Fostering ideas – the 100:10:1 method

Posted: May 27, 2014 in writing
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s hard to resist writing the first story that comes into my head on any given theme. That worked out great early on – it got me writing, kept the prose flowing – but recently I’ve found it’s trapped me in some corners, persisting with stories I’m not passionate about because of the importance of completing things.

I think I may have stumbled across a solution, in this blog post on game design by Nick Bentley. You can go and read that post for details, but it boils down to coming up with loads of ideas, then refining the best few, then producing the best one of those few.

I tried it last night. I knew I wanted to write a steampunk samurai story, so I sat and wrote a long list of core concepts for that story. Just single sentences trying to evoke character and conflict. After the first twenty it got quite challenging to make them interesting and different, and by the time Laura got home and broke my reverie, somewhere in the sixties, it was hard work to keep coming up with new ideas.

Now to add some smokestacks

Now to add some smokestacks


Looking back over the list it was well worth it. My first few ideas were obvious and brought nothing new to the story telling table. That strained period towards the end was bringing out real novelties, and though some of them were junk, some really engaged my brain.

Later today I’ll try refining that list. As well as picking out my favourites I’ll probably combine some for stronger story seeds. Then I’ll work on their characters and plots before picking one to write. It means a lot more effort in the initial stages, but if it results in a better story, one I’m more likely to enjoy writing and that readers are more likely to enjoy reading, then it’ll be well worth it.

Nick’s process could be used in any creative field. Go have a read, give it a try, and let me know how you get on with it.


Picture by Pascal via Flickr creative commons.

  1. petrosjordan says:

    I like this idea. I’m going to try it myself. It seems like it could work even when in the middle of a book and brainstorming the next step in the plot, to keep from falling into tired tropes.

  2. Dawne Webber says:

    I’ll have to check out your link. I realize this is what I do, but I usually put in a lot of work before realizing the story isn’t working. Maybe this will speed up the process so I waste less time. I also like Petrojordan’s of trying it in the middle of a book.

    • Like a lot of good writing and working tools, I think this is about putting in more effort at the start to save a lot of effort later. In this case the effort later could be scrapping or re-writing an entire story, so well worth the planning.

  3. Sue Archer says:

    This is so interesting. It seems I’ve been using this method (although on a much smaller scale) to come up with ideas for my blog posts. It struck me in Nick’s post where he talks about problem-solving invention vs. imaginative invention and how a mix of these are good. This, in a way, is exactly what I have been doing: coming up with problem-solving ideas (like specific grammar issues) and imaginative elements (like vampires). Sometimes I start with one, sometimes the other…and after coming up with a list something clicks where I can start combining ideas together in new ways. Thanks for sharing, Andrew! I think it’s time I try doing 100 ideas at the same time. 🙂

    • I think you’ve picked up on a key thing there that I kind of neglected. Starting with that imaginative element and then problem solving around it, rather than problem-solving the first idea you have, may be the real core lesson from Nick’s post.

  4. […] planning the story I brainstormed a whole bunch of ideas then thinned them out using 100:10:1. I didn’t actually come up with a hundred ideas, but I did the fundamental part of […]

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