The Journal: What Is a Story Idea?

In today’s Journal

* Correction
* Quotes of the Day
* Over the next few months
* Topic: What Is a Story Idea?
* I talk too much
* Today
* Of Interest
* The Numbers


Yesterday, I really screwed up the math in my post on time, as pointed out by Céline in a comment. I’ll re-address the time thing in a future post. And I’ll double-check my math.

Quotes of the Day

“Every accomplishment begins with the decision to try.” Brad Cook, professional fiction writer, St. Louis Writers Guild (Wow. Is this appropriate for writing into the dark, or what?)

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” E. L. Doctorow

Over the next few months, I’ll be writing stories for a great new series of anthologies set in the fictional town of Cave Creek, Nevada.

Cave Creek: Where the unexpected meets the real world.

Asked how he would describe Cave Creek, the “mayor” of the town and editor of the anthologies, Dean Wesley Smith, said, “If Twilight Zone still existed, it’s home town would be Cave Creek.”

The first anthology will be historical, set in the past. The second will be set in the present, and the third will be set in the future.

To support the exciting new Cave Creek shared-world project, please visit

There are some pretty good rewards at different levels, or you can support it Just Because with any amount you want from a dollar on up. (grin)

After you watch the video (you can also see it in “Of Interest”), especially if you’re interested in possibly jumping into the Shared Worlds class, be sure to read the Story below the video (at the Kickstarter site above).

Topic: What Is a Story Idea?

A commenter on another blog recently wrote “The only part of this that is essential is the story idea. I have to love it and I have to love the MC or I won’t want to write it.”

I think she might be confused about what a story idea is. And that’s fine. Many writers are.

Many writers (most, in my experience) think a story idea is born whole, with a beginning, middle and end. They believe it’s a complete concept. It isn’t.

I suppose some folks can write that way. I can’t. If a story idea came to me whole, I wouldn’t bother writing it. I’d be bored the whole time. Writing would be “work.” Ugh. Why write a story when I already know the ending?

The commentor mentioned this exact thing: “I took off on another person’s prompt, added a personal experience, and hated it almost all the way wanting to quit.”

I’m not surprised. She was guiding the story with her conscious, critical mind, so of course it was painful. Had she run with only the prompt and let the characters tell their own story, she would have been fine.

A story idea is only something that gets you to the keyboard to start writing. That’s it. (This is another lesson I learned from Dean a long time ago.)

That’s why I say so often, if you don’t have a story idea and you want to write, come up with a character with a problem (doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story), drop him or her into a setting, and start writing.

A story idea might be a snippet of dialogue that you overhear or that pops into your head. A snippet of dialogue will almost always enable you to “see” and “hear” a character, thereby giving you the tone and setting of the opening of the story. Often, it will also include the problem. But again, only the problem for the opening. Just enough to get you started writing an opening.

A story idea might also be a phrase you read or something you see or a taste or smell that brings up a memory or make you think of something in particular.

Yesterday on our way to Sierra Vista, I glanced out the window and noticed two fishing ponds with grass-lined banks and trees. And I “saw” a Huck Finn looking boy standing there with a cane pole, his line in the water.

What if a game warden walked up behind him and asked to see his fishing license? And a story was born. (I haven’t written even the opening yet. We were on the road.)

If the idea above intrigues you, please run with it, and welcome. The story you write will be vastly different from the one I write (if I write it) anyway.

Questions or concerns about story ideas, please leave a comment or email me.

I talk too much. There’s a good chance (as I’ve said before) I’ll back off a bit in the Journal.

I’ve written everything about WITD and Heinlein’s Rules that I want to say, really. There’s plenty just in the past two days to get anyone started down that wonderful path if only they’ll risk it. And if they won’t or don’t, well, nothing I say in the future will change that for them anyway, so why bother?

Going forward, unless a new thought on WITD strikes occasionally, I’ll talk a little in topics about various actual writing techniques (vs. writing processes), but more from a “what to include” standpoint (like focus and pacing and grounding the reader, etc.) rather than from a “how to get started writing” standpoint (like WITD). As I said, I’ve already given you all of that.

As always, Comments, questions, and concerns are welcome.

Today I rolled out about 2 hours later than usual. So I’m going to write as much as possible on my WIP. Not because I’m worried about it, but because it’s a great story and I’m truly anxious to find out what happens next. (grin)

No pressure. Just playing and having fun.

Well, I WAS just playing and having fun. I wrote about 1000 words, then found myself defending WITD from two particularly vehement detractors who literally slandered it in comments over on PWW. I allowed that silliness to cost me two hours.

Why do some people have such a strong urge to put down things they don’t understand? And why can’t they at least be up front about it? Why use innuendo and misinformation? Why talk at all about a process they don’t want to try and don’t understand?

Anyway, as a result of all that silliness by 1:30 I’d added only 1500 words to the WIP. By 3 I hope to have at least met my word-count goal. Then tomorrow, it’ll be Katy bar the door. (grin)

Twenty minutes before my self-imposed deadline at 3, I had just over 3100 words. Good enough.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Cave Creek Kickstarter Live!” at

For a little about Dean’s writing process, see the comments on “Some Shared World Fun!” at

See “The Bakers and the Pot of Gold” at

See “THE LEAP – Writing Into The Dark” at And wow, do I ever recommend you read the comments for what not to do.

See “Balancing the ‘New’ and ‘Notable'” at

The Numbers

Fiction words today…………………… 3116
Nonfiction words today…………… 1180 (Journal)

Writing of The Othgygnrkthers (tentative title, novel)

Day 1…… 3863 words. Total words to date…… 3863
Day 2…… 2408 words. Total words to date…… 6261
Day 3…… 3116 words. Total words to date…… 9377

Total fiction words for the month……… 12397
Total fiction words for the year………… 149092
Total nonfiction words for the month… 8230
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 62710
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 211802

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 3
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 6
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 48
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 202
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

6 thoughts on “The Journal: What Is a Story Idea?”

  1. Both the quotes were great. I loved the PWW post today, Leap. I had to quit partway through the comments, they were too depressing. I’m sorry they took offense but I didn’t see criticism directed at them in the post. So, I did my taxes instead. Woop! Now I’ll go WITD a bit. Oh boy!
    I was wondering about your math, but not enough to check it. 🙂
    The new website format looks good!

  2. Hi Harvey,

    “A story idea is only something that gets you to the keyboard to start writing. That’s it.”

    It took me 1 million words to get here. Most people quit before this stage. I fully get it now, and enjoy writing everyday.

    Thank you for the reminder and for teaching us WITD.

  3. Looking over the last few years, I see that my definition of story idea has been moving from “the beginning and the end” to “the beginning.” “Gets me to the computer is much better. And more WITD.

    • Absolutely, Loyd. If you’re one of those who can “write to an ending” that you already know, that’s fine. I could never do that. Same reason I don’t outline. For me, there would be zero fun in writing a story when I already know the end and what’s going to happen along the way.

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