Writing Excuses 10.2: I Have an Idea; What Do I Do Now?

Writing Excuses Season 10, the podcasted master-class, continues with this exploration of that critical second step: what do do once you’ve got an idea that has story-legs.

(Note: When we say “two weeks ago” over and over, that’s just bad math. You haven’t missed an episode.)

We talk about our various approaches to this, many of which center around finding the person or people who are most affected by the thing our idea conjures into their world, but that’s really only the very beginning of it.


Using last week’s five story ideas (or five new ones):

  • Take two of them and combine them into one story.
  • Take one and change the genre underneath it.
  • Take one and change the ages and genders of everybody you had in mind for it
  • Take the last one and have a character make the opposite choice.

Shipstar, by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, narrated by Zach Villa

25 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.2: I Have an Idea; What Do I Do Now?”

  1. Thanks for the podcast. I had a great time listening to your ideas and getting caught up in the wave of inspiration that seems to be even more evident in Season 10. I’ve completed the homework in rough ‘pocket sketch’ form. Some of the ideas will need to sift a little more, I think, but just because it’s written down doesn’t make it permanent. I’m happy to tinker as I go.

    If anyone’s interested, the next installment of my homework is here:


    I’ve enjoyed checking in on everyone’s work too. Lots of inspired ideas. Let’s hope we can turn at least a fraction of these into full stories during the course of the year.

    Thanks Excusers!

  2. How does your story grow?
    With writing ideas and questions too,
    and characters all in a row,
    With ideas mixing, brainstorms, and dig it deeper, you!

    So you have a seed, and now you are watering it, adding some fertilizer, letting the sun shine on it… don’t forget to pull the weeds, too!

    And wait until you see what sprouts.

    In the meantime, here’s a transcript all about developing ideas. For those who like to read all about it…


    Available in the archives, too.

  3. Ah, yes, the 36,000 word brainstorming document. My favorite tool. To me, it’s size is hilarious. I could have written a novella in its place, but that novella may as well have become its own brainstorm upon working out its bad ideas into clever little gems–well, it took me 36,000 words to feel clever, but ssh! Readers won’t know that! Thankfully, it’s reaching its limit as I prepare to condense it into a simple outline with a coherent summary attached. Mind you, this is a 36,000 word investment towards a novel.

    I’ve learned that brainstorming documents can turn hollow, unlovable ideas into motivation to write that story, particularly in my case. The idea I chose to work with is not my cup of tea. In the beginning, I was so unenthusiastic that I didn’t want to see how it would work as a story, but writing out every connection, experiencing the endorphins that make me feel clever, made me desire the idea. It’s a bit like broadening one’s horizons. I will say, though, that imagination takes effort. Or, in my case, 36,000 words.

  4. Another great podcast, thanks! Since I only had time to write out a blurb on one idea last week, I’ve now made all 4 changes to that one idea. It’s very different now, but it was fun to think through what would happen after changing so many things. Here it is for anyone playing the home game:


  5. While I’ve never read about someone murdering people with hats, in a 1980s episode of the Swedish version of The Phantom, there’s an assassin killing people in 17th century Venice by poisoning their wigs.

  6. “… there’s an assassin killing people in 17th century Venice by poisoning their wigs.” Never heard of that. When I read this I instantly thought of Maxwell Smart “Would you believe the old poison powder in the wig trick?” for some strange reason.

  7. Mary,

    I believe it was you who commented about ‘stake versus agency’. Could you provide a reference or perhaps expand more on that?

  8. @Michael C: The city-spirits and urban shamans idea is awesome. I’m already imagining the spirit of the great abandoned warehouse district, or spirit of the pro sport atadium, and I’m cracking up. Nice!

  9. I’m in for the exercises too. I’d like to thank our wonderful podcasters for the format change. I’m loving it.

    Haven’t had time to post my exercises so far–have to spend that time on my 3rd book–but I’m caught up. Now waiting for S10E3 to drop, although this one is the non-master class format, as 3rd of the month, correct?

    I’m happy to say that I’m pretty excited about the one-off novel idea from week 2’s gender flipping, along with some fun short story ideas from the rest.

  10. For the sake of those using ‘Reading Excuses’ at the 17 Shard forum I’ll mention that one of the admins added a pinned post for those who want to share bits of their ‘homework’. I guess if you plan on developing any of the ideas into stories, you may not want to post them publicly (?) but for now I find it useful to make sure I am accountable to someone.


    I think this post is appropriate here but if not one of the powers that be can kill it.

  11. I just started listening to the new season and while I love the idea, I realized something while listening to this episode: I don’t seem to get story ideas the way any of the podcasters do. They all seemed to speak of a “gee whiz” idea or a worldbuilding idea or something else. All of my stories have always erupted around a character idea and it’s the setting and conflict that I have to work the most on. I’d be interested to see a take on that kind of idea germination. Or maybe it wouldn’t be too different, but just starting from a different side of the coin?

  12. Erin, when you say “character idea,” what do you mean by that? I can imagine quite a few different variations there. It could mean a list of personality traits and interests. It could mean a backstory complete with family, profession and goals. It could be a really vague thing, like “What if person A was in situation B?”

    It seems to me that some character-based story seeds have a brainstorming head-start over story seeds based around a magical/scientific novelty or worldbuilding concept because some of them inherently lead to conflicts right away, since the goals and desires of the main characters do so much to drive stories.

    If you just have outlines of personality traits and such, with no strong goals, then it seems like you are, as you said, looking at the other side of the same coin. Rather than asking, “Who will be affected by the glorious magical invention about to be unleashed upon society?” you instead must ask yourself “What events would best allow me to show what makes this character interesting?” It’s still all about getting to a conflict.

    Upon reflection, a lot of my ideas that I feel are entirely character-driven are based on starting from a worldbuilding or gee-whiz perspective for only a split second, where I immediately see a character who’s affected particularly strongly, and then the entire concept becomes about how much that character’s life could potentially suck, and how they will respond to said potential.

    You mentioned struggling with worldbuilding as well. I’ll personally be really surprised if worldbuilding isn’t a topic later on in season 10, since so many genre fic books require a large amount of it throughout the writing process, and would also depend upon effectively conveying whatever portion of the info matters to the reader. I wonder how much of the overall structure of the “course” is already planned and/or recorded.

    Apologies if that was incoherent. I am rather tired and my eloquence probably suffers even more than it normally does when I am exposed to the internet.

  13. Welp, it’s official. I have a whole file now just for the Writing Excuses homework. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season’s assignments are!

  14. I was recently asking about how people come up with ideas and expand upon them to create a story. I’ve never been really strong at writing fiction, unless you count business letters. Anyway, someone pointed to this Podcast pretty much at the perfect time. So now I’ve been doing the homework, and cringing at some of my results, if I were graded I’d barely pass, but I am still proud to say I’ve been doing the work.

    Thanks to the all the people involved in this podcast.

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