Monday, September 5, 2011

10 Stages of Story Development

1. The idea. It could come from anywhere. It could start with a character, a place, a scene, or simply a vague concept. I often have more than one idea, especially when I’m actively looking for them. I’ll write down all my ideas in a notebook.

2. World-building. Sometimes the idea will start with the world first. If I fall in love with the setting/world then I will pursue it further and set up the history, the politics, the ‘rules’. Even if these details don’t make it into the story, they are important to think about. The world will often dictate what kind of story it wants to tell.

3. Character development. I start thinking about the characters and give them names, appearances, traits and desires. Sometimes the characters will come before the world, depending on where the idea starts.

4. Character arc. For me the main element that drives my stories is character so I think about the character arc early on. This is where the plot begins to develop.

5. Outline. This is where I work out a beginning, middle and end. I used to just wing it, but I found I had to do a lot of rewrites to get it right. Outlining reduces those rewrites and it helps me to see the big picture before I get caught up in the specifics.

6. First draft. This is the mad frenzy of pushing out the story onto the page. I usually set myself a goal of 7000 words per week if I’m being kind to myself, or 10 000 words per week if I want to push myself. I prefer to push myself, because my best writing happens when I don’t have the time to over think everything.

7. Break. This is where a break is essential. It’s a good time to start expanding on other ideas or to write a few short stories.

8. The read through. Also essential. I think it’s important to read through your novel from beginning to end many times over the course of development.

9. Editing. This is when I allow myself to slow down and take the time to get the wording right. I look at pacing, motivations, sentence structure, chapter length etc. 

10. Critique partners. I’ll send out my manuscript to trusted critique partners and friends. Then I repeat stages 7-10 until I’m happy with the story.

How do you develop your story ideas?

Thanks to Suze at Girl Wizard for tagging me where we were supposed to tell 10 things about ourselves, but I adjusted the rules. I’m such a rebel.

Also thanks to L. G. Smith for the 7x7 Link Award. Again, being the rebel, I have linked back to her blog, Bards and Prophets, and ask that you visit and say hi from me.


  1. Idea first, and then characters. Since I had to rewrite my first story and start from scratch, those two things were the only aspects to survive.
    I'm also an outliner. I need to know where I am going.

  2. It might sound like a cop-out, but I am a pantser: so my story comes to as I write it… if I try and control any of part of the story it comes across week and contrite. I can control names and some setting details, but that’s about it.

    I subscribe to the “Stephen King” way of thinking: stories are found fossils, we as writers need to dig them out of the ground using our writing “tools”… but the story itself basically forms itself, all I need to do is describe what I find to the best of my ability.

    Great info through, I tend to think that way after the first draft.

  3. Ha! You cheeky rebel. Told you that link award was a lot of work. :P

    I'm afraid I am still a total pantser. I know certain plot points and what the climax will be, but I like to plod along and discover as I go. I also tend to write a pretty clean first draft, meaning I work on sentence level editing as I write. I just can't make myself write a fast first draft. I probably write 2000 words a week, but the good news is they're mostly salvageable.

  4. This is very similar to my writing process. I usually start with a character before a world, but a lot of times they're tied together.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Tough question. I used to design software, so I think of designing my stories the way I would a complex computer application - I know I'm probably alone in this, but it works for me. No computer jargon in my stories though - well, only in one.

  6. I'm a pantster, too, so not much outlining happens until I'm a ways into the story.

  7. Alex, wow, starting from scratch can be difficult. Glad you did though. Loved CassaStar.

    Jeff, not a cop-out at all. I used to be a pantser too. We have to find what works for ourselves. Everyone is different.

    Luanne, hehe. Yep, that's the way I used to write. It's also the way I write short stories too.

    Shallee, oh yes, I like to tie in the characters with the world too and each element has some kind of impact on the plot.

    Tonja, I can relate to that methodical, analytical approach. If it works for you then it's all good :)

    mshatch, it's certainly a fun way to write.

