Kristen Otte

Finding Love and Laughter through Story

A Creative’s Dilemma: Sorting through the Idea Pile


Asking What If questions is a great exercise to develop story ideas. In an earlier post, the concept of your story, I explain the what if questions and how to use what if questions to brainstorm story ideas. Story ideas also pop into my brain at odd times. When a new story concept appears, I write the idea in Evernote so I don’t forget it. But, at some point, I need to sort through the idea pile and decide what is a feasible story concept for me to write.

Unfortunately, I am not at the point in my writing where I need lots of new ideas simply because it takes me a while to finish my current projects. So, my current idea list seems never-ending. But, when I do finish a project and need to start a new short story or novel, I sort through my list of story ideas.

My process is not very scientific or organized, but I go through the list and categorize the ideas as yes, no, or maybe. As I go through the list, I have a few questions in mind:

  • How much research will I need to do for this story idea?
  • Could I start writing this story today?
  • What characters are in this story?
  • Where does the story take place? What time period?

I use those questions to decide whether the story is something I want to write. For my first novel, the story resonated in my brain for several months before I actually started writing. My Zelda series, on the other hand, came off a whim one day. I had the idea and started writing one of the stories the next day or so.

After going through my list, the no ideas are deleted from the list. The yes and maybe ideas are left on the list and I pick a story idea to start.

For my writer friends, how do you come up with new story ideas?

And how do you sort through your idea pile?


7 thoughts on “A Creative’s Dilemma: Sorting through the Idea Pile

  1. I actually do this idea collecting with many things. Mostly software projects, though. But as you say, the current task feels never ending. And I have never a clear break, where I would go through all of it. It’s more fading from one thing to the next. Not always finishing with the best possible result.

  2. What a great topic.

    I “meet” characters in my mind long before I know the plot. With some of them I’ll sit down and type out a description of what they look like and a short conversation between us. Right away I try to figure out if I can trust their perspective on the plot, what motivates them, and the truth behind their deepest secrets.

    I hope that will make sense to the fellow writers here. When I try to explain this process to non-writers they often look at me like I have two heads. 😛

    Sometimes my characters are (very) loosely based on people I’ve known, but more often I create them by wondering what would happen to someone who experienced X and was much more (or less!) prepared for it than one would assume.

    I like to play around with the audience’s expectations of what ought to happen in my stories. It’s more interesting to me to write characters that don’t necessarily behave the way you would expect of someone their age/gender/ethnicity.

    • I like this approach and idea. I love character driven stories so this could be a good way to start brainstorming new ideas. And I don’t think you are crazy. 🙂

    • I like your approach as well. And as a non-writer I don’t think you have two heads, but I don’t understand it either. The part of drawing believable characters and actually meeting them feels like magic to me and very distant. I think it’s more a personal ability, e.g. how empathic one can be, than the chosen profession, though.

  3. I’ve got piles of first pages on my hard drive. That is, I came up with a “brilliant” idea, fired up the laptop, and started pecking away. I usually get to the bottom of page one before I realize it’s garbage.

    I really have no idea where my ideas come from, because, by the time I get to the end of the first draft, what I wrote bears almost no resemblance to the thought that inspired it,

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