“When You Get an Idea For a Story … What Do You Do with It?”

I was asked this question recently by someone who was interested in my wide variety of book genres (prospectively, light fantasy, mainstream, and an upcoming biography, young adult romance, and historical young reader’s).

I love the way this question was carefully formed. It wasn’t the generic, “How do you get ideas for a story?” That’s like asking how I got my naturally dark brown hair, or how I got my rugged good looks, or my sharp flare for sarcasm. I just … have them.

I didn’t ask for a good idea. I just had one. (Okay, there’s an answer here, which I’ll probably go into depth in a different post.)

But back to the question at hand: “When you get an idea … what do you do with it?”

Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-e) once said in an article that a story is like shaping clay. You work at shaping it, molding it, and rearranging it in order to make it look like something you want it to specifically represent.

UntitledFor instance, with my light fantasy novel, The Man in the Box, my lump of clay was simply the idea of: “What would a Narnia for grown-ups look like? What if, instead of kids happening upon an imaginary world, a grown man with a mortgage and a family discovers a world he prefers over his own?” Once I had that concept down, that’s when I began shaping and molding it into the book it is today (second edition coming soon).



i_am_lionFor my mainstream novel, I Am the Lion, the lump of clay looked more like this: “What goes on in the mind of a child whose been through a devastating tragedy and how would she cope?” There’s a twist to this one that I don’t want to give away here that takes everyone who reads it by surprise.




couple-on-park-benchFor my upcoming young adult novel, These Great Affects, I ask the question: “What if a girl falls in love with a boy – after he’s dead?” (Click here if you’d like to review it before it’s released.)



final-web-coverMy biography, Profit Over Patients, already had the story in place. It’s a David and Goliath story about a physician who sued a multibillion-dollar insurance company for unfair treatment and unlawful termination, all while he’s dealing with his own tragedies at home. The trick with this one is all in the telling.



There you have it. I take that idea and I treat it like a lump of clay and I shape it and mould it and manipulate it into what I want it to look like by the time I present it to the public.

And I always want to present my very best work to you, the public. And I never take shortcuts.

I know the answer is a little vague for now, but if this post sparks any more questions about writing or creating stories in general, I would love to hear them below and I will address them. Or you can write me at author.andrewtoy@gmail.com

Happy New Year! And happy writing!

The night will disappear in distant memory but your writing will remain indefinitely.


About Andrew Toy
I'm in the beginning stages of starting my own publishing company that's unlike anything you've ever heard of in the industry. The direction of AdoptingJames is taking a 90-degree turn and will be more writing/publishing-focused. Stay tuned for huge updates and exciting news!

24 Responses to “When You Get an Idea For a Story … What Do You Do with It?”

  1. Grandtrines says:

    Reblogged this on Still Another Writer's Blog.

  2. This is an awesome post. Well written!

    Have a look at my post too and share your views >> https://t.co/PnlBAQQpXW

  3. flygirl140 says:

    I really needed to read this first thing this morning! Thank you! I guess I also look at my stories like lumps of clay. I will be reblogging this next week. Happy writing!

    • You, too! I remember you were super excited about the sample chapters of “These Great Affects” a few months ago. I’m surprised I haven’t had an email from you yet requesting an advanced copy 🙂

  4. Ocean Bream says:

    Well I certainly learnt something interesting from this! Thank you for sharing your methods! I tend to write the story as I imagine it, whereas it should really be the other way round 🙂

  5. Pingback: HAPPY NEW YEAR’S EVE | Lindsay Boitnott

  6. Joey B. says:

    I’ve been trying to make stories out of ideas throughout the years and somehow I can’t finish because I’m trying to rush everything. Thanks for the input! 🙂

  7. RH says:

    For writers who have problems finding ideas, I’d say “just watch/read the news” … There are SO many real life events (big and small) happening every day that would make great stories! I find that quiet moments like taking a long walk is also a great way to let your imagination run wild….

  8. When I get an idea I write it down and put it in my “Idea” folder. Sometimes I have just a quick scene or a barely vague notion. Periodically, I look through the folder to check if there’s anything to use with a current book or my next novel. I have a series planned for the Dana stories and a dozen other books started. I’ve spent maybe 4 hrs novel writing in the past 6 months. My second novel is still being edited. I expected to have the next one nearly finished by now. Worst part is, I don’t have a clue why I can’t write. I’ve done several magazine articles and my blog, but that’s all.

  9. Pingback: Writers: Are You Rushing? | adoptingjames

  10. karynakellar says:

    That pretty much sums it up for me as well!

    My first novel was a work in progress. It started out as an idea of a simple story in a fantasy world in which two young magicians fall in love. One is blinded by a curse and the other harbors deep secrets but both learn to trust and rely on each other for personal strength. That was my “lump of clay.” As new ideas came to me regarding new characters, world-building, and story development, I began to write them down in a separate document with detailed summaries of each. I also listed in chronological order all the major events and used this as a reference as I wrote the book so I would not forget to include them. I did this because I wasn’t clear on what direction I really wanted to take the story. So some ideas I kept, and some I tossed out. Some scenes were written and rewritten numerous times only to be tossed out later. I realized if it is taking that much effort to work the scene into the story, than it’s probably best just to leave it out.

    My second novel (I just completed the first draft) was a very different experience. I had already shaped my “lump of clay” in my mind before I even began. It was already clear in my mind the plot, the main characters, the main events, and the overall direction of the story. I wrote a detailed outline but rarely referenced it. There was only one scene I ended up tossing. The only scene I might change for the final draft is the ending.

  11. flygirl140 says:

    Reblogged this on Lindsay Boitnott and commented:
    I have thought about this post by Andrew since I read it the beginning of the month. It goes along with Tess Barnett’s post I shared last week as both discuss what to do with an idea once you have it. It’s interesting to look at how each author takes an idea and molds it into a story! Check both out and enjoy!

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