Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I is for Ideas

Ideas come from everywhere – a snippet of a news article, dream, a bit of overheard conversation, your own brain making a connection between something you’ve read and something else that happens…The list goes on and on. If you’re actively engaged in writing, you probably have a system for collecting ideas. Maybe index cards or a writing notebook. But once you have your ideas, what do you do with them?

As you begin to develop your idea into a story, think about the type of story problem it creates. It’s a good bet that if there’s romance or a lot of violence related to your story idea, it’s more suitable for a YA story. If it’s too “cute”, with really one only problem, it’s likely more suitable for a picture book or an easy reader.

You can also think about the developmental issues middle grade readers are facing as a guideline for whether your idea is suited to middle grade readers.

Of course, an idea is only a starting point. How do you know if your idea is worth developing into a story?

Questions. A good idea should generate lots of questions in your mind. What characters to do you need to create conflict related to your idea? What place could the story take place to make this idea more interesting? What would happen if…?

Enthusiasm. You need to feel excited about your idea and the way it can develop into a story. If you’re writing a novel, you’ll likely have to live with the idea for months, maybe even years, if you count revisions. It should be something that you’re passionate about, so you can bring that passion to your readers.

Research. Even though your enthusiasm for the idea is always critical, it’s often a good idea to do a little research and see what other books have been published on that topic. It can help you see what your idea needs to make it suitable for the middle grade market. And it gives you an idea of what’s already been done.

Uniqueness. As you develop your idea into a story, it really helps to have something that makes it unique – an unusual twist, an exotic setting, something that will surprise the reader. You might have to spend some time, generating “what ifs” related to your idea to develop it into something interesting.

How do you know when you want to turn your great idea into a story?


A great list of some considerations when trying to develop an idea that stands out.

Jami Gold asks some good questions to help with idea development.

Over at the Nouveau Writer blog, there are some strategies for stretching ideas by looking beyond the obvious.

Brian Yansky writes about the importance of waiting for several ideas to connect when trying to shape them into a story.

David A. Kennedy suggests some strategies for generating new ideas.

When you’re stumped, Rick Walton’s Rock Canyon University Free School of Writing For Children has these awesome lists of activities and places to help get your brain in gear.

Nathan Bransford blogs about the drawbacks of settling for your first idea.

Mary Kole clarifies the difference between a situation and a plot.

My crit buddy Christina Farley has an interesting post about finding the right idea.

Kristen Lamb has a great post on testing out your story ideas before you start writing.

Another interesting link:

Although not really on the subject of ideas, this blog post about the difference between the book category Middle Grade and the age of kids in middle school is interesting.


  1. Wow, Andrea, this is great. Great ideas, great links, all kinds of useful info here! Thanks!

  2. This is amazing--thanks for going to all this work :)

  3. Coming up with ideas is never a problem for me. I can't keep up with them (and I hope that never changes). ;)

    Love your comments about uniqueness. That helps your idea from being a cliche.

  4. Susanna and Jess, glad you find it useful! I learn a lot by reading and checking for relevant articles, and shaping my own thoughts on the topic.

    Stina, I think that uniqueness is especially important in today's market.

  5. Hi Andrea,

    Thanks for the link! I'm glad you found it helpful. :)

  6. Thanks for the great linkage! Will definitely have to bookmark this post to read later. :)

    For me, I've learned that ideas need to fester in the mind a bit. The deeper you go, the better and more unique the idea. Your list has a great tips on how to start and push for better ideas.

  7. Karen, you're definitely right about ideas needing time to incubate. I have some that I've had for a long time, and when they keep resurfacing in my mind, I know that eventually they will become part of a story.


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