by Sandy Vaile
Too often I see authors enthusiastically start writing a novel, only to run out of steam part way through. In fact, only 30% of people who start writing a novel will actually finish it. It’s heartbreaking when a fantastic concept languishes in the bottom drawer forever.
You could be writing a shiny, exciting idea that doesn’t have the substance to support an entire book. A lot of this hinges on the main character (and it doesn’t matter if you prefer to plot or discover your way into a story).
A story’s rock-solid foundation comes from knowing who the main character is and what their journey through the story looks like, especially their motivations and “why” everything happens, which provides readers with a deeper understanding of the story as a whole.
This clarity is what turns your awesome idea into something tangible and purposeful.
Today, I want to explore the very inception of a story and how we can shape those initial ideas into a tale we are passionate to tell.
Any author who has ever attempted to write a novel knows it’s no easy feat to get to “the end.” It’s even harder to shape those words into a compelling read.
When we jump into writing with nothing more than a brilliant idea, it can result in:
The good news is, by following a few key steps, you can ensure your story has a solid foundation that will drive it through purposeful scenes, all the way to a satisfying conclusion.
The first kernel of an idea can come in many forms:
To turn the potential of any of those kernels of ideas into a brilliant story, there are a few key aspects that create a solid structure from which to build the whole story around.
Figuring out the core elements below at some stage, could make it a stronger manuscript, and hopefully prevent a big messy pile of I don’t know what the heck they should do next. 😊
A story that lacks these basic elements may be difficult to sustain and less likely to keep readers engaged.
My first book, “Inheriting Fear” started with this vague idea and story question:
When we are caught up in the exhilaration of creation and opportunity, it buzzes about our imagination like the butterfly-inducing thrill of a first kiss. While jumping straight into writing the story is exciting, it can lead to a burst of activity followed by collapsing into a pile of Where do I go next?
Giving some thought to the main character’s journey and what is driving them, is a great way to transform a vague idea and into a tangible concept. There are countless directions their journey could take, but knowing what’s important to the story makes it so much easier to focus on the ones that both excite you and align with the story’s central purpose.
Now is the time to take a breath and savor the thrill of creation.
Remember, during the early stages of a creative project (before writing and after the first draft), we are just throwing ideas at the wall and seeing which ones stick. As we write and edit, we can choose the ones that align best.
Jot down all the ideas that come to mind in relation to the kernel of an idea.
Here are some prompts to guide you. (I’m a huge fan of “What if?” questions when brainstorming.)
All of these things will help you gauge the potential of a story idea, by making sure it has the substance to become a fully-fledged book.
After doing all of that groundwork, you should have a better feel for who your main character is, what they want, and why they want it. This is what provides a stable base to build a story on.
Check that your story premise aligns with that character’s journey and if not, tweak it.
Building on the previous example of a vague idea, this is the story premise that came from it:
Now it’s time to give that “shiny idea” a chance to succeed by focusing all of the stuff from the brainstorming exercise in a single direction. The direct of the main character’s journey: from where they start to the goal they seek at the end.
Sort through all of your ideas and determine if they are aligned with the story premise and the main character’s goal. Any that aren’t aligned, don’t resonate with you or you simply don’t like, put aside.
This should leave you with heaps of potential for when you outline or start writing.
...take your time and be patient when coming up with possibilities that fit with your vision for the story. You may even find its direction has nothing to do with the initial kernel of an idea, but this doesn’t matter because it will have morphed into a solid concept you can wrap your mind around and see endless possibilities for.
You can be sure you have transformed a shiny idea into a solid story concept when you know who the main character is, what they want, and why they want it. The specifics of what’s going to make their journey difficult can evolve as you write, but those key details will keep the narrative on track.
Happy writing. 😊
What are your go-to tricks for turning your shiny ideas into solid story concepts? Are you a plotter or a pantser? What exercises or habits help you when you get stuck? Please share with us down in the comments!
* * * * * *
Note: If you are stuck in a rut of writing novels you never finish, never submit or aren’t sure how to fix, then it’s your lucky day. I’m offering WITS readers a FREE masterclass, which reveals the real reasons few aspiring authors finish their novels (and how to avoid them).
* * * * * *
Sandy Vaile is a motorbike-riding daredevil who isn’t content with a story unless there’s a courageous heroine and a dead body. She is an internationally published author, writing romantic-suspense for Simon & Schuster US, and experienced fiction coach, supporting aspiring authors to write novels they are proud to share with the world (and which get noticed by agents, publishers and readers), through coaching, courses and developmental editing.
Having a writing coach is like having an industry expert in your back pocket, to hold your hand through the writing process and act as a voice of reason when you’re standing on a ledge. Sandy’s exclusive Active Storytelling Method helps authors find the hidden gems in their manuscripts and make them shine.
Connect with Sandy Vaile on her website or social media.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved