Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Where to begin?

I belong to multiple writing groups on Facebook. The most common statement from new writers is, "I have an idea, but I don't know where to start."

Inspiration comes from many places. Keep a notebook around so you can jot down the ideas as they come to you.

I have a computer file labeled "Widows and Orphans." It is full of articles, dreams, notes about stories that fascinate me. I have collected stories about gods and goddesses, the Orkney isles in Scotland, standing stones, abandoned locations across the globe, remote viewing, fascinating bits of history, oddities that can't be explained. Myths and legends intrigue me most. Even though Mystery is my favorite genre to read followed by Young Adult Fantasy and lately some science fiction, I haven't been able to choose my next project. I have a draft of a story about lucid dreaming, then I saw several books about that topic and one even stole my title. So it is gathering dust. Then I had an idea for a Mystery series, but that is still percolating too. I have devoted most of my time to nonfiction, but I still get the urge to write fiction again. It is much harder since I moved to Florida without my beloved critique group.

All of my widows and orphans have the potential to become a full-fledged story. They may remain lost in that file, but the characters still nag at me to be brought to life.

So the first task to ask yourself is: "What is the idea: A person, place, thing, situation, or location?

Start with the seed in your mind. Write down notes as you ponder it. Don't worry about outlining or writing anything yet. Daydream. What speaks to you about the idea? Can you research it, gather articles or information?

Has an interesting character come to you? Who are they? What do you imagine them doing? Did they live in a specific time and place? Where can you see them? What is the problem they need to solve? Usually a personal problem occurs to you first. Then you have to decide what kind of plot the personal problem will play a part in. Let this character speak to you. They often tell you what they want to do.

Do you have an idea you dreamed or read about or a story you were inspired by? Jot down the details. What intrigued you about it? What tangents can you explore from it? Is there an aspect that hasn't been written yet?

Do you have a genre that you love that you wish to participate in? Do you want mainstream success? Do you want that golden publishing ticket? Do you want your work to be widely read? If so, look at what is selling and choose an option that speaks to you.

Romance and Mystery are by far the highest continual sellers. Young adult literature has been selling very well for decades. Learn the genres by reading examples of what has sold. Write down what you liked, what you hated, and what you think you can do better.

Dissect books chapter by chapter or movies scene by scene. What elements make you reach for a pencil or keyboard?

Do you have a story that defies definition? Start it. Play with it. Maybe it will fit into a category half-way through or at the end.

Turn the puzzle pieces around until they fit. Do they work for a mystery, a suspense tale, a thriller? Is it a human transformation story? Is it about a relationship? A lover? A friend? An enemy?

There is nothing wrong with daydreaining, doodling, pondering, and considering your story idea from multiple viewpoints.

Dreaming about the story is the fun part. Eventually you have to start the hard work of making it a reality. Once you have  person,  plot, genre, or setting, you can begin to make decisions and choose a skeleton that appeals to you.

In my Story Building Block series, I walk writers through multiple options. A story seed can be bent and twisted and plugged into any genre by making a series of decisions. Once you have the seed, you can easily put it through the paces and find a home for it.

Then it is pen to paper or fingers on keyboard and the blood, sweat, and tears begin.

More articles to help you get started:

The Central Question

Layering Conflict

Stretching the Story Seed

Is it a Romance?

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. This is an excellent article to get a writer started. Thorough (perhaps time consuming) preparation in the beginning may seem like a time waster when the fingers are aching to get to the keyboard, but its payoff during the writing process cannot be overestimated. Jumping into a story without guidelines and well-defined characters is like starting a long road trip to a new destination without a map (or GPS). Great links, too, Diana.

  2. I call my folder "Starts." It's full of brilliant first lines, clever turns of phrase, darlings I've killed from other projects, and amazing plots that unfolded in a dream. Even if the "brilliant" first line is not really that great, reading it again later will always trigger a new idea. It's a comfort to know the folder is there, just in case.

  3. For anyone wanting more, Diana covers story and character development with weekly posts over at Game On! and the articles can be found on Facebook by following Story Building Blocks. There are also free tools available at DianaHurwitz.com.


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