  8. Sometimes a character comes to me before the story idea. Sometimes it's the world. I go with the flow and let them take me as they will.

  9. I second Shallee's comment. I have a similar order. :)

  10. I usually get my ideas first. Occasionally I think of a character first - I've got a file of them, waiting to find story homes :-)

  11. 1, 3 & 4 tend to come all at once, followed closing by 2. 5 & 6 can end up being one and the same depending on the story. I do try to get a rough (very rough) idea of what should be happening where though. This also where 8 comes in for me.
    As for 7 ... you're talking about taking a break before tackling editing, aren't you? I hope so. I don't stop writing unless I'm really ill.
    I'm afraid there aren't much in the way of people I can send to, so 10 is a miss. I just edit, read, edit until I can read right through without spotting anything. (But I bet there are mistakes in there ^_^)

  12. I have jumped into writing first draft with just a brain storming outline. I am sure I wiill be jumping back to character development and outlining as I write. But I am writing!

  13. My stories and characters develop in my mind, sometimes for years, before I actually put them on "paper". Then I use beta readers and revise the thing about a dozen times. Reading aloud plays a big role.

  14. That's a great list :) I'm a big fan of outlining, and I sometimes find it just as enjoyable as writing the story itself :)

  15. Christine, I like that method :)

    Carrie, great.

    Sarah, often if I get the character first it's tied in with the story.

    Aldrea, yes, definitely take a break before you start editing. At least, that's what works for me. I do recommend you find a crit partner, preferably more. They makes a huge difference.

    Lynn, writing is all important :)

    Angelina, yep, I have a lot of old stories brewing too.

    Jamie, yep, same here. I love outlining because it's a time of discovery and freedom.

  16. Hi,
    The stories I am working on have been in my head for quite some time. I often find I start editing as I type and know I have to quit doing that. Just write a clean draft even if it sucks first up. Edit later.
    Good list Lynda thanks.

  17. I would like to think that I go through these stages but not necessarily in this same order! LOL!!!

    Oh I am such a panster!! I have to admit it, I'm a panster!

    Take care

  18. I'm like Alex - idea first, and then the characters, and then... well, however it goes! :)

  19. Excellent list. That's pretty close to what I do, too. I go pretty heavy in the worldbuilding/outlining stage.

    I also find that the best stories often result from combining several unrelated ideas into something more unique.

  20. Pretty much the same as you. I like to have the character sketches and outline finished before I start the actual writing, but sometimes I'll write a scene or two as they pop into my head just so I capture everything. Also, sometimes that's how ideas come to me - in the form of a scene.

  21. Hello, dear Lynnie-- I love the modification.

    As I was reading through this, I realized something about the way I start in on a story. I begin with characters. And I have to get their names right. They come into focus for me once I have the names down and then I can start to work.

    I need to feel the 'realness' of my people.

  22. sounds like a long process :)
    Love the white flowers pic, Lyndy, white flowers are my favourite.
    And congrats on getting an award from my beloved Luanne Smith! Such a lovely person!

  23. The idea and the character is usually one and the same. World building comes much further down on my list. When I wrote my first book, I wrote that the main character would go to a college that was approximately nine hours from home and would be one of the top swimming colleges in the nation. Halfway through the story, I finally settled on a home town, and after I finished I did a search and selected a college that fit what I'd already written. Backwards I know, but at least it worked out!

  24. Ah, very smart to think of the character arc right off, first thing. That saves a lot of headaches down the road, along with the outlining. I vary as far as whether the world/concept or the character comes first too. Though I think it's usually the concept or premise of the story. :)

  25. This is generally how my process, except that I take a short break (no more than 10 days) after the first draft), then do a 1st read through, and then make another outline making sure that the suspense and pacing is right and that everything is cohesive. Once done, I add and remove the specific things I noticed in the read-through, and THEN I'll do an editing read-through.

    <3 Gina Blechman

  26. Ideas come to me in the early hours. Some novels will play themselves out from start to finish. I leap out of bed once it’s finished and madly type notes. But, like a dream, the details are fuzzy.

