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Got Story?

I’m really interested in story, because I’m on a constant quest to learn more, make my stories better, and ultimately, I want to help others discover, write, and release their own stories confidently.

With that in mind, I always have ‘ideas’, but taking an idea to a full story is always a long and painful road. Often my ideas won’t go anywhere except in my ‘brain dustbin’. The more I write, the more I discover that I need a process to ascertain whether an idea has the chops to become a full story, a novel, because if not, I need to dump it fast and not hang onto it believing I’ve got something valuable.

So, this (below) is one of my attempts to deconstruct an idea and story the shit out of it into a full outline ready to write.

Read on and let me know if I’m way off the mark…

How to story the shit out of your dumb fiction ideas

Many people believe they have a book in them, but never flesh it out fully to realise it. Or, don’t know how to flesh it out and discover if it is something worth writing. I can help you figure that out, if you follow through with the below steps.

Ideas are chaos

One thing that I’ve learnt over the years of writing, study, and reading about writing craft is: ideas are just pure chaos. What I mean by that is, unlike what I first thought when starting out, ideas can begin with characters, themes, plot elements, scenes, locations, beginnings, middles, ends, or anything else you can think of.
 
At which point my idea arrives is completely irrelevant, and I also know that I won’t be able to assess whether it’s a good story (or not) until I flesh it out with some basic and core components. 
 
If after adding these core components the story still feels as strong, or better, than my initial thoughts, then great. I’ve got a story worth writing. However, if my idea doesn’t develop well, I know it’ll be pointless continuing with it. 
 
So, accept that your idea can arrive at any point, and feel completely chaotic. This isn’t a reason to reject it. 

Once you’ve added these all important components, you should end up with the very briefest of outlines resembling something like the below: 

A weak character feels powerful in a boring world, but wants something badly, and is pushed to go after it the wrong way, and face their worst fears. After surviving that, they gain the strength needed to continue on the correct path towards a huge climaxbeating the antagonist, and returning to their world a changed character.

If the above passage feels formulaic to you, you’re right.

But this is fundamental and foundational story structure, and you should not reject it.
 
Just like how the most original architectural buildings can wow everyone and win awards, it will share the same structural, 6ft concrete foundations, as a 3 bed semi-detached in Birmingham.
 
Don’t confuse what is boring under the surface with the creativity you stick on top.
 
Read the italicised paragraph again, and again, if necessary. Remind yourself that this isn’t a formula, and it fits 99.9% of all stories told and those which readers enjoy reading!
 
Now we need to learn about your idea if you have one. If you don’t, great. You get to make one up

Core Components

Your idea1 needs an ending2 as well as a crisis3 for your main character4

Components Analysed

1. What’s your idea? 
 
The idea doesn’t have to be good (yet). It could also be similar to something already in existence. It does not have to be original (yet). ‘Good’ and ‘original’ comes much later. Write down the basic nuts and bolts of your premise or idea with as much detail as you need. However, a short paragraph is about the right amount at this stage.
 
Next we need to make sure we’ve got enough pieces of the puzzle. Look at the list of questions below: We need all of them answered, and you can complete them in any order you want:
2. Do you have an ending (climax)?
 
If not, create one by writing down a list of possible endings. Start with the most basic, and get increasingly wild and crazy with each one. Once you have a good list, pick the best one.
3. Do you have a crisis?
 
If not, do the same as above by creating a list of possible ‘worse-case scenarios’ your protagonist could end up in. It doesn’t matter it the ideas ‘fit’ with your crisis at all. In fact, it’s probably better if it doesn’t connect. Tip: your crisis needs to be something which your protagonist would absolutely dread.
4. Do you have a GREAT main character (protagonist)?
 
If not, create one by brainstorming all your ideas. Tip: your main character must fit your genre’s ending, depending if you want readers to cheer at the end or cry.
 
Polar opposites are your friends. So, always try to use them.
 
Eg:
  • if you’re writing a romance, have your ugly ducking bloom and find their true love;
  • if you’re writing an action story, have your meek and nerdy geek character gain the strength to overcome the villains and save the world;
  • if you’re writing a thriller have your powerful business man lose everything they’ve worked for, but save their family from death.
If this main character fits your ending, ok, but it doesn’t have to. Make sure this character fits your crisis. You may need to rework the crisis to fit your new character concept.

