Plot Dragons with Yves: Developing Story Ideas (1)
Welcome back! Today I’m soooo excited to be going back to my writing roots. We’re talking developing story ideas!!!
I personally love reading about how authors came up with the concepts for their work, and while I haven’t been published yet (y e t) I’m speaking it into existence: I will be one of those writers! Soon!
For now, let’s come together and talk plot bunnies and WIPs! CONCEPTS
My ideas usually come from fragments initially—images and scenes, split-second action that’s usually focused in on one character. It’s often from the climactic scene of the potential project—more than once I’ve started out a book with a vivid image of how a character is going to die. These initial ideas don’t always come from something. Sometimes it’s totally random—I’m filling the dishwasher and boom! Someone’s dead! Or if I’m daydreaming, which I spend 90% of my day doing, I might get a little flash of inspiration and suddenly it’s a new character, a new world, and I’m scrambling for my phone to get it down in my notes app.
NURTURING THOSE BABY IDEAS
I usually have to write that initial idea down as quickly as I can, trying to get the sense of it onto the page/in the app, and then I’ll mull it over for a while. Those images usually give me a pretty good idea of at least one character and their relationship with the world: are they having a heroic saviour moment, or are they sacrificing themselves to save someone or something? Are they a villain laughing on a throne made of bones? Or are they riding into the sunset like a majestic knight?
This is when the bare bones of the story emerge, as I explore that initial concept and create relationships around it. I’ll start to think about their situation and what led up to it—were they alone, or were their friends there? Where did the scene take place? Was it climactic, dramatic, the centre of their story? Or was it just the beginning?
When I started creating the concept for THE WILLOW PRINCE, the first image I had was of my MC Neil flying a dragon. At that point, the story was much more ‘bubblegum fantasy’, but when the next strong image I had was of Neil holding a powerful, ancient sword, I realised I wanted to write a King Arthur retelling.
IT’S MULTIMEDIA, BABE
As I’m developing my main character and starting to get a sense of their arc, I’ll often go to Pinterest and playlists. Images help me continue developing a clear sense of the world and I’ll usually go for very aesthetic things that can continue to inspire me as I write.
Often a close relationship/couple of relationships start to develop here too—for Neil in THE WILLOW PRINCE, it was Max, who’s the soft, jumper-wearing spellcaster to Neil’s hyperactive sword-waving; for a shelves fantasy of mine called A CROWN OF EARTH, I started out with the antagonist and quickly developed a core trio of heroes instead.
For music, I draw a lot from existing playlists from other WIPs or from searching stuff like ‘fantasy soundtrack’ on Spotify and seeing what I get. I’ve also had good luck with searching other books I like. A lot of the songs from my playlist for SO MUCH MORE THAN CHAOS, my adult fantasy based on Greek myth, came from searching for Song of Achilles playlists.
For a lot of my WIPs, I might have one playlist/board for the entire book. For others, like THE WILLOW PRINCE, I have a bunch of different playlists for different characters. Here's one for Yvanna, the bold, brash lesbian icon of Willowtown:
Quick tip: As much as I dislike JKR and everything she stands for, the fandom is still lit and HP moodboards and playlists are often a good place to start building. The Pinterest boards in particular are useful because they tend to be colour-coordinated based on house, and a bitch LOVES some colour coordination.
I’ll build and build pretty organically, adding songs to my playlists as I come across them/as they’re recommended. I’ll often play those as I work on the Pinterest boards, again using stuff I already saved/stuff I like as a jumping-off point.
The whole time I’m doing this, I’m often getting other scene ideas, often for the more dramatic moments (although I love a character interaction scene, and I always have to cut like 20,000 words of just characters having soft/deep conversations from my WIPs).
I try to have a notebook per project where I can scribble down all those scene ideas, write character profiles, and generally put anything relating to my new/future project. For SO MUCH MORE THAN CHAOS I did something a little bit different and kept my notes in a Scrivener file. I still prefer paper for ease of access but I was living abroad and didn’t have my beloved notebook collection, but thankfully I’m BACK and I have NOTEBOOKS A-PLENTY so I’ll hopefully continue using paper/a mix of paper and Scrivener in future.
MAKE LIKE A DANCER
And be flexible! Every story will have different beginnings. THE WILLOW PRINCE, for example, began as an exploration into MG/YA crossover and then turned into the darkest thing I’ve ever written. SO MUCH MORE THAN CHAOS began as a series of dialogue snippets in script form that I wrote in a Shakespeare class in Paris, which I then developed into a full novel.
Some stories come together as a cohesive plot very fast, like SO MUCH MORE THAN CHAOS, And others take a lot of time to work themselves out, like THE WILLOW PRINCE, which I’ve rewritten and replotted and redrafted about a thousand times, and I still feel I’m not 100% where I want to be with it.
Developing ideas is a really personal experience for me and it’s one of my favourite parts of the creative process. It’s the point where I really do get to play with every possible idea. Forming those flashes of images into entire stories is beautiful, and it’s those initial inspirations that I’ll keep coming back to during the writing process when I’m feeling burnt out.
Being loose with those inspirations is important too, I try not to get too fixated on them. I’ll always find a way to work that starting image in though, even if that character is no longer my MC or the world has changed shape completely (like in A CROWN OF EARTH when it began with a short story I wrote for school that featured the now-antagonist as the hero).
I used to rush into drafting but I’ve started to take a little more time mulling over things, exploring, listening to playlists, living in the story before I get it on the page. And when I draft, it’s fast and loose and always an adventure. I’m discovering stuff as the main character does, and I don’t go into strict plotting and stuff until later.
I’m learning to enjoy the process, and that’s my favourite thing about creating concepts. At the start, there’s no pressure. It’s freedom. I want to bring that same joy to every stage of my writing. It’s something I’m having to work very hard on, but I’m getting there.
I hope this guide inspires you to go forth and play with some new ideas, or maybe even some old ones. I know it’s cliché, but the truth is: you just have to have fun! The best ideas will come without digging for them.
Goodbye and good luck, Yves
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