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Monday, February 25, 2013

5 Elements That Take Your Story Idea from Notion to Novel

by Catherine Chant 

Where do you get your ideas from? That’s a question many writers, including myself, hear from readers quite often. Most of us respond that they come from all around us. A news story, a personal anecdote heard at the school bus stop, an incident witnessed at the mall. Ideas surround us all the time. Even when we sleep, our heads are filled with ideas. 

I think a more interesting question, that probably has a more specific answer (depending on the author) would be, how did your idea become a book? Because that’s the real question, isn’t it? What magic did you do that turned something like “Lone child survives air disaster” into a plot that kept that reader glued to the pages.  

In my March workshop, “Avoid the Rough: Turning Your Story Idea Into a Workable Plot,” we start off with this very topic. Every book starts as just an idea, but then several elements join together to make a solid plot and a story people want to read.

Five of those elements are, in no specific order because it doesn’t matter when you come up with them as you’re brainstorming, just that you do: 

1.      Characters
2.      A story goal
3.      An opposing force
4.      Conflict
5.      Stakes

Characters means interesting people the reader can root for. Kat Duncan teaches a wonderful online course called “Make Me Care.” That’s one of the most important things about developing characters. Make readers care about what happens to them. Otherwise, they’ll put the book down. 

A Story Goal means something you’re rooting for the characters (you care about) to achieve. It’s something external (like to solve a crime, find a missing person) as well as internal (some flaw inside the character that must be resolved). 

The Opposing Force is what keeps the characters from getting what they want. If they could get what they want right away, the story would be rather boring and over before it starts. In some books, this force is a person, a bad guy, the villain. In others it’s a situation or maybe an emotional roadblock. Some stories combine all three. 

Conflict is what happens when goal hits opposition. Not just for the story goal and the major opposition, but throughout the story as well, in every scene. Between characters, between the character and himself, between the character and his situation. Conflict is the struggle that ensues when the character goes after what he wants but can’t get it. 

Stakes are related to the conflict. Show what’s at risk for your character. A character shouldn’t do something for no good reason, or just because you, the writer, tell him to do it. He must want to do it and want to do it against great odds. Don’t let your character’s journey ever be too easy or your story may fall flat and the reader puts the book down. 

There are several other elements as well, such as an emotional hook and clear language, but you can probably see a pattern starting here. Readers are drawn to stories where a character they care about is put into a tough situation that requires resilience and smarts to make it through to a satisfying end. 

In the novel I’m working on now, a young adult mystery, the very first seed of an idea started with the image of a graveyard. In fact, I’d given the story the title “The Graveyard” for the longest time because that’s where it had originated. In the graveyard was the tombstone of a girl the same age as the main character. I was thinking “ghost story” at the time, and saw the character living in the dead girl’s house, envisioning a connection between the two. Maybe even communication. Then came the question, how did the girl die and who killed her? 

From there I went through brainstorming elements like those listed above until I had a clearer picture of my main character and what she wanted in life and why she couldn’t have it. The resulting story evolved quite a bit from the image of the graveyard into a full-blown murder mystery. Although the graveyard still plays a small role in the story and there is a subtle paranormal element to the story, it isn’t a direct ghost story anymore. The new tentative title is “Swings and Pendulums” (the blurb is on my website under Books-->Works in Progress) and it examines several universal themes such as family, friendship, and sibling rivalry that go way beyond the initial idea of a girl and a ghost. 

My young adult time travel romance, “Wishing You Were Here,” started from an 80’s song inspired by a dead musician I’d vaguely heard of. When I looked into it more, I discovered long-forgotten hit songs and a tragic story that made me wonder, “What if you could go back in time and give someone a second chance?” Not a very original idea, I’m sure many have wondered the same thing, but it was a catalyst that drove me to brainstorm those five elements above, and write a unique love story between a 21st century music enthusiast and a 1950’s teen idol, filled with plenty of conflict, not the least of which is how a modern girl with strong ambitions and even stronger opinions deals with the chauvinistic music industry while trapped in 1957. 

Want to learn more about how to take your story idea and turn it into a workable plot? Join me March 4-22, 2013 at FF&P for my class “Avoid the Rough: Turning Your Story Idea into a Workable Plot” (with a broad strokes outline). Don’t let the word “outline” scare you.” If you like to the write by the seat of your pants, this class is for you too because a broad strokes outline doesn’t tie you down, just helps you brainstorm those key elements that your story idea needs to move from notion to novel. 

More About the Author:

Catherine Chant is a PRO member of the Romance Writers of America RWA) and a Golden Heart® finalist. Her first novel, WISHING YOU WERE HERE (Soul Mates #1), is a young adult time travel romance available in both print and electronic editions at Amazon.com. You can find out more about Catherine at:
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I hope you will join my class on
Avoid the Rough:
Turning Your Story Idea
Into a Workable Plot
Hosted by
Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers
This 2 Week class starts March 4, 2013
For more information click HERE

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Wonderful points I'll use to make sure my story is filled with romance, angst, evil (I LOVE evil) and happy ever after.