Start writing fiction 4: ideas and concerns

Your writer’s notebook is a secret space where you can try out your ideas – map them, interrogate them, collect them. A journal can also form a kind of personal ‘running commentary’ to yourself, on your thoughts about your own work.

Week 4 was officially about building a story, but the sections around developing a ‘notebook habit’ were helpful in inching things forward a little.

Your journal might include:

  • sensory observations
  • things you have seen or heard, felt or read – passages of other people’s writing, turns of phrase
  • words and word derivations that are new or interesting (particularly dansk?)
  • facts you want to remember
  • lines or phrases you might use
  • images: postcards, pictures, photo that are in some way significant, perhaps because they conjure up a scene or story
  • descriptions or sketches of characters and places you might wish to write about
  • notes about periods in recent or distant history that you are interested in
  • ideas and plot lines that might be useful in future, or that you are gathering for particular pieces of work

Over time, a writer’s notebook can act as an anchor to remind you how certain ideas originated, and where you initially meant to take them. It will also form a rich source book for you to draw on, to help to guide you through your work. Think of your notebook as being rather like an ongoing map of your writing’s progress. You add to it every day, so each day your map improves and becomes more useful to you.

Keep ideas ‘floating‘:

  • find three possible stories that you might be able to draw out of your notes and research at least one element for each idea
  • find one possible story that you might be able to draw out of your notes and research at least three elements for this idea
  • develop your journal notes on this idea/s, including this research and any relevant sensory details

How do you get from making notes in your journal to a narrative?

One way is by thinking up a suitable plot line. A plot is not simply a story. It’s a succession of events with causality highlighted. Making use of the handy question ‘What if?’, you will now be developing your own plots.

Readers are well tuned to guessing and imagining causes just from the details they perceive in the story. With this in mind, even the smallest recorded observations can be relevant.

Regularly reviewing past work and any ideas or observations listed in your notebook can help you generate new ideas.

Develop ideas by:

  • imagining more detail
  • doing research
  • asking some ‘what if?’ questions
  • imagining some of the reasons surrounding the character’s dress, behaviour, speech or actions

Sometimes your subject will suggest itself to you through a line that simply emerges in your consciousness as being in some way significant. Or perhaps a particular image, more than a line, presents itself to you in this way, as the key to a story. The more you immerse yourself in your subject and in what you want to write about, the more you will encounter these sorts of lines and images. Keep a note of any lines or images that present themselves to you in this way in your journal.

Also, note down a ‘menu’ of what you consider to be your overall ‘concerns’, building up a self portrait of who you are as a writer and helping you to become clearer about the kinds of things that matter to you, that are likely to be your overall subject matter or material when you write. Develop your list over time to include detailed descriptions of your concerns.

Review some of the ideas in your notebook and your menu of concerns. Are there any characters or story ideas that match up with any of the concerns listed on your menu? Don’t worry if there seems to be an incongruity between your menu of concerns and the type of characters and story ideas that you are coming up with.

Turns out the taking it further page is being updated with useful links each week – hmm these could have been integrated into the FutureLearn steps perhaps.


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