Nancy's Books

Turning an Idea into a Story

An idea for a story just popped into your head. A phrase, a feisty character, or maybe a situation. The more you thought about it, the more the story played like a movie in your mind. Days, weeks, even months passed and the story wouldn’t go away. Like a pesky mosquito, it buzzed around in your brain. Sound familiar?

Writers use many techniques to develop story ideas. Some let stories percolate until the characters are strong enough to come to life on paper. Others take an idea and immediately construct a character and plot. Try these nine techniques to turn your ideas into stories. These ideas work equally well for professional writers and writers in the classroom.

Who is the audience? Is this story for a four year old or a fourteen year old? When we meet someone on the street and talk face-to-face, we adjust our speech and language to suit the audience. As writers, we have to recognize and understand the reading and interest level of our reader before we begin writing. A four year old thinks the word “underwear” is funny. A fourteen year old will probably roll eyes at the word.

Ask What if. What if a dinosaur came to lunch… What if everyone looked the same… Probe your character and plot with the What if question to develop your story idea. When your story comes to a screeching halt and you don’t know where to go with the plot ask what if. You may be surprised at the turn your story takes and the new ideas you will explore.
Choose a perspective. Who is telling the story? Try different characters to determine which could tell the story in the most compelling way. If three kids and a dog were lost in the mountains, which character should you chose to tell the story. The serious kid? The smartest kid? The funny kid? How about the dog?

Try word associations. Write the first thing you think of when you see each of these words: snowballs, moon, skunk, rainbow, museum. For example, skunk and stink could work well together in a humorous tale. So could snowballs and fight. Try associations that we would usually not associate. Moon and museum could be interesting, as well as skunk and rainbow.

Remember moments from your childhood. Did you have a special toy or an imaginary friend? Did you fear a bully? A memory can inspire a story. Don’t feel compelled to stick with your memories. Use the memories as a starting point, but not to play out the whole story. Real people shouldn’t be recognized in fictional characters. Let your imagination soar as you take the idea to new heights.

The hub of the story consists of two elements: character and conflict. The character needs to aim for a goal or experience a problem and must reach the goal or solve the problem on his/her own. Ask these questions. Who is the character? What does the character want? What is standing in the way of the character getting what she wants? When you answer these questions, you have a story idea. Other elements, such as setting, can be added later.

Add dialog to make the characters seem real. Dialog should sound real, not be real. When people talk, our words usually flow freely out of our mouths and the conversation can be boring reading. We often add uh and um and get sidetracked in our thoughts. Dialog should stay focused.

Develop a plot outline based on your idea. Add conflict and a solution. The outline helps you determine where your story is going and how to get there. Think of the outline as a map that helps you get from the beginning of your journey to the end.

Write the first draft. The first draft won’t be your best writing but it will be a start in developing the idea. The first draft is the starting point, not the finish line. This is the place to let creative juices flow. Experiment with the plot and dialog. You are expected to make mistakes, and lots of them, in the first draft. Follow the first draft with a series of revisions to add sparkle to the story.

Play with your idea and have fun with it. All writing has preliminary stages in which you discard some ideas and keep others. Twist and turn you idea into different plots to discover what works and what doesn’t. Give your ideas time to incubate and grow. If you’re having fun with the story, the reader will too. Figure out the methods that work for you and keep on writing to develop your idea into your story.