The Seed of An Idea…And How it Becomes a Story


I’ve set my psychological thriller manuscript, Secrets That Bind Us, aside until my freelance editor gets to it in June and I now feeling strangely disconnected to it. After undergoing nine rewrites and edits, and months of pondering a title, i’m happy not to think about it for awhile.

It’s means there’s space freed in my mind for new ideas to come to the surface. The seed of an idea has been slowly growing and taking shape over recent months. I’ve resisted the urge to dive in while working on my other manuscript, by just taking notes and recording ideas in a notebook. In between edits, i’ve been fleshing out characters and trying to come up with a plot. The characters came to me first, and the backstory, but the plot is something i always struggle with.

I WANT to be a plotter, but i’m not. So, at the very least, i’m aiming to be an outliner. I can’t plot without thinking about my characters, and i don’t know my characters until i begin to write. This particular story (a thriller) is about two estranged sisters and explores the concept of memory bias. Initially i wanted the younger sister to be the protagonist, but i found every time i sat down to figure out what her story would be, i felt stuck. Her voice just wouldn’t come to me. BUT, when i sat those (minimal) notes aside and examined the older sister, it all fell into place. Her backstory and personality allows for so many more plot options. Her voice feels more natural.

After nine rewrites of my last manuscript (which felt like 900- and there’s still more to come), i’m SO glad i didn’t dive into the story with just that initial seed. I’ve accepted that my writing process involves a lot of rewriting, but if i have learnt anything, it’s that i can benefit from becoming more familiar with my characters before i start writing.

Plotting, character profiling and chapter breakdowns, just don’t work for me. I feel really stuck and overwhelmed when i try to map out a story using these strategies. Last year i realised i had to draw more on my psychology background (why didn’t i think of that sooner? duh!).

When i approached my characters like i did my clients, the writing became a lot easier. I can only make sense of where my character is heading, when i know where she (or he) has come from. In my professional role i use genograms to understand people and their histories and once i incorporated this into my character development it all began to fall into place. For this new manuscript, i’ve also dusted off my old Enneagram book (it’s an outdated edition) from my undergraduate degree, and this has helped expand on the backstory of my character and how she relates to the people around her.

I still don’t have major plot points sorted out, but i do have an idea of what the first one will be. So my strategy (much like last time) is to write until that point. Then work toward the next one as it helps me break down the story into manageable chunks. All i have to work out is, what do i need to cover before that plot point occurs?

With a clear idea of my character (but no idea what she will face in the story), i recently put fingers to keypad and wrote the first scene.


It was a relief to make a start, knowing i’d made the right decision about the protagonist for the story. The scene is far from perfect, but i’ve gone on to write almost 5000 words, so it’s a good start.

The little seed has been sowed… and over the course of the year it will sprout and grow. It may need a lot little pruning, but it will take shape and it will be mine. I’m excited to see where it leads me…

Are you working on something new this year? How does it feel?


  • I’m not a plotter either. I tried that approach last year after submitting my WIP for the Richell Prize, but I found that following the plot I had outlined for the unfinished chapters stumped me completely – turning my manuscript wooden and taking away the joy of discovery. My characters were NOT happy about being told what to do!
    Stephen King in On Writing is against plotting, so during a recent re-read, I took that to be a sign, picked myself up and got on with writing again.
    Since doing away with the plot, and starting at a new point in my manuscript, the writing is flowing again, thankfully.
    I hope your next story flows and look forward to hearing more about it!

    • It’s great to hear your story flow has returned Marie. It’s funny how we try to follow the ‘rules’ for writing and yet there really are no rules. The writing process is different for everyone. I can definitely see the value in plotting, because it reduces the time spent on redrafting, but like you, i just feel really stuck when i’m trying to map out my story before i’ve even started. My planning process is really just a jumble of ideas that lead to more ideas and then i just start writing 🙂 Gotta go with what works…

  • I’m not a plotter either and like to just use those little snippets of ideas that come to me to form in my head for a bit before I start writing. Once I start writing, everything then comes together. Good luck with your new WIP.

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