I have an idea.

People help each other not because they feel pity for someone else but because they feel pity for themselves by imagining as if it were them in that situation like the other person and expected help from others

Whether you agree or not with that statement, how do I approach it to produce some writing out of this idea? Do I write a novel, story or paper or an essay? Or maybe it is not sufficient to write something by having only one statement? Not sure what to do next. What I want to do is to incorporate the idea into the writing but not sure how.

3 Answers 3


This sounds like you have a theme or a truth.

I usually get to this point after I have some characters and plot.

However, what you can do now is go one step "up" and determine the theme topic, usually a single word describing the central topic of the story (see the linked page).

What I usually do from this point is to brainstorm a few alternative truths on the same theme, and most importantly, brainstorm a few lies that contradict this truth.

As I mentioned, I usually have characters and story so I will have someone behaving in a certain way and trying to figure out what truth or lie they would employ to do that, and also how it relates to the main theme or main truth.

Also worth noting is that while I have this construct, I always allow characters and story to go against this. The theme will never be a solid, clear aspect of a novel. If it is, the risks are the novel is too simplistic...

Another step to take is to create a one-sentence summary. Randy Ingermanson describes it in his article on the Snowflake Method.

In your case, when you only have this basic idea, I suggest either brainstorming characters and plot to outline your novel (if you like to create stories from outlines—there are several methods you can find on the net or in your bookstore.)

Or use the Snowflake Method linked above.

Or simply sit down and write whatever comes into your mind (by the seats of your pants, as it's called.)

In my case, I've done both, even though I think the initial "impulsive writing session" was actually part of outlining. I had to write to figure out story and characters and then I had to outline to get it all into a usable... second draft?

Everybody has their own process, so don't be afraid to experiment and try what works for you. Failing is just one successful way to figure out how it cannot be done...

Finally, your theme/truth is valid. I use it for some decisions in my life, so you don't have to change it, it's just, apparently controversial to some people, but that's how a good theme/truth should work. Have some people nod in agreement and others claim it's false... The more controversial, the more news coverage, the more books sold... just ask Dan Brown...


For the record, this is not an original idea, and it is also false.

That said, this looks more like a "theme" in writing. For any of those forms of writing, you need to provide examples of your "theme". In fiction (a novel or short story), you would want several such examples happening to people, in a dramatic setting (meaning a plot and people struggling and suffering through setbacks to accomplish something they find very important).

For a paper, essay or article, you would need to add proof that there are no other significant reasons for people to help each other; they always imagine themselves in the same situation.

That would be difficult to prove with this premise. Imagine a school teacher shielding her students from a mass murderer with her body knowing she will die doing it. She is helping the children survive and their parents from grief, but she is not imagining that; she loves her students and will die to prevent them from dying. (This has actually happened multiple times.)

Or imagine a father killing his daughter's rapist and killer, which may indeed help other fathers and daughters, but he is not imagining the grief of other parents or the terror of other daughters, he is just filled with rage and a lust for vengeance and punishment because he loved his daughter. Again, this has actually happened multiple times.

But you need to address such discrepancies, or you don't have a worthwhile paper, article or essay.

Those things exist in the real world, and will be judged as if you intend them to be factual.

You can get away without being factual in fiction, a novel or story or screenplay, then you just need to manufacture instances that support a theme and incorporate them into a good plot.


I think it heavily depends on the genre that you want to write in. If you want to write nonfiction, you could write an essay with that concept as the jumping-off point. You could just sit down right now and without any further planning start writing it.

If you want to write a novel on the other hand, then you need a plot and characters. What you currently have is a potential theme, but trying to write a novel with just a theme to go off of...that kind of thing has never worked for me; a theme is too abstract.

So in that case I would advise to write out a plot (or at least the beginnings of one) that can incorporate that theme.

If you're not sure what plot to marry to that theme, just brainstorm a few different plot ideas, while not thinking about the theme at all (otherwise you'll drive yourself crazy), and then once you have a few different plots, think through for each one: what would it look like to marry this theme to this plot? What might that look like?

Most likely you'll have one or two clear winners where the marriage seems to work better.

If you're not sure what genre you are best suited to write, the TLDR is: probably write in what you read the most of, unless you really want to write in something else. Also, there may be some useful discussion on that topic here: Is there a good book to help someone decide what kind of writing to pursue?

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