Watering the Seedlings: Turning Ideas into Stories
Idea seedling sparks our imagination and gets our creative engines running. It may well be an anecdote, a news story, or even a conversation you overheard in a coffee shop. J.K. Rowling, in a 1999 interview with Borders Online, talks about how she found her inspiration for Harry Potter. The idea just fell into her lap while she was on a train ride from Manchester to London. On that train ride, J.K. Rowling came up with the premise for Harry Potter: “a boarding school full of wizards and witches”— or something to that effect. Most stories begin with a premise. The premise stems from your passions, and the premise is what makes your story interesting. Yet, a great premise does not a story make. Readers come to us to be told a story, and how the story unfolds—what exactly happens in your story—is called plot. Most writers do not start out knowing exactly how the story will unfold. It takes skill and hard work to uncover that, but luckily weaving a plot is a skill that can be learned.
Scene and Summary
The building blocks of plot, strictly speaking, is what happens in the story, the events that take place. Those events can be depicted dramatically—in scenes—or described narratively—as summary.
Structurally, each scene itself is a mini-story, a small dramatic unit if you will, with its own beginning, middle and end. Each scene should have its own goal, its own conflict, and its own resolution. When you write a scene, you are “showing” your readers the story taking place. You are creating a fictive dream and inviting them to jump in.
Summary, on the other hand, is not dramatic. It is just a narrative description. It can provide background information; it can establish time and place, as we’ve seen, or a transition in time and/or place; it can even characterize. Narrative description is “telling.” “Show, don’t tell” is an adage taught in creative writing classes. Essentially, this means “write scenes, not summary.” Like any generalization, this one doesn’t always fit the bill. It would perhaps be more accurate to say, “show more often than you tell,” or “know when to show and when to tell.”
Let’s look at this example:
“The whole family suspected that Nana was not merely forgetful. Nana was losing her mind.”
Here we are telling the reader some information. Another option would be to create a little story about Nana’s forgetfulness and her strange behavior suggesting that she’s losing her marbles. Perhaps write a scene about Gramps finding his shoe in the freezer? It is entirely your call, and it depends on how important this fact or information is to the story and how long you want your story to be.
Putting Your Story Together
Plot is all about logic. Your plot has to make sense, and this is the most important rule. Whether you would like to outline and formally construct a plot before starting your novel is entirely up to you. Some authors swear this is the best way to plot a good story. Other writers, Stephen King for instance, feel that outlining the story beforehand kills the spontaneity. There are many outlining systems available out there. One of my favorites is the LOCK system, developed by James Scott Bell. James calls LOCK a “set of foundational principles” that can serve as a structure for your story.
L is for Lead—a strong, compelling, lead character.
O is for Objective—some crucial outcome that the lead wants to achieve.
C is for confrontation— the conflicts and obstacles the lead will go through to achieve his or her objective. The more confrontation, the juicer your story will be.
K is for Knockout—a great ending that will leave your readers satisfied.
After coming up with a story idea, a good strategy could be for you to quickly, or elaborately, depending on your preference, decide who your lead will be, what it is that she wants to achieve, what obstacles and challenges she will face, and envision a satisfying ending for her struggles. Et voilà, you have laid the foundation for your story. There are, of course, a few other ingredients, like setting, characterization, and dialogue, that are still missing…but that is another story. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!
All artwork is courtesy of Reda Khalil.