From inspiration to the first draft—how to gather ideas for fiction


The idea of a book can emerge from almost anything: family dynamics, relationships, a character you have known or imagined, your personal sufferings, a fantasy, or a breaking news that brought your attention. But rarely these ideas appear full-blown. They can come to you in a sequence or randomly at different stages of your writing. Somewhere between these ideas and 300-400 pages of fiction, they need to be collected and pulled together in a cohesive manuscript.

            This process of moving from chaos to order, from half cooked plots to an inexorable storytelling, varies for every writer. Some writers prefer to start with character sketches. They let the story gush out from the character development. Others begin with a theme they want to explore.

Different approaches writers take for gathering ideas:

  1. Index cards or loose-leaf binder

If the story comes to you in bits and pieces, the index cards or a loose leaf binder can be a useful tool for gathering the ideas that emerge in your head. Later you can remove or interchange them as per the requirement of the story. It gives fluidity to your ideas. You can also put these cards on a bulletin board, moving them around, studying them for new possibilities, and find sequence and correlation of scenes.

  1. Step-outline

The Step-outline is a term used for screenplays, but it also applies to fictions. Many writers use this method for writing one or two lines about each of the key scene of the story before starting with the first draft.

Although most of the time step-outline chances during the course of the book, it gives a direction and a rough structure to build up your story.

  1. Treatment

Treatment is simply a synopsis of your fiction, like a short story. It has a structure of manuscript with defined beginning, middle, and the end.

Some writers ignore the treatment and jump right into the first draft, which is a huge mistake. A treatment is an opportunity to write down the narration in a logical order, to see if the story makes sense, adds up, and has movement and direction. It prevents you from going on tangents that don’t belong to the plot.

  1. Keeping a journal

Journal is especially helpful for keeping character sketches: how they feel, what they care about, how they react, even the details that won’t appear in the book. It gives you a chance to get into the skin of your character and thus giving you their authentic voice.

Another important aspect of fiction writing is a thorough research around the theme of your book; a journal can be a handy tool for jotting down your research.

  1. Voice recording device

Does it happen to you that your character reaches out to you in the middle of nowhere giving you an important piece of your story or a scene? Like when you are traveling, or in the middle of the night or in a boring party? Most authors can vouch for this. A voice recorder, like mobile phones, can help you deal with it. You can simply record the information and later transcript it on computer.

It also helps in finding your character’s unique voice, because you can hear the recording later to assess how each character is sounding.

            There is no one right way of getting a story on paper. The creation of the manuscript will not only test your craft of writing but also your art—your particular voice, vision, perspective, and your attitudes. So find out the method that better fits your style and start collecting the ideas that will turn into the first draft of your book.

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