Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Sunday, December 19, 2010

From Idea to Story - A Guest Blog

Dale Harcombe
An equal happiness to being asked to be a guest on someone else's blog is hosting one.

Today I have the greatest of pleasure to have Australian author Dale Harcombe round at my place. Enjoy her article:

One of the questions writers get asked most often is where do you get your ideas?  Actually, for the writer it’s more a case of not where you get ideas but how can you not have ideas?

Ideas come from life. They are all around us in the world and the people we meet and the conversation we have. The difference is the writer sees these things and then builds on them. They may see exactly the same scene as someone else but their writerly (if that’s not already a word as spell check insists it isn’t, it should be) brain then starts to imagine.

So writing is a combination of experience and imagination, of reality and fantasising. It also about empathising. Putting yourself into the other person’s place for a time, imagining how they feel for example when a loved one dies, or their marriage breaks up or a new baby is born, or disaster strikes or they see an amazing sunrise.  It means tapping into our fears and joys, our emotions, passions and anxieties.

Most of all though writing is about story. I’ve just been re-reading, thanks to another author friend’s reminder, The Rock that is Higher – Story as Truth by Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favourite authors.

She stresses in that the importance of story. Facts though are not story. So often you hear someone say but that’s what really happened after they have written a piece. But that doesn’t make it a story. The facts then need to be shaped, added to, embroidered and maybe some things deleted or changed a little. It needs to be worked into a structure.

Some people proudly tell me they never read fiction. That’s sad as they are missing so much.They downgrade fiction as being unimportant and irrelevant. The opposite is true. Cognitive scientists in Toronto have found that people who read fiction have better developed social skills. The reason for this is that they will be more empathetic and understand other people better. In other words we learn about the world, the people and our place in it, by reading fiction. We learn to see more clearly. That’s why I read and write fiction.

Dale’s latest book is Streets on a Map. Interested readers can find out more about it at Or you might also like to check out Write and Read with Dale, which is her very interesting blog.
If you scroll down to Friday December 10, you will find out how the character of Abby came into being and how story was created from an incident. 

Dale Harcombe is the author of seven books for children, one book of poetry, numerous articles about marriage, home and family and now her general fiction book Streets on a Map.

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  1. That's a great summary of ideas, Dale. As an author I often get asked the same question, but I don't have nearly as coherent an answer as you've put forward.

    I too am addicted to 'story'. When I'm not telling my own stories, I'm reading other people's.

  2. This post says it all. People who disdain fiction are lacking in imagination and the wish to expand their horizon. I read and write fiction, it's a part of every day for me.

  3. Anna and Inka - you both stress the importance of fiction: I agree. It relates the human condition through stories that are removed or remote from the reader and so, neutral; but whose message can be deeply personal and meaningful.

  4. Thanks Rosanne for having me at your place and letting me share some of my thoughts about ideas and story.
    Thanks too Anna and Inka for your comments on this post.

  5. Well said. I agree, the story is the binding force and the facts are the supporting cast. Also, fiction is very often built heavily on facts, it is simply how they are used that really matters. I recently reread Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues, and was struck by how although the story is early sci fi, it relied so heavily on actual scientific facts in order to work. In its time it was considered heavy fantasy, but today we see just how practical so much of it is, precisely because its reliance on solid facts.

    A prime example of how fiction is far from being a waste of time.

  6. Aha! I so agree, Paul - According to Luke is full of facts, which makes a reader fully take on the story built around them. There are many books like that which become strict favourites. And as you say - fantasy built on fact is that much more attractive and memorable.

  7. Yep, and having a grounding in factual information also makes it much easier for a reader to become immersed in the story. Its much easier to suspend disbelief when things although fanciful have some grounding in reality.

  8. All Dan Brown had to do to help suspension of disbelief in his most successful novel was to write a preface headed 'Fact'. I feel it was that first page that garnered all the attention and sparked the controversy, which later led to the media circus.
    So yes, I believe in grounding fiction in verifiable fact.

  9. Who are these people who don't read fiction? I suppose they are all around me, but I never see them.

  10. I know quite a few myself, Brian. I read a lot of fiction myself, but must admit a fondness for books about language, art, and the odd biography.

  11. I like Dale's point about ideas. Where don't they come from? I think that's what writers block really is--not the inability to write, but the inability to receive ideas. I get more ideas than I know what to do with. It's like having too much money--it's a good problem to have! I'll never complain about having too many ideas!!!

    Good entry.