Developing a Story Idea – Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at the building blocks of story development – formulating the idea, brainstorming, creating the characters and their goals, using mind maps, linear graphs or other ways to visualise how the rest of the characters and story revolve around the main character, so in Part 2 we’ll look at the last stages of development – the story arc, outlining and the important critical choices before you write.

You’ve written down the plot, you’ve thrown together some ideas, you’ve created your characters and mapped each one thoroughly and you might have a mind map or linear graph or just simple notes to help pull the story together.

Next, plot the story arc. In other words, put together some sort of incident running order of important plot points; the key moments that will elevate the story. These are often the foundations for the story, because without the chain of events, there wouldn’t be much story to tell. So, for instance, point A happens, which results in Point B, which in turn evolves the plot and moves the story forward. Then Point C happens, which results in Point D, and so on.  In other words, for every action your antagonist or protagonist takes, there’s always a reaction/consequence. Think of cause and effect.  Each time the main character seems as though he or she will achieve their goal, throw another spanner in the works. This is how plot development works. You’ll then be able to see the major plot points along the story arc.

A word of caution – don’t force plot points into being – they should evolve naturally because of the story, not because something must happen. Like the rest of the story development process, it can change at any time – it’s not set in stone. It’s simply there to help bring all the elements together to help you write your novel.

With a story arc in place, write a chapter outline. It doesn’t have to be perfect or detailed. A brief overview of each chapter gives you an idea of where the story needs to go for you to reach the conclusion, and it should also reflect your story arc and those important plot points, for example:

Chapter 6 - Main character Alex meets with Officer Nicols to investigate where the murder took place. The woodland is cold and damp, but together they find a clue to what happened all those years ago – part of an old building now overgrown.

Chapter 7 – Back at the station, they hand over the evidence, but Sergeant Yates is still not convinced and scolds them for pushing the investigation without proper clearance. Alex and Nicols know that the evidence will provide clues, and their frustrations boil over...

That’s all an outline really needs. It’s a brief story guide. The beauty of s chapter outline is that you can see how well the story looks – it will allow you to devise the hook in the first chapter to entice your readers, it will help you plan the main incident that sparks the whole string of events throughout the novel, you’ll be able to see where you can place sub plots and show those intrinsic plot points, but more importantly, you can visualise how the story might end.

They allow us to see how the story is structured and they can evolve as the story is written. But without them, you may struggle to pull together anything cohesive.

With these elements in place, you now have to make a critical choice about how you wish to tell the story. Do you choose first person or third person? Sometimes our first choice isn’t the right one, and you may need to change POV. But for novels, third person works very well. First person is extremely difficult to master, and doesn’t always work on full length novels, so it’s worth finding out just how well each POV works before you commit to writing your novel, otherwise you may find yourself doing double the work if you have to rewrite it.

With the right POV in place, you can begin writing your story. Remember that the first draft, based on your development ideas, is the nuts and bolts draft. It’s not meant to be perfect. It won’t be, because it’s not meant to be. It will be jumbled mess that may or may not make sense, and might veer off into different directions from time to time. It will need a heap of work to make it right. And that’s what first drafts are for.  But you’ve done the ground work to get there – you’ve developed a simple story idea into what could become a full blown novel.

Next week: How to use background and foreground.


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