that’s done this and had it be possible to lose the powers. Like we could forget how to use the new power. Or that we need to learn how to do so in the first place. Kinda like learning to cook.

Voila, we have a basic idea. A world where a few people have begun to use a unique ability that uses a part of their brain not normally used and can be lost if not used properly.

The Moment

Once I’m happy I’ve sparked a basic idea I try to create a character or two. The best way to do this is think about the key moments that would be created within the above idea.

For example with my girl next door having a crush, I’d start thinking through a conversation between girl with crush and the neighbouring crushee. While going through the conversation in my head their personalities begin to form and I’ve got two vague outlines of two characters as well as the beginnings of a moment in the book/film.

With the sci-fi unique powers idea it’s much more likely to be a action style or drama style thing so the best first moment I can create is with something going on. So let’s start with having a male, let him be a leader type. For now we will call him Jordan.

We’ll assume Jordan has a power so the best place we can start is thinking what kind of powers are likely to make him a good person to have in a leadership role. Maybe he can tell when people are lying. Really tell, because people can trick lie detectors, but not this guy. That would be a very useful ability. Or we could give him the ability to figure out what other people’s abilities are, maybe even block them or remove them completely.

We’ll pick the later power. He can have an advisor that can tell if people are lying and Jordan will be able to tell people’s abilities and block them if he wishes.

So what is Jordan doing? We know he’s a leader and know his ability. Let’s have him in some underground command bunker, issuing orders to other people with abilities. We want to create a moment so something needs to happen. An interruption is always good and another character. First meetings are always a good place to start when getting to know characters.

Two guards come in, forcefully steering a female into the room. She’s wearing dark clothes because she’s been sneaking around and she stops struggling when she sees Jordan. She recognises him.

So our guards would apologise for interrupting our big boss guy Jordan. Jordan would not respond and focus on her. She’s the interesting thing.

“You don’t have an ability.” Jordan would point out.

“No. That’s what I came to talk to you about.”

“You came to see me?”

“Yes. I want to talk to you.”

“I’m a very busy man.”

“It’s important.”

Jordan would sigh, let’s face it, it’s always important. But this chick has just somehow got through all his many lines of defences unarmed, without killing anyone, and with no ability whatsoever. She also has essentially signed a death sentence on herself coming into an ability zone without one. (yes I did just make all that up, but it makes it interesting. If in doubt put someone’s life in danger and make them do something out of the norm in response, as long as it fits their character it’s all good and conflict makes for interesting times)

So our guy would ignore her for now. Let his men handle her. She has no ability and he really is rather busy.

Two days later our chick still refuses to give anyone her name or state her reason for being there. All she says is that she wants to see Jordan and talk to him. Jordan watches a few security video’s maybe of them trying to get info out of her and considering who she is etc I doubt they are being too nice. No food at the least and possibly a lot worse. Jordan is bugged by her, maybe can’t sleep for thinking about her, so finally agrees to see her.

At this point she’s exhausted; all the effort finding him and then they lock her up for two whole days. She’s going to give Jordan her full attention though as he sits down in the room with her. But she’ll be calm, waiting for him to speak. She’s in no hurry. (Going to have to come up with a really good reason for her being here, it’s got to be something that will make her go through all that willingly and be believable. If in doubt God works well, or some moral issue and failing that, love. Money would be no good as she may well die. Those are the three big motivators in people’s lives)

“So what’ your name?” Jordan asks. ( I think we’ll have him feeling quite sorry for our girlie here, even if we don’t tell the reader/audience it’s good to know how the character would be thinking and feeling)

“I can’t tell you that.”

“What can you tell me?”

“I need to see the prophecy you are following.”

“Who said we were following any prophecy.”

“We know Jordan. It’s wrong… I think.”

“You think?”

“Can I hear it please?”

“And that’s all you came here for?”

“Not exactly but that’s where I was told to start.”

“Who sent you?”

“God”

“God?”

“Yeah, God. Well my Church actually but we felt God wanted someone to come.”

“Why?”

“Because you’ve underestimated God’s people in these plans. In fact, you’ve not included us at all. It’s really not wise to make plans for the end of the world without including the people you need for the Heaven part afterwards. But that’s actually not the point for the moment.”

“It’s not?”

“No, I would just like to see the prophecy you have. I assume someone wrote it down. Could I read a copy please?”

“That’s all you came here for? To read the prophecy?”

“Well, I suppose so. So can I?”

“Will you give me your name afterwards?”

“Maybe. It depends.”

Ok and moment done now I think. So from that moment, we now have two characters we can play with; Jordan and our elusive chick on a mission from God. We know Jordan is following some kind of prophecy to lead people with abilities to some kind of Heaven. He’s not too worried about his means to get there if he has a command bunker and just allowed his men to spend two days torturing our girlie. So we still don’t know if he’s good guy or bad guy. He could well be both.

Our girlie is evidently a firm believer in God, and since she has said Church we can assume of the Christian variety. That alone seems to be motivation for her to risk her life. She’s quite open, almost chatty with Jordan but has kept her mouth shut in front of others.

We also now know there is some plan to end the world/get to Heaven. It appears people with abilities are potentially at war with those that don’t have them and the church hasn’t taken sides, at least not yet anyway.

Congratulations, the spark has become a world with potential characters and a lot of potential plot variations. From here I would flesh out those two characters and properly name them both. I’ve talked about character development in previous posts. Then that should lead to the plot, which I may well talk about in another blog.