By Katherine Reay
I’m at the beginning of a new story. I handed in my latest manuscript last week and, while I wait for the first round of edits, “the little grey cells” are busy seeking new characters, new emotions and new questions. It’s a fun time, but it’s also a daunting time. A blank computer screen is intimidating.
You may not be at a beginning. You may be deep into a second draft, a fifth draft, or final edits – but I hope you’ll find this discussion of “finding ideas” useful. I believe that no matter where I am in a story, I always need something new – even if it’s only a different perspective on a moment.
Where do these ideas come from? Where can we find big game changers or little sighs that make a story come alive and jump off the page? While the answer is as unique as the stories we write, I think there are some exercises that prove universal. One exercise I rely upon heavily is I ask questions.
I will often sit and simply ask:
1. What’s in the news?
2. What concerns my family? My friends? Me?
3. What questions do I hear people asking?
4. What have been sermon topics lately at church?
5. What am I reading in the Bible?
6. What’s God saying to me? What’s uppermost in my prayers?
7. What books are people talking about? Engaged in?
These general questions often help me find contemporary relevance or character motivation. I also find layers developing as I follow the threads further and deeper down the line of thought.
Then more questions come – ones specific to the story:
1. What’s my character’s core need?
2. What is she asking? Why is she asking it?
3. Can answers be found? Can I find them? Can she? Should she?
4. What are some sensorial ways to allude to these? Smells? Weather? Clothing? Scene? Texture?
5. Who has the answers? How can I show that?
6. What is she doing at a particular moment? And why?
I ask general questions and I ask very specific ones – for every detail matters, as big aspects of plot and character become richer and more significant if illustrated through the minute. And, through this “conversation,” the story starts to churn and change. It no longer remains locked in my head, but pours out on to the paper.
Let me know what you do to get the ideas flowing. This is a great place for us to share ideas and strategies – for, here at ACFW, we are all involved in this amazing journey together.
Katherine Reay is the author of Dear Mr. Knightley and Lizzy & Jane. She’s also a wife, mother, runner, former marketer, avid chocolate consumer and, randomly, a tae kwon do black belt. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine and her family recently moved to Chicago – and she will never move again. Learn more about Katherine at www.katherinereay.com.