Story ideas come at us when we least expect them to. I should know, I’ve written thousands of story ideas and published them online, in books, and I’ve used a few for my own novels. The challenge generally isn’t to come up with good ideas but to seize them, take action, and work to not lose them.

I’ve lost story ideas that I’ll never get back. It happens when I’m not prepared. For example, a great idea comes to you as you’re falling asleep. You think, “I’ll remember it in the morning.” You wake and it is gone. Or you’re talking to a friend and a story idea pops into your mind. You never imagine that it will be gone before you finish the conversation. Don’t lose those golden moments!

Here are 9 things you can do to capture your story ideas.

#1 Write them down.

Please oh please pretty please write down your story ideas. Most ideas don’t stick in your brain for long. That doesn’t mean they’re not good ideas. It simply means you have other things going on up there. True, some story ideas stick with you until you actually commit to the novel.

However, the vast majority disappear as quickly as they surfaced in your imagination. Write them down when you have them so you never lose an idea. Keep a notebook with you at all times. By your bed, in your purse, backpack, or briefcase, in your car’s glove box. In the bathroom – everywhere.

#2 Play the “what if” game.

A good story idea is simply the beginning of your novel.  What happens next? Who are the characters and why should your reader care? What damage can you cause your characters? What havoc can you wreak on their lives? Play the “what if” game to brainstorm all of the different places your story idea can go.

#3 Share it with a trusted writer friend. 

Trusted is the key word here. Don’t share your story idea online with your writer’s chatroom support group. Don’t share it with a writer you don’t trust. Share it with a writer friend. Good friends can help you brainstorm ideas and see the story from a different viewpoint. Bad writer friends will take your great story and write it themselves.

#4 Outline it.

When you have an idea for a new story, consider sitting down and outlining the book. You don’t have to know everything that’s going to happen in the story. Sometimes the simple act of outlining your book can help you expand on the idea and create a well thought out plot. There is still work to do once you have the outline in place and there’s room to change and revise your story.

#5 Start writing.

Seize the moment as they say and start writing. You may only get through a chapter or two but that’s okay. As you write, you’ll start weaving the story in your imagination. It will stick with you over the coming days. Each time you sit down to write you’ll craft more of the story.

#6 Create the characters.

A story is nothing without solid characters. Think about what Harry Potter would be without the beloved Harry, Hermione, and Ron, let alone Voldemort and Dumbledore. Think what Outlander would be without Jamie and Claire. Characters matter. Write down your story idea and then start working on your characters. Fill out a worksheet or interview them. Start to understand the players in your plot.

#7 What’s the Conflict? 

A story idea may or may not have a central conflict or theme. For example, I once had a story idea about a woman with a split personality. Great. So what? What’s the conflict? Why will readers care about her story? What does she do and why? No conflict, no story.

#8 Use Your SmartPhone.

If you have a smartphone you have instant access to a number of tools that you can use to capture your story idea. You can use an application like NovelIdea or Storyist to grab the core components of your idea. Or you can use your note taking app or a journaling application to write it down. Evernote and even your email application can help you track and document your ideas.

#9 Use a Workbook

I’ve created a workbook titled “Turn Your Romance Story Idea into a Novel.” It has character worksheets, space to document your conflict and “black moment” along with space to write down your ideas and how your story might end. There are links, suggestions, and tools you can access.

The workbook is free and you can grab it here>>>

My suggestion is to print out a few and keep them in a binder. You can use the workbook to help you flesh out your idea. Place it in a three ring binder where you can also add your research and any pages or chapters that you write. I keep my binders in a bookshelf right next to my desk for inspiration and organization.

The Bottom Line

Find a process that works for you. Remember that as a romance writer, your story ideas are your bread and butter. They are the foundation of your work. Don’t lose them, you just never know when an idea may turn out to be a bestselling book.