Author: Sandy Vaile
Originally published on the Writers In The Storm blog, 8th February 2023
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.
Why does this happen?
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 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 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.
Why writing a “shiny idea” can lead to disappointment
Any 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:
There are a few things we need in order to go from idea to solid outline:
The inception of an idea
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.
4 Must-Haves for a Successful Story
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:
Turn an idea into a compelling story
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 savour the thrill of creation.
ExerciseRemember, 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.
Give your story idea wings
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 outline on.
Check that your story premise aligns with that character’s journey and if not, tweek 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.
Remember to 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. 😊
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 because there's an easy way to test your story idea and have confidence it's worth writing.
Empowering aspiring authors to confidently write novels they're proud to publish