Half-baked ideas are everywhere in the spec pile. But what does ‘half-baked’ mean? After all, whether a script reader, agent’s assistant or intern LIKES the idea behind a story is another matter. Let’s look to the dictionary to agree on a definition …
Adjective. Not fully thought through; lacking a sound basis.
“a half-baked conspiracy theory”
Synonyms: undeveloped, unformed, not fully developed.
So, we agree we are not talking about personal preference. Instead, when we say a story has a ‘half-baked’ idea, we mean it is ‘not fully thought through.’ Like a cake recipe, something got missed out … It’s lacking, not quite whole.
Why Does This Happen?
Half-baked ideas happen in stories happen because writers frequently dive straight into drafts. They might have an idea for a character, story world, theme or even just a feeling and begin writing. But going back to my cake analogy, it’s like shoving in the flour, butter, water … but forgetting the eggs.
Don’t get me wrong: free writing is a legitimate writing tool, plus writing for writing’s sake can be beneficial for confidence. If you need to write like this to get started, be my guest.
But do NOT send these drafts out. Like the cake with no eggs, your draft will not be the best representation of your talents. This is because – you guessed it – those drafts will contain an under-developed idea.
This is a problem. Okay, sometimes cakes without eggs are vaguely edible. So yes, the person reading that draft might be able to pick out *nice bits* of your writing (such as the aforementioned character, storyworld, theme or feelings).
However, a half-baked idea means the draft will not hang together coherently.
Quite simply, just like a cake, a story is the sum of all its parts!
How Do I Develop My Idea?
I believe our idea – aka concept, premise, controlling idea, ‘seed of the story’ – is one of the foundations of writing craft. (This is why it’s module number one on B2W’s free online mini-course. You can grab yours free by clicking the link).
First, recognise the idea behind your story needs to be ROCK SOLID. A little thing perhaps, but it means everything. Once you recognise ideas need to be developed and worked on as much as the rest of your writing craft, you know where to begin.
ii) Write A ‘Baseline’
Next, write what I call a ‘baseline’. This is a short pitch or summary that describes what’s going on in your story. It doesn’t have to be amazing … It’s a kind of ‘note to self’ if you like: ‘This is the story I started with.’ This free cheat sheet will help you with this.
iii) Now ‘Break Story’
Now it’s time to ‘break story’. I like to do this by asking myself 5 ‘W’ questions …
- Who are my characters?
- What do they want? Why?
- Where are we? (storyworld, genre, tone)
- When are we? (time period, non linearity, story strands)
- Why? (writer’s voice, theme, message)
But you can do it anyway you want. (This is nice and easy to remember, though).
iv) Compare & Contrast
Next, go back to your ‘baseline’. Compare it with your answers to the ‘W’ questions. Do you have a different view of the characters now? Maybe you have added more detail, or have a better sense of the tone or genre. Or perhaps you have made a realisation … your character doesn’t have enough to do, or maybe too much!
v) Create Your Foundation
Keep tweaking your baseline until it reflects what you WANT it be. You don’t need it to have every single little thing in from your ‘W’ questions, you can save some of those thoughts for the actual writing. Whatever happens, you now have a powerful foundation to start from … And your idea will no longer be half-baked!
Lucy V. Hay
Resident Writing Coach