How do you expand an idea? I have this idea for years now, but as soon as I try to expand it, it starts to sound boring and then I just dunno which way to go with this.
Thanks for the question. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to expand an idea, even if it’s a good one. Sometimes there just isn’t enough meat to expand an idea, at which point it could remain a short story or an essay. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just what happens sometimes.
However, if this is something you’re constantly running into, then there are some things you can do to try to expand upon it. The first thing I would do is put your ideas down on paper. Get it down and then read it, then re-read it. Try adding a line if you can here or there to see where it goes. You can also try ‘what if’ scenarios to see what would happen if the story goes a different way then you originally want it to.
While adding to the summary you’ve written, don’t be afraid to come up with characters on the side. Come up with a few main protagonists and antagonists that would work in this idea. Now answer the following questions:
What’s their background?
What are their vices?
What would you include about their backstory?
What’s their personality like?
In the antagonist’s case, what circumstances pushed this character into the ‘bad guy’ role?
If you can answer these questions, you’ve already expanded on your story. Now add them in with everything you answered in these questions and build your idea around them. There you go, you’ve expanded your idea by adding in new ideas and new topics to cover in order to enhance the initial idea.
Another thing to try is simply talking about the idea. I know that may sound obvious, but a lot of people are worried about sharing their ideas with friends or in a writing circle community due to someone stealing their idea. It’s a risk that we all have to contend with, but it’s honestly something that rarely happens in writing circles, one because litigation can happen, two because no one want’s their own IP being copied either.
Finally, and I know no one wants to hear this, but be open and willing to accept that the idea may not be great. It’s okay to have a good idea and not have it pan out into anything. Sometimes ideas will simply stay as ideas. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Anyway, let’s turn it over to my readers. Do you have any advice or anything to add? Am I right on or do you think that there’s more to it?
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Catch you on the flip side!
Jim – good, solid advice there. I probably missed you saying it over all this time, but are you a planner? There was too much regimentation there – too much discipline for me to think you’re a pantser – at least not one as undisciplined as I am.
When I have this happen there can be a number of reasons. Usually, it’s because I was busy with other things at the time and just jotted a brief note in my idea file. The first piece of advice I would offer is of prevention – when you get an idea is usually when you have the most interest in it – when it’s its hottest. Spend a little time fleshing it out beyond a sentence or two before you set it aside to simmer. The more you can have documented, the more likely you can preserve the original idea and where you subconscious was going to go with it when it first emerged.
Of course, the question is posed AFTER time has passed, so the above advice is more like an “I told you so.” In my experience, when I revisit an idea even after a brief time, it’s no longer the same idea that I was excited about. Here’s another thought of what to do. If you’re prone to writing down ideas (like I used to be, when I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to think of something to write about), pull them all out, and see if any of them can be joined together. I recently wrote a story from four different ideas I’d written down over a span of five years or so. Pulling teh ideas together expanded each one, and created something I hadn’t initially envisioned.
One last note – Jim’s notion of talking about the idea is okay, but make sure you write it all down (or record it) as you’re discussing it. I’ve heard that there are studies that indicate that when you talk through a story, your brain thinks it’s already written it and loses interest (“already done that”) when you try to return to it. If you’re someone who needs the inspiration of that initial excitement to move forward, then be sure to capture as much of it as you can up front.
Hope my extra pennies help…