Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Finding the "Keeper"

Idea hockey...do you ever play this game?

Check out that chicken scribble in your notebook listing ideas? Shoot them around for a while, but you can never seem to get them to the other end of the field not to mention the goal?

Go to square one. Start plotting again. Get stuck midfield, you're about ready to "pass" on this idea.

I am a computer software plotter. I invested in Dramatica Pro and it was invaluable in plotting as a first-time novel writer.

And this time around I used Dramatica Pro to toss around my ideas and was able to "see" as a result that one of my "great" ideas just wasn't plausible from start to finish.

Whatever method you use to plot, I recommend spending the extra time and perhaps plotting all those ideas you have floating around in there. I have one plotted novel for later, one for now, and one completely implausible story.

So what if you're stuck on the first stage?

Try B-R-A-I-N-S-T-O-R-M-I-N-G as per DiAnn Mills great guidelines. I LOVE this idea about studying the parables of Jesus. Do your stories give meaning and purpose for people's lives? Do they show them tackling a challenging situation?

Brainstorm with a friend. How credible are your ideas? An honest friend will tell you where your plot falls flat and may help you to get out of that place. Rachel Hauck has some great tips for how to get the most out of a brainstorming session.

Picture surfing. When I'm stuck it always helps me to look for the "right" photos to evoke my setting. I also love finding pictures of movie characters that "fit" my character physically (so helpful in writing those descriptions). News stories related to the period of history or topic of my story can have pictures that bring me into the atmosphere of my story.

Become a news junkie. Reading news stories and asking "what if" questions make up the majority of the ideas in my notebook.

Research, research, research. As I start researching new ideas crop up, new characters begin populating my novel, and plot points suddenly begin to converge.

How do you find your ideas? And how do you decide which ones are "keepers"?


Unknown said...

Enjoyed your post,Julia. Ideas seem to come to me randomly. :) I was sitting behind a blue truck one day with 3 antennae, and a bumper sticker about her favorite dog. A character sketch came to mind. Now, if only I can discover the rest of her story! :)

I've also gotten ideeas from things that have happened in friends' lives, newspaper articles. I'm learning how to ask, "What if...." but that doesn't come real naturally so far.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jeanne! I always look forward to seeing your comments. That's neat about your character sketch coming to you in the car. I find my characters often come to me before my plots.

My husband is very logically minded and I'll sometimes get him to guide me through the "what ifs." In fact I did that last night.

Lindsay Harrel said...

I just found pictures for my characters and it was so helpful for me, a visual learner. For some reason, it gave me a more solidified idea of who the character is.

Sarah Forgrave said...

News and people watching are big ones for me. And personal experiences too. It's a big mashed-up soup of stuff. :)

Great post today, Julia!

Julia M. Reffner said...


I'm very visually minded, too. That makes so much sense about it being a way to solidify your characters.


Yes, I forgot about people watching! The mall around Christmastime is the most fun!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great post Julia
I attended the My Book Therapy class last night. In a nutshell some plot fillers can come from twists in the story. How to find a twist? Look for what isn't expected. I love reading twists in a book. I especially love it when the author catches me off guard. Love those "Gotcha" moments.

Ruth Douthitt said...

Great post!

Sitting in sermons has helped give me great ideas for my stories! Watching a good movie helps me too. Working with the youth at church has helped me with realistic dialogue. Sometimes, too realistic! Lol!

Angie Dicken said...

I find time periods and types of people that have fascinated me, and go from there...thing is, I usually end up with a "hard sell" kind of novel...hmm, wish the market was more open-minded! :)

Julia M. Reffner said...


I had wanted to go to that chat. Guess I'll have to check it out in the archives. It is hard to get those "gotcha" moments.


Sermons, hmmmm...I've never thought abut that. That's great that you have so much contact with teens and I'm sure its made your work more realistic.


I think I have some unusual interests, too. I like what I've heard of your ideas though :)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Writing historical makes it harder to glean ideas from the news. ;) But I do like to read history books and find unexpected treasures every once in awhile.

Keli Gwyn said...

I get lots of ideas from my research books, from visits to historical sites, and from plotting sessions with my hubby. I'm so impressed with what he comes up with. He gets the credit for the opening scene and set up of my debut novel. =)

Julia M. Reffner said...


You'll have to share your favorite historical resources with us sometime. :)


Can't wait to read that first scene (and the rest). What a blessing to get help from hubby, I'm blessed that way, too :)