Your idea could be a snatch of conversation, a theme, an image, a person. A little thing that tickles your imagination and starts you thinking. For example, you’re on holiday on the beach and you see a boat speeding across the bay. Visions of speedboat chases jump into your head and there’s the germ of a story.
The first question is: why is the guy in the speedboat running away? Decide that and the next question becomes obvious: who is he running from? Decide that and you’ve got instant conflict. Why is he being chased? What’s he thinking? Where is he trying to get to?
By the time you’ve answered all these questions, you’ve got a story going. You don’t need to worry about how he’s going to get where he wants to go, or how he’s going to get away. These details will develop as you write.
What you do need to know is the weather. That gives you instant atmosphere. It helps to give the guy a name too. Just pluck it out of the air. You can always change it later if it doesn’t suit him. Finally, you need to have him decide something – even if it’s just to change direction.
At this point, the best thing you can do is start to write. Start the story exactly at this point, with the guy in the boat speeding away, the other boat chasing and your guy making this decision. At any point, mention what the weather is doing and how it affects your guy.
You should be straight into action, inside your character’s head and creating the story as you go. You don’t know what’s going to happen any more than the reader does, but it will crackle with excitement and tension from the off, which is exactly what you want in this scenario. You can fill in the gaps about how he got to this point later on, if you need to.
A different idea might involve a different atmosphere and a slower pace. As long as you’ve got a character who is trying to do something, and somebody or something opposing that goal, you’ve got action. The decision shoves the character into the story.
If all you’ve got is the idea you want to write a type of story – romance, thriller, mystery, start with atmosphere. Day or night, hot or cold, rain or snow? You’ll find a picture jumps into your head. Now put a person there, and the questions start.
Where’s this person going? Who are they thinking about? Does it make them angry, sad, upset? What do they decide right now? Is the other person visible? How does your person feel about them?
With very little effort, you can build a scenario from practically anything. But don’t over plan. Let the process of writing generate new ideas as you go along. That will build the story better than figuring out what’s going to happen before you start.
Some writers plan extensively, but still allow for change as new ideas come up. Because as characters come alive, they can be relied on to do the unexpected!
Now you’ve learned how to turn an idea into a story, perhaps you have more questions. If so, the EQ Knowledge Bank is the place for you! It has many articles which aim to provide parents with answers to education questions, from the purpose of Ofsted to the best methods of revision. We also have useful tips for parenting where you’ll find ideas for school holidays and advice on dealing with bullies. It’s a mine of useful information!
Guest Blog by Elizabeth Bailey
Coming from professional theatre, Elizabeth Bailey taught drama for many years alongside her writing career. Multi-published, she now writes full time, both her own novels and ghostwriting, as well as critiquing for other writers.