Storyteller’s Vagary

Q: How does an idea get developed?

A: In the dark with another idea rubbing up against it.

Q: How does an idea get developed?

A: One thought plus one notion equals One Idea. Take three or four Ideas, apply Heat and alchemically a story appears in the mist.

Q: How does an idea get developed?

A: Ideas + Heat = Story.

Not very helpful answers to an odd question. These are the sort of answers that I’ve read from several authors, the sort of thing that’s been frustrating as I have tried to grow as a storyteller. It doesn’t really mean any one thing and can be interpreted so many different ways that it’s ultimately meaningless. I’ve tried to relate what I do to percolating coffee, sauteeing vegetables, aging whiskey or fermenting wine. None of them have been good analogies and all have been even worse metaphors.

Dreams are part of the mix, to be sure. Anything that recycles or goes over an idea until it coheres is helpful. They’re not the most important thing because they’re irregular and for some reason I don’t always remember them. I can do the self-hypnotizing thing and try to remember them, and that works, but it’s not the most reliable thing I can do.

For me – and I’ve been struggling with how to tell you this – developing a notion into an Idea is kind of mystical. I know, it’s not all that helpful. Being truthful, going back to the Idea Still, it really is a mystery to me how an Idea gets turned into a story. It’s one part Interest, one part Need and who knows what else. What I can and will share with you below (and this is my fourth attempt at quantifying all this) are two things that I do to facilitate the mystical process.


Easiest thing in the world to do, just put pen to paper and throw down whatever’s coming to me. I’ve got notebooks and scraps of paper everywhere. The best one is a spiral notebook divided into three sections of about sixty pages each and it’s half full of scribblings about this and that. When I use one of the ideas or notions there, I cross it off.

Writing things down solidifies them in my mind. I’ve got so many things vying for my attention in my head that if I tried to hold on to things in there alone I wouldn’t be able to access them. I know some writers can do that, I can’t. I have to write things down.


The best thing I can do for my writing is to exercise on a regular basis. My favorite thing to do is take a three-mile powerwalk first thing in the morning before the chickens are up. That part of the day where the city is just waking up and the possibilities of the day are endless is where I get a good chunk of thinking done. I often come home from that walk with an insight into the story I’m working on. I’ve solved plot problems, work problems and any number of other things on that walk.

I can’t emphasize enough how important exercise is to a writer. You have to move your body to stimulate your mind. It’s science, look it up. The data is there.

It’s difficult to synthesize what I do into five or six hundred words. I hope that the more I think about it, the more I walk it out, I’ll be able to give a more concise and satisfying answer. Maybe not though. Perhaps it’s best that some things are more mysterious than others, yeah?

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at


  • Nancy Cayton Myers says:

    So true about exercise! I don’t think I’ve ever taken that into account in terms of the writing. But after coming off a truly bad sick spell and not being able to (either one!), I see how much it really does feed so much in life, how it’s all connected; more than we can even know…

  • Ted Boone says:

    I agree that simple exercise is great for generating ideas. The more mindless the activity the better, as far as I’m concerned.

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