How to Develop Ideas

How to Develop Ideas

I’ve previously made the claim that asking writers how they come up with ideas isn’t the best question, that having ideas is easy. But once you’ve had some, what then? How do you develop ideas?

It’s a bit like opening the fridge and realising you forgot to do the shopping. You’ve got a few disparate ingredients and you need to make dinner. You’ve got an egg, an onion, a couple of mushrooms and a tiny lump of cheese. You can take the innards of the egg, trim the mould off the cheese, beat them together and make an omelette. And you take the same approach when you develop ideas into a story.

I asked people for a few random ideas to get me started (and to prove how easy it was), and here’s what I got:

I wish Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Travellers Wife author) and Steven Moffat (current Dr Who series writer) should get together and make Clare the Dr’s next companion!

I wonder what it’s like to live on a cloud and throw cloud bombs on to the humans?

Wouldn’t it be cool if it rained chocolate sometimes?

What if aliens are here, known to the government, disguised as humans to study us, or here as interstellar immigrants?

Can we develop those ideas into a story? I hope so, otherwise this post will make me look a bit silly.

First things first: we don’t own the rights to Doctor Who or The Time Traveler’s Wife so we’re going to create our own versions. (Writers do this all the time; George Lucas created Star Wars as his own version of Flash Gordon, for example). So we’re writing about a time traveller and a companion.

The key to developing ideas is asking questions about them. So why would Clare make a good companion for Doctor Who?

For those who haven’t read The Time Traveller’s Wife, Clare is the titular wife. Her husband, Henry, sometimes bounces around his own timeline. But it’s not something he can control. Why would that make Clare a good companion? Well, she knows about time travel already. Does she know more than our time traveller? Maybe she’s trying to help her husband, find answers or a cure for his own random travelling?

What about those aliens? Why are they studying us? What if what’s happening to her husband is their fault? They’ve invented time travel and they’re testing it on humans, like we test products on mice and dogs etc.

So already we’ve got a basic idea: a woman is looking for answers as to why her husband keeps disappearing into his own history. And she meets a time traveller. A time traveller who lives in clouds. (That’s why it gets foggy sometimes; it’s the time traveller sending the clouds to the ground so he can get off.) The aliens could be the antagonists; the story would be about trying to stop them.

What about that chocolate rain? Well, you could mess with the clouds to cause it to rain chocolate. Maybe the aliens seed the clouds with something to stop the time traveller interfering? That might cause it to rain chocolate (or something else; chocolate would be appropriate for a children’s book, but if we want to write this for adults we’d have to change that).

That’s a story idea. It’s not the story; we’re not there yet. There’s still plenty of questions to ask. Who is the time traveller? Why does he live in clouds? Where have the aliens come from? How does the woman meet the time traveller? And we need more ideas, too, and we need to develop those ideas into the story as it grows. But that is, in essence, how it’s done. That’s a peek behind the curtain.

So how would you develop this story? Leave a comment and let me know where you’d like to see it go.

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