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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

157: Coming Up With Story Ideas

Howdy! I don't remember which literary agent shared this (They were interviewed on The Creative Writer's Toolbelt podcast.), but they stated that upon signing a new client, they would assign the task of coming up with 20 story ideas in 24 hours. They explained that the early ideas were already floating around the writer's brain, then came several that were tangents of each other, somewhere in the middle teens might be a couple of usable ideas, and the end was where things got weird and loose. The goal wasn't for the writer to come up with 20 fantastic plots overnight, but to get them thinking about the future, and to ultimately found a couple of workable concepts. Then they'd help the author pin-point the better options, before having them get to drafting one. And, overall, I like this method of brainstorming. The time-crunch discourages perfectionism, which can be the enemy of creativity.

I probably listened to that episode around 2020-2021 and since then, once or twice a year, between projects, I'll give timed listing a go. Then, I'll sort the better ideas into a longer list that I pull from when I want to launch into a writing a fresh novel manuscript. Most of my "writing time" is spent editing old works, but it's always nice to start something new. I've participated in NaNoWriMo, I believe, every year since 2019, and I do reference my list every time. Ditto for when I join in on the odd Camp NaNo.

At this point, I've amassed a tidy list of 43 ideas, which I've organized from most to least fleshed out and promising. There are a handful I want to write but I'm not convinced I'm ready to take on, due to a lack of skill or knowledge, like my Mazdakism story, which would benefit from me researching the lofty writing style of foundational religious texts. Not every timed-story idea makes this list, in fact, most don't. But I feel accomplished when I can condense my 20 new ideas to 3 or 4 workable ones.

As for how I generate story ideas, that varies. Most come from fantasizing or asking a question. I'm prone to replaying conversations hours, days, months, years after they've concluded, and tweaking how I could've better communicated my stance without seeming awkward, weird, hyper, ignorant, or stupid. The same goes for actions I should or ought not to have taken. There is a never ending cycle of flaws I seek to avoid in my futile quest to prevent further regret. Sometimes these snippets meander into the formation of a character, and a plot all their own.

Not only do I have difficulty moving on from my own mistakes, but also from those I knew and loved and who fate has robbed of their chance at a redemption arc. The universe didn't see fit to let them learn and grow but I can, have, and anticipate more such endeavors.

The same goes for existing characters and stories. I used to frequently build on the stories of beloved, and even hated characters, in what fiction I avidly consumed. While I haven't written fan fiction since 6th grade, I have mentally removed characters from their story, setting, and with a few necessary tweaks, given them a plot all their own. This has generally gone for side characters I wished to see more of.

The there are questions, like the big one surrounding my current project, Soul Walker. In that case, I wonder, assuming we are a soul inhabiting a body, then what of memories, in the grand scheme? Memories are of the brain, the body. A possessed person wouldn't gain a second brain, so how would the new soul impact them? And in death would the soul carry memories, when those were physically retained by the body? Or, in a more speculative sense, another potential story asks what would happen if men and women lived in separate civilizations, only interacting to breed, anonymously, and to briefly raise the young of the opposite when necessary. What ifs make great story fodder.

As I revisit the larger, long term list, I add details, alter the direction of those elder. I don't often go into an idea with a lesson or moral in mind. I come up with a scenario, and then I try to do it justice by assigning a satisfying, ideally less predictable, conclusion. Usually the cast is created to emphasize the story, and I try to keep said cast small, only as many characters as is necessary for the plot to work, and for the setting to be believable. It's generally in later drafts that I pin down the point of my story, the big idea, rather than just the over-arching plot. I give no thought to themes until several drafts in. This goes for many literary elements. Metaphor? I'll write them in the moment, but until I set about editing, they're as likely to be mixed as not. Ditto for similes. Foreshadowing is almost always coincidental, but once I recognize it, I'll edit to emphasize. I am prone to alliteration but that's not always appropriate, and rarely if ever serves a greater purpose than the mere leaning into an opportunity spotted, and sometimes I take it out because it introduces humor at the wrong time.

I want to be one of those writers with useful, elaborate dreams, and I do keep a dream diary, but I've found little to build on there. Feelings, sure, can be worth expanding upon, but that's it.

Anyway, today I've decided to knock out 20 story ideas in 24 hours. I don't think I've had any ideas circling my skull of late so this will be more challenging than usual. Hopefully a handful are worth delving into! Thanks for stopping by! I drop a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!


Howdy! I finished the most recent round of revisions for Soul Walker, my paranormal women's fiction novel, this past Friday. There remains a small list of tweaks for the next round. Currently the word count sits around the 99K mark, and I intend to bring that down to 85K before I begin querying again. Originally, about 11 drafts ago, it was ~135K words, so already the wordcount is much less formidable.

When I initiated the transfer of Stem & Stone and Light Step from Tea With Coffee Media to my own Ingram Spark account, the confirmation warned that transfers take approximately 30 days. Mine went through after 8, and the books are now in my name. I am in possession of the relevant files so I can touch up the covers or formatting if so desired. However, doing so means resubmitting the files and the books being temporarily removed from stores for a week while Ingram Spark approves the files. For the time being, I'm leaving well enough alone.

This week I plan to work on visual art. I'll be selling watercolor paintings and woodburnings in downtown Bryan TX from 5-10pm on July 5th. I didn't get any sell-able art crafted this past week, but I did organize my studio, which I've been meaning to do.

As for personal art, I collaged more scrapbook pages of my dogs. I've been meaning to make a Pride page for Samwise and I finally found the perfect background at a garage sale on Saturday.

I'm still reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Normally, upon finishing a book, I donate it. Unfortunately, this copy is literally falling apart. Maybe I can use the pieces for an art project instead.

On Thursday, I hung out with the Brazos Writers Group for the second time. The meeting went well. Everyone is very friendly and supportive! Unfortunately I don't have a new project for their Monday critiques.

Thanks for stopping by! I drop a newsletter every Monday! Toodles!

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