Developing Your Idea
You've got to take your raw idea and develop it and to let your creativity get to work. Is your idea going to be the basis for a short story or a novel? A children's book? Perhaps a poem? Who is the intended audience? Will it be told in the first person? Is the story one in which you'll be putting forward a personal message, or will you be relating facts and statistics in a neutral voice? Answering these and other questions will get you ready for writing.
“Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has divined the natural shape of his story is just this: after reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final?”
— Truman Capote, short story writer and novelist
A piece of writing can have several goals, but it's a good idea to have one in mind when you're writing. Your goal may be to teach a skill, share an important experience, explore a specific topic or relationship, write a bedtime story that will soothe a restless child, argue a point, critique the plot of a movie, thank a policeman for helping you in a crisis, or any number of other aims. It's a good idea to write your purpose down and pin it up as a reminder to stay on track.
In Chapter 11 you were advised to size up your idea: is it big enough? Too big? At this point you can think about it in more detail. For example, you may have refined your idea from covering all of a famous local politician's life to just the years that she's been in office, but as you shape your idea now you may want to narrow it even further. Instead of undertaking a book, you may want to start exploring the topic with an article about just one of the many ways in which the politician improved life in your community. If the article turns out well, you can expand on it with another article or perhaps a book. Or you may decide that you're ready now to undertake a big project, and that concentrating on the politician's entire term in office is the best approach. Try to suit the breadth of the project to both the material and to your time and interest.
You may have gone into a project with the idea of writing in a particular genre, for example, a poem or a play. But thinking about format now may produce a different approach. A crazy time from your teen years might be the basis of an exciting memoir, as you originally thought, but it could also be the topic of a very funny poem.
Don't fall into the trap of labeling yourself. Just because you start with poetry doesn't mean you're only a poet. Be willing to at least try other forms of writing, like short stories, personal essays and articles. You may find that you enjoy, and are good at, many different things.
Who you're writing for can affect the words you use. For example, if you're writing a nonfiction book for toddlers, you'll need to know and use vocabulary and concepts they can understand. Likewise, if you're submitting an article to a niche magazine, you'll want to slant your wording toward that audience; for example, use certain food terms for a healthy-cooking magazine's readers. You should also keep in mind what kind of background information your audience might need in order to understand your point. For instance, if you're writing a book for beginning gardeners, you need to explain terms that experienced gardeners would probably know but beginning gardeners might not. (You can't tell a beginning gardener to ‘blanch’ if they don't know what ‘blanching’ is first!) Books for beginning readers will need shorter sentences. Books for teens should incorporate language and information they can relate to.