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How to write Part 1: The Idea

Updated: Jan 17

Before you can write a book, you need an idea. I tend to write inside of fantasy and science fiction to varying degrees. Adjacent fields like horror fantasy, urban fantasy, science fantasy, magical realism, are all subgenres that are near afield. When I come up with my ideas, sometimes they are for worlds. Whole monster sized nuggets that land and I need to dissect them. Other times they are characters, abilities, magical structures, themes, story lines, plots and small things.

Ideas come in many forms. The first question and the first task for how to write, is what to do with these ideas?

1)      Capture your ideas.

Different people have different ways of doing this. Some people carry around a notepad. Find something which can fit in your pocket easily so you can scribble down the idea any time. Most people I know now use their phones I use the Google Keep application, which lets me create topics and bullet points in the app, and easily lets me do so by verbalization not tapping out the words, so it is even faster. Whatever you do, have the app on the front screen, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Do not assume you will remember that idea later. You won’t always.

2)      Tell yourself why the idea is good.

It is important when you record the idea that you record WHY the idea is good to you. Where do you want to go with it? For example, if you think of magic system XYZ, something special and new, why was that interesting to you? Do you have a related idea for the kind of governments or cultures which would arise around it? Write those down with it.

If you have a science fiction story with a very specific moral you want to have expressed, make a few notes about what setting character or situation you think will most likely fulfill that theme. Give yourself enough to work with that when you come back to the idea in an hour, a day or a week, you remember WHY you were so enamored with it.

3)      Test your ideas

Once you write down your idea the next step is to discover if the idea has staying power. Does it have enough there to build a book around? What else happens as a result of this idea. Let’s talk about a throw away example:

When you turn 20, you are brought to the doctor’s office where they administer a blood test which will tell you the method of your death. It will not tell you when, only how. It doesn’t matter how bizarre, the machine knows. Cancer, heart attack, bullet wound, gangrene, cocaine overdose, bat to the head, almond allergy, choking on a peanut… everything.

How much room is there here for a story. The answer is ridiculously infinite. Now this is not my idea. In fact, this is so broad two whole books of short stories (Machine of death. A MUST read.) have been written about this topic. Settings are different, ranging from Victorian to far future. Characters are as broad as humanity is broad. Impact is intense and wide-ranging changing and creating whole jobs.

This idea has legs. It can walk about and go a long way.

Here is the secret. Almost every idea has legs.

Your idea has legs. It can be a whole story. Here is why I am certain of it. We live in a non-magical world, non-science fiction world, filled with stories worth telling every day. Remember what we talked about in the section on conflict scale. (Link to types of conflict here.) Villains don’t need to want to conquer a world. They can just be in the way of one person, and still be a villain.

Explore the ramifications of your idea. If the setting is realistic, focus on the ramifications to the protagonist, the antagonist and the small circle of friends involved in the incident or the plot line. If the idea is larger and more world wide reaching begin to consider the following ten ideas:

-          What is the impact to society at an interpersonal level?

-          What is the impact to society at a political level? Are entirely new government structures possible?

-          Would this change how families interact, or are made?

-          Would this change how an economy works? (For example, magic which creates things from nothing or values certain items creates new economies.)

-          Would this change the level of safety people have in the world by changing how much power one individual can wield?

-          Does this idea change how a person or persons might view their place in the world?

-          Does the idea (Which can be a theme) find itself as a common belief throughout society? Is it the opposite, and few would find they resonate with the theme but you believe they should?

-          Is this a completely new technological revolution that would generate untold changes to society?

-          Does this idea change how people communicate or the speed at which people communicate? So many cultural revolutions have occurred just because of the ability to communicate.

-          Does it change how education would need to be delivered to incorporate the idea into society?

These are just a handful of many questions which you can ask about how our idea might find its legs. As you explore these and others write down all of your results, even ones which will be dead ends. Keep them because these are going to be the idea bucket we work with next time for the creation of possible scenes.

Churn an idea around for a week or two, see how many story relationships pop out of it. This is the nascent phase of any novel. The idea phase.

4)      Find new ideas

If the idea you come up with doesn’t have enough to it, or you decide you don’t like it enough, keep all of your ideas. Never throw them away, but begin working on new idea. Where to find new ideas?

The world is boundless. Talk to people. Read books. (Nonfiction included!) Travel. Listen. I mean really listen to how people speak, and what they speak about. Take in art, including visual, and auditory art. Music can do amazing things for the imagination.


Your ideas will always come, and your ideas will always have enough to them, if you give them time.

Always remember, writers write. So go spin out some ideas. Next time, part 2. How to start turning ideas into events.

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Anna Varlese
Anna Varlese
Dec 26, 2023

Great tips. Looking forward to reading Part 2 and more detail on some of these, like the sources of new ideas.

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