Developing a Story Idea – Part 1

Story ideas come in all manner of ways. Sometimes they pop into our heads from nowhere, or sometimes they appear after we see, hear or read something. But for writers who are more thorough in their approach to writing, the seed of an idea will need a huge amount of development to grow from an idea into a fully-fledged plot for a novel.

The story is made up of several different components – the initial idea, the plot, the characters, the themes, the sub plot and so on. They’re all interconnected and they all require a place within your story progress, so that means those elements need to be brought together to create a flawless story.

The first step with story development is writing the idea down. It doesn’t have to be precise or detailed. Most often our ideas are raw, undiluted and at times more of a jumble. The idea for a story can come from anywhere – it could be from a simple observation, an overheard conversation or a collection of thoughts. Or it could be a slightly more rounded idea you’ve had for a while. Whichever way it comes, write it down, because when that happens, the premise of the story appears, too – the reason the story could exist.

With the story down and the premise highlighted, you should ask yourself some questions, to ensure the story is feasible:

What is the story about?

Whose story is it?

Why is this story happening?

What is at stake?

How will it evolve?

How will it end?

From the moment you write down the main idea, you’ll start to formulate little sub-ideas and thoughts. Some call it brainstorming, some see it as idea development, but whatever you want to call it, time spent putting together ideas, characters and likely incidents will produce the building blocks of the overall story. It doesn’t have to be in depth at this stage – it’s always subject to change because we always have new ideas as we’re developing and writing stories. The main thing is to throw all these ideas into the pot.

The next stage is to make sure you have your characters at the ready. Know who will inhabit your story, so start fleshing out your protagonist, antagonist and those important secondary characters. Don’t skimp on details – all your characters need to be fully developed and multidimensional and as real as you can make them. They need backstories, they need history and they need depth. They should all have a reason to be in your story. If they don’t, leave them out.

At this stage, ask some further questions, such as:

What is the reason for the protagonist’s story? What is his or her motivation?

(Remember there is always a reason behind our actions and behaviours).

What is his/her relationship with the antagonist? Why are they in conflict?

How will other characters affect the main character and the story?

What is the main character’s goal?

So, you’ve created a story idea, a premise, a goal and you’ve developed your characters. At this point, some writers like to mind map, while others prefer to scribble down their ideas and formulate notes or create a ‘story board’. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but everything that happens in the story must revolve around your main character, because that’s whose story you’re telling.

For example, if you use a mind map, put your main character at the centre and write down all the important players around them – how are they connected to the main character? How do they fit into the story? What are their stories? (These could be possible sub plots).  How do they all fit into the plot?

This kind of map helps writers visualise the different elements within the developing story by having all the key players around the protagonist in the centre. All the different connecting strands show the relationship to the protagonist and what their motivations and goals are.

The thing about story development is that it evolves. It’s not fixed. The shape of the story can change at any moment, depending on the ideas you have and the direction you want to take the story. The other thing to consider is that it can also be a complicated process. This depends on your chosen genre, such as crime or thriller, which requires precise plotting, so it’s important to do plenty of preparation, otherwise you could find yourself with gaping holes in your plot, then having to go back to rewrite some chapters or scenes to correct the story.  And each time you go back to correct a plot hole, often you inadvertently open another. Again, ask yourself questions:

How does each character relate to the main character, what are the connections?

What is the main character’s goal? (or the point of the story).

What’s the worst thing that could happen if the main character fails to achieve his/her goal?

How will the stakes change?

What major obstacles could there be?

Some writers use detailed outlines instead of maps, but they ask the same questions. Others like to plot linear graphs or tree graphs. Everyone is different in their approach, so writers should use what works best for them. Regardless of the method, the same questions and detail should apply.

Next week in Part 2 we’ll continue how to develop your story idea by looking at plotting the story arc, chapter outlines and POVs.



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