Developing An Idea Into A Complete Story, by Andy Briggs
It all starts with a sudden explosion of thoughts and concepts that rebound from one another until they start to form the kernel of an idea. It is this precious idea that is going to consume months, if not years, of your life as you nurture it into a story. It’s that tiny idea you thought of on the train, in school or walking the dog that is going to make you get out of bed each morning and hammer away at a keyboard.
So it better be good.
How does this idea evolve into a book? You will start working out the beginning, middle and end – the core three acts that bond your story together. Most of the time, these will be utterly wrong and you will find yourself rewriting your opening, reworking the middle and having no idea how it is all going to end until you get there. Having a notion of where the story might go is enough. Your characters will begin to develop from this. You’ll find yourself bending and twisting the story to fit their needs – try and resist this. You want the story to be a challenge for the characters to navigate, so don’t be concerned about their health and safety.
Now your characters are forming, your plot is also falling into shape. A couple of key scenes will probably have sparked into existence; jot them down and keep them for later.
With the raw elements of characters and rough plot you have reached a fork in your evolving quest. Do you sit and plan the story as best you can, so you know what information each chapter has to convey and what turns your story will take? Or, do you jump in and start writing with no clear idea on where your story is going? Both methods are equally valid, and it often comes down to the individual’s personal tastes. I like to plot – I think this comes from starting my career writing movies. With scripts, you need a solid structure and have a finite number of pages to play out your story. For the novelist, at this moment in time, you have a blank canvas and infinite pages.
Whichever path you have taken, your story will unfold and you will begin to find the characters are not behaving quite the way you want them to. This is because you are giving life to them with each sentence, and no matter how well you think you know them, you don’t. It will feel as if they are taking you in a different direction from what you originally intended. I feel it is pointless trying to change their minds, you may as well go with the flow – but remember, you are the Creator. Don’t let them get away with leading you down an unplanned path. When this happens, I throw down a challenge within the story to derail them and bring them back on the course I plotted. People say you should love your characters – but drama comes from conflict, and you should be causing as many problems for them as possible.
As you plough through your story, you may discover those brilliant plot twists or scenes you dreamt up no longer fit the story. Don’t try to force them in, otherwise your story will seem disjointed. New scenes will evolve from the problems you have thrown at the characters. Rather than force a great idea into an unyielding story, set it aside for another book. Good ideas will have their moment; just remember their moment may not be now.
After navigating through writer’s block, casting misfortune on your characters and typing until your fingers are numb, you finally have a book. You may suddenly realise the ending was not what you had in mind, or, on the lucky occasions, have an ending that surprises you. You may also discover that your beginning doesn’t set the right tone – which probably means you have entered the story at the wrong moment. Try other entry points to see what works.
The most important point is that you now have a complete story: pages of drama and tension that all came from a random idea. As a writer, there is no greater thrill than reaching that moment.