    In general I write as I go.
    I took the time to plot my first YA vampire novel and I think it’s a stronger set-up than anything that’s come before. All the elements are there and that makes me happy.

    My biggest challenge is character development. I keep creating characters that aren’t entirely well received and that is a huge problem!

    Wanna write a post on character development? : )

  27. I typically develop an idea and then work my way into people, etc. Trying to work on picture books has given me a better appreciation to form since I have such a small space of pages/words to develop. In my nonfiction, I've been working on bursts of stories - not a timeline, but theme.

    That's why I follow you. Such a rebel!

  28. I start with the character first and then it just goes on from there. Thanks for stopping by my BBQ, now how about that chocolate cake? It should go well with the brownies I ate for breakfast.

  29. I make a doc file for every idea I have. Then when I'm ready to explore it, I start with the main conflict- basically write the 'blurb' Then I take more time and decide on what kind of characters I want/ need. Then I add to that file for about a month as different scenes come to me. finally I put them in order, build a bridge, creat an outline and get writing:)

  30. I feel like I've been stuck on stage 9 for years. Edit, edit, edit, trim, trim, trim. Hopefully I see stage 10 before the end of this year.

  31. Great list! I usually start out with characters, but a lot of the time, they come with their own worlds. It just depends on the character and how long s/he's been percolating in the back of my mind.

  32. Dreamer, not every one does it that way, but I have found it helps me to write an imperfect first draft. It saves me time down the track.

    Old Kitty, yep, when I used to wing it, I'd still cover all the stages, just not in that order ;)

    Talli, yep, whatever works :)

    Matt, I'm in the middle of world-building right now and it's so much fun. I have to remember to through in a plot ;)

    Crystal, yep, same here. My last novel started as a scene but that scene never made it into the final manuscript, which is amusing.

    Suze! I'm so cheeky ;) Yes, I spend ages on names and I'll sometimes get so caught up in getting the name right that to move forward I have to put it aside and just call them boy and girl for a while. lol.

    Dezzy, the white flowers are blooming right now outside my front door. They are tiny flowers and there's so many of them now that the bush looks like it's been snowed on.

  33. Diane, While my last novel started with a scene (which included two characters in action), the idea for my next project started with a certain personality trait of the main character and I built the story around that. I think it all depends on where your idea begins.

    Carol, I learned the hard way that working on the character arc early on saves SO MUCH headache later on ;)

    Gina, that's the similar way I edit, but I simplified it for the sake of the list.

    Nikki, lol, don't you just love it when the ideas come at the moment inopportune times? ;) Hmm, I'll write up a post about character development next week.

    Stacy, working in disciplined formats like picture books and flash fiction are great for honing the skills.

    Karen, brownies for breakfast. I tip my hat to you. Impressive ;)

    CQ Girl, making a doc for every idea you have is a smart move. I throw mine into notebooks and they often get lost in the mess ;)

    Jeff, haha editing can make us feel that way at times. If you need a crit partner, let me know.

    Jenna, yes, often the characters will tell us their stories rather than the other way around.

  34. popping over from karen's bbq... hope im not too late! brought some JD and steak! great blog--following!
    and i agree with jeff king.... just start with an idea and see where it goes!

  35. Excellent list. Mine is much the same except the outline. What's an outline?

    Impressive you can write 10k per week. I've done that too, but not for a couple of years. Lately, I wrote slower and think about each part more before I write it.

  36. Jeremy, it's never too late for a BBQ! And welcome :)

    Theresa, when I slow down too much I start to think too much and that's when I get nowhere. lol.

  37. My stories start with a spark of an idea, and then get spewed out onto paper - or 'paper' I should say, since I write straight into a word processor. I don't think about structure while I'm working on first drafts. This is both a good and a very bad thing!

  38. Wow, you're amazing. I enjoyed reading the steps you take. I start with an idea, let it mull around in my head sometimes for months or years, in the meantime working on other stories. I don't have a set pattern, am completely unorganized, jot down notes in notebooks, only to lose them and find them again months later. I'm a pantser writing on my own and plot when co-authoring. My co-author is very organized, like you! Good thing!