After this process, you should have a good idea of your story’s Protagonist, Crisis, and Climax.

This may be enough to ascertain whether your story is good enough already, but to be sure, flesh it out further with the following elements:
What does your protagonist want? 
 
This should be something concrete, material, or tangible. Money, fame, a jewel, a title, a piece of land, a person. Make a list and decide on the best one for the story elements you’ve created so far. If it fits your story idea, great, if it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. Just come up with the best idea you can. Make it thrilling, and fitting to your genre, if not, readers may not want to read on to see if your protagonist read on. Eg: James Bond might want to save the world, but if you’re not writing an action story, what can you do? In a literary story, your protagonist may want to know who their true mother is. For the reader of that genre, discovering the truth is just as exciting as saving the world.
What does your protagonist need? 
 
A need is the ‘real’ thing your protagonist needs, even if they think they need their ‘want’ above. Their needs is an internal thing: to feel happy with their self, to get back in touch with their family, to learn to love someone, to ask for forgiveness, to cleanse themselves of the real pain which keeps them up at night. The Need is a deep-set want which they may receive once the climax is over. The Need is the exact opposite of their weakness. They literally do not want to face it, and will do anything to avoid it.

Do the same for an Antagonist (what is their need?

Their ‘want’ is probably the same thing your protagonist wants, however, they will go about getting it in the wrong way, not the right/ethical/legal way)

Once you’ve decided on all these story components, you’ll have the following:

A weak character feels powerful in a boring world, but wants something badly, and is pushed to go after it the wrong way, and face their worst fears. After surviving that, they gain the strength needed to continue on the correct path towards a huge climaxbeating the antagonist, and returning to their world a changed character.

However, we need to go (one list) further and flesh it out to a fully formed story. You don’t need complex details, just a broad, and logical concept which fits your genre:
  • What powerful role do they have at the start of the story? (This role would work well if is the exact opposite of what the genre climax needs).
  • What does their boring world look like? (Even if they’re a Mi5 agent, there must be some tedious element which holds them back)
  • What pushes them over the edge to their quest? (they may fight the urge at first, but eventually they concede)
  • What ‘wrong way’ do they go after getting the thing they want? (this is closely tied to the character trying to avoid their fears or reject a known truth)
  • What is the correct ’new’ path which will finally beat the antagonist? (Luke realises he must ‘use the force’. What does your character need to do to win?)
  • How exactly is the final battle/climax great and exciting? (if your ending isn’t great your reader will hate you)
  • How exactly do they return home? (This could even be part of the climax)
  • How does your protagonist show that they’ve changed? (Usually this mirrors something in the beginning, but is now answered in a completely opposite way). This should match their ’need’ in some way.

Now you will have all the components to complete the paragraph below. How does your story sound when you read it back in this order?

A weak character feels powerful in a boring world, but wants something badly, and is pushed to go after it the wrong way, and face their worst fears. After surviving that, they gain the strength needed to continue on the correct path towards a huge climaxbeating the antagonist, and returning to their world a changed character.

If at any point your brain decides this idea of yours isn’t good enough, keep going.

Your mind wants perfection, and it wants to reject bad ideas because you have good taste. Now isn’t the time to edit your idea. We’re just figuring out the components first. Perfection comes later. Keep going!

Only after completing all these elements will you have a full-circle story journey and reveal if you have an outline worth writing.

Yes. This process has only created an outline.

You must have one in order to write a compelling story, to the end, with confidence, and a cohesive plot which other people want to read.

Without an outline, you’re on a car journey with no destination and all your passengers want to jump out at the fuel stop.

If you’re now bored by your idea, exhausted at all the writing done so far, then you don’t have a story and you don’t want to write it.

If you’re itching to write more and get going. Congratulations. You should start drafting right away and don’t stop until you’re finished and/or your fingers are bleeding.

Want more help with the writing process or the story development stage? Let me know, I’ll be only to happy to help.

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11 yrs of time travel!