How do I turn a story idea into a story that people would want to read?
So you have an idea and you wonder if it might make a good story. You play around with it, dress it up and take it out for coffee. You talk it over with your cat, the only other being in your life that seems to not mind listening to you talking about your ideas. He blinks lazily, and you take that to mean it’s sounding good.
Your idea is becoming something, but is it something that would be enjoyed by anyone other than your cat?
There are four key components that help develop your story idea into a concept that an audience might enjoy.
Okay, so we’re in 2020 and everything possible under the sun has been written about. How can we still expect original stories?
Well, we may have seen it all, but we haven’t heard your take on things. YOU are original, are you not? There is no one like you anywhere in the world. That also means no one has the same creative force that you have. What drives you to the page, what keeps you up at night, what makes you daydream at the conference table is not replicated ANYWHERE ELSE.
You need to tap into that unique, original part of you. The best way to do that is to understand how you operate and what makes you tick, which is all about Natural Writing Forces. *link.
Study your real-world self and you, by default, will learn much about your creative self. Where do you get your inspiration? Go there often, daily if possible. How do you work through distraction and low-vibe energy? Call upon that strength. What in your life knocks you down continuously? Acknowledge it, release it, pick yourself up, and start again. What in your real world is powerful or magical or intriguing enough to snag your attention, make you sit up, and want to know more? THAT is your imagination coming to life. Do not, I repeat, do not ignore it. Take notes. Sketch it out. Daydream it further.
Once you know YOU in all of your original wondamagilicious ways, you will be able to create original works. Allow your imagination to dive deep, find a fresh angle, and spin it into your story.
Could your story really happen? I’m not talking “is it realistic?” I’m asking could your story happen based on the container from which it is sprouting forth? Stories written in made-up worlds probably cannot happen if we’re looking at this from the perspective of Ordinary People in Small Town, USA, but if you provide your story with the appropriate framework (setting, mood, cast of characters, conflict), then your world is plausible.
Don’t try to force your Sky Bandit and his flock of robotic seagulls into 1920s London without first establishing how and why such a storyline can happen. How can you encourage your readers to believe this is possible? What elements need to be established so that we are willing to accept this storyline? Did you choose the correct genre? Does your setting support the events? Do your world’s laws fit the story you want to tell?
Readers will give you a chance—that’s why they picked up your book in the first place. They want a good story, they want to be immersed in a new world, and they’re willing to believe anything—as long as they think whatever is happening to your characters could happen to them if they were in a similar situation.
Your story needs to have conflict on several levels that can deepen and become more complicated over the course of your story. External (setting or events) and internal (emotions and feelings your characters experience) conflict are equally important. Strong conflict is all about opposing forces—two or more people or things butting up against each other.
All genres need to have conflict, even the funny stories and happy stories. Conflict can be an inconvenience like a traffic jam, dramatic like a marital affair, tragic like a senseless murder, or hopeless like the extermination of a species. Does a normal, ordinary cast of characters in a normal, ordinary place have conflict built in? Sure it does. The alcoholic, drug-addicted housewife. The school bully. The chemical company that pollutes the drinking water. The corrupt town officials. The art museum filled with fakes.
Conflict is what makes us turn the pages and want to know what will happen next. Add in varying levels and degrees of conflict to keep your story from getting predictable or too ho-hum. You don’t want your readers thinking, “Oh, Suzie is popping pills again. What a surprise” and then close your book. You want your readers to worry about the fact Suzie is passed out and her six-year-old daughter is reaching for the open bottle of pills.
What do you want your readers to feel from page to page, chapter to chapter? Worry? Fear? Intrigue? Amusement? Does your story provide your reader with a chance to connect to your characters in their state of being and relate to their circumstances? We don’t have to like your characters, by the way. Understanding where they’re coming from, why they do what they do is enough for a reader to feel empathy and feel connected.
Don’t go for just one big emotion. Go for a few. Your readers aren’t generally flatlining emotionally. They have ups and downs throughout a day—heck throughout an hour, even. Your characters should be reacting emotionally on every page. They can be impatient, irritated, enthusiastic, angry, calculating, miserable, worried, passionate, embarrassed—give us a nice range of emotion with all of your characters. When we can see them interacting with their circumstances, we then have access to their emotions and we are able to connect intimately with them.