  39. Lynda - Great List! Some wonderful ideas, severl of which I use myself, so I must be doing something right. This is similar to what I was going to post about, today. Hmmm, now what to do. I think I will leave something short on my blog and leave a link to yours. Why mess with something that is already great!

  40. Now that is a list to follow. Thank you!

    In my current WIP, the idea came first, then the world, and lastly the characters. My plot came from all three.

  41. A lovely list, Lynda. I follow a similar one, except that earlier I didn't have Crit Partners and now that I have them, I am thrilled. Thanks to you for urging me to look for them and telling me that geography is not a problem.

  42. Great list, I am impressed. I wish you well with your WIP.

  43. I pantsed my first novel and I'm going to do a 180 on my second; I plan to try plotting it as one might a movie script, complete with corkboard and 3x5 cards for scenes. I may find this has its own drawbacks, but at least I'll be trying something new!

  44. I'm impressed by your step 4 (7000 to 10 000 words a week). My step 4 looks nothing like that! The rest is quite similar (if I can manage to get past step 4..!).

    xx Rachel

  45. Just like that! You nailed it. And the hardest part? Those last few steps... :p <3

  46. Great list! I'd say I do the same things, although some of these steps I do at the same time. I'm probably the worst at taking a break, however. I have trouble trying to stop:)

  47. Idea and characters first with world building, and very rough outline where I visualize where the story is going. After the 1st draft, I do the outline and make more concrete plans.

  48. "Dezzy, the white flowers are blooming right now outside my front door. They are tiny flowers and there's so many of them now that the bush looks like it's been snowed on"

    they remind me of coffee bushes, coffee has the exact flowers which later on turn into coffee beans or berries.

  49. Hey, Lynda! I really like the steps you've outlined here. I would guess that, by the time you get to the last step, you have a great final product!

    And thanks so much for your thoughts on my blog! Always great to see you!

  50. As a soldier in the writer campaign, I salute you. I'm also happy to see that you bring the characters and their arc to the fore in the plotting process. Indeed, I picture the external plot and the internal plot (character transformation) as two fire-breathing serpents woven together, each necessary for the other's survival.

    Best wishes on your writing.

  51. Trisha, I actually find massive rewrites quite difficult so I try to think about structure early on.

    LynNerd, haha yeah, I lose notes a lot too because I have many notebooks running at once.

    Maeve, aw, you are such a sweetie. Thanks so much.

    Ellie, gotta love the mix :)

    Rachna, it's so fantastic you have crit partners now :)

    Madeleine, thanks

    Gail, oh fantastic! I'd love to know how it goes.

  52. Rachel, Some days I only write 250 words whereas other days I might pump out 3000. That's why a weekly goal works best for me over a daily goal.

    LTM, ha, it's ALL hard ;)

    Mark, breaks make a big difference for me, but I know not everyone takes them.

    Mary, it's a good method.

    Dezzy, wish I could tell you the name of the bush. It makes a great hedge too.

    Lauren, that's the theory, anyway ;)

    AE Marling, oh, nicely put. Salute right back at you :)

  53. This is similar to what I go through. Many times it's the main character who comes to me first to spark the idea of a novel.

    Have a wonderful week.

  54. I begin with an idea, then just start writing, developing the characters both good and bad as I go along. Character arc is muy importante and I love to challenge them as the story progresses

  55. thanks for sharing your insight into your story creation process.

  56. Medeia, I love it when the MC has a loud voice in the idea process.

    Stephen, that's a wonderfully dynamic way of writing.

    Aguilar, :)

  57. When I first started writing my novel last year, I only had two characters in mind when I began writing. Two characters turned into four, then back down to three, now I'm at seven important characters. I didn't plan it out at all. Where did i end up? Rewriting the beginning of my novel four times before finishing. I've found that writing down everything I knew about my novel stopped my from doing another rewrite without finishing.


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