Ideas: How to use them?

The biggest stumbling block I notice when I taught High School Students Creative Writing, wasn’t getting ideas, but how to utilize the ideas they got. Which ideas should they use in the story? Which ideas should they discard? How do they use the idea in the first place?

Writers never seem to have a storage of ideas and brainstorming is the easiest way to expand an idea. I like the What if Game because anything and everything can spark a “what if?” What if JFK hadn’t died? What if Hitler had finished his campaign of world domination? What if mythical creatures were real? What if he had met her on the street corner instead of the cafe, who they be together still? What if, what if, what if? The list is endless.

I always told my students to take their ideas and write as much as they could about them. Brainstorm about the characters, where the story would start, where the story was going to end, and what would happen along the way? They could throw around ideas about the main goal of the characters? Why those characters there?

Every writing method is different and for some this is the time to start writing. Others have to plan out every detail of the story before they write. And then there is me. I decide what to keep and what to chuck, then I write a summary before heading out into the story. I don’t need all the details of A to B to C to D, but I need enough to know what direction to head.

My last piece of advice to them was to keep in mind that their rough draft would be flawed and that was okay. That this first draft was for them and no one else. That if they aren’t inspired to write point D, they could skip to point X if they wanted. That while exploring the boundaries of the book, if you insert an idea you didn’t plan on, this isn’t a bad thing, it might just be inspired, but wait until the editing stage to worry about it.

10 thoughts on “Ideas: How to use them?

  1. I like you because:

    a) you endorse my first draft being stinkier than a dog turd
    b) you remind novelists to ask ‘what if’ (or else what’s the point to a story)
    c) brainstorming is a great way to have a story plan, yet not call it a ‘plan’ and have fun whilst eradicating problems you would have written later.


    • I think too many writers forget that the rough draft is just that, a rough draft. It’s the stage where you’re getting ideas down onto paper. The rough draft doesn’t have to be perfect.

      Before I became a writer, my sister and I use to play the “What if?” Game at night. We came up with some pretty wild ideas. 😀 I found that that practice helpful for brainstorming new ideas and writing stories.


  2. What ifs are a really great jumping off point. I’m doing a bit of adjustments on my own book before handing it off to my beta readers; it started off as a “what if a terrorist group did this” question.


  3. Thank you for this awesome post!!
    I was working with a group of young writers (between 7 and 11) and they were asked “what are three questions you really want to know the answer to?”
    Some of the responses were amazing, for example, “How do you know if a tree is a boy or a girl?”, “Why aren’t more things in the world purple?” and “Why are we entertained by entertainment?” (the last one was heavily influenced by the recent release of the Hunger Games movie I believe).
    Sometimes I think it’s all about asking interesting enough questions – ones that really grip you and drag you all the way through that long and often unforgiving process of writing a story. For my first novel, the Silver Hawk, I had “What if the powerful immortal beings watching us had only just graduated from college?”, “What if women were in charge and men were fighting for the most basic of rights?” and “What if the siblings in my story were close allies rather than enemies?” That bizzare combination led to a sci-fi fantasy young adult novel which I am still rather proud of.
    I’d love to hear what sort of questions drove some of your stories!


    • Cool! I love kids questions. My two daughters come up with some awesome ones. My favorite one lately was “Is moon male or female? How can you tell?” They asked their grandma and she told them it was male but couldn’t tell them why so they came to me. It turned into an interesting discussion between me and my 4 and 5-year-old.

      As for the questions that drive my stories, I’ve always loved mythology. So I started writing the story of Hades and Persephone, and asked “What if Persephone was in love with Hades? What if she was the true ruler of the Underworld (from a vague myth I found)? And what if Persephone had a twin sister (explaining the myths that sometimes call her Persephone and sometimes Kora)?”

      My second story came from a Norse myth about the end of the world and all sorts of what ifs popped up in the form of “What if the Norse Gods weren’t Gods but supernatural humans? What if Ragnarok (end of the world) happened? How would the survivors survive? What if the monsters we thought myths became dominate species and humanity a minority? What if there was prophecy that involved the rebirth of Balder (a Norse God that was murdered and was considered the “savior of the world” after Ragnarok)?”

      My short stories come from questions I had about characters in my books whose story doesn’t have novel in them. Love is Blind, Prudr, and Tiwaz are just such stories. 😀


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