Okay, you’ve come up with a great idea, but how do you turn that into an actual story? This is, for some, the hardest part. Often, once you know what the story is, the part where you turn that into a written text is no big deal. (If only, right?)
I have come up with a list of questions meant to help you dig into your idea and find the threads of narrative hidden within. They are divided into three main categories: Conflict, Characters, and Setting. Some of the questions seem like duplicates but by virtue of appearing under a different category they are slightly different, with slight nuances. I advise starting in the category you have least well formed in your mind. Do you know exactly who you want to write your story about? Then start with Conflict or Setting and see what challenges you can throw in their way. Do you have a series of events vaguely sketched out? Then begin by answering questions about Setting and Character to find out who is worthy of taking up your gauntlet and what resources they have on their side. Have you invented a world where marvelous things can take place? Then look for answers under Conflict and Character to fill that world.
The advice I’m going to give comes from the perspective of someone who combines plotting and discovery writing, or pantsing. Discovery writers often feel hemmed in by creating outlines or coming up with too many ideas beforehand. That doesn’t need to be the case, but that’s a different topic altogether. Take from this list what you feel comfortable with and ignore the rest. As for the plotters out there, these questions will help you to create that beloved outline. They will get the juices flowing and enable you to turn that basic idea into a fully-fledged story.
This list is meant to be extensive, but by no means exhaustive. Hopefully it will throw you down your own paths of inquiry into the forest of creation. (Sorry about that, couldn’t help myself.) And one more tip, don’t make any hard and fast decisions until you’ve gone through it all. Let your answers to the next question inform the ideas you got from the previous one. This can create an interesting snowball effect of ideas and prevent that rigid story that feels forced.
1) How can the setting create conflict?
2) How can the character(s) create conflict?
3) How can the characters complicate the main conflict for each other?
4) What is the inciting incident? What drives your character into the story?
5) What is the natural progression of the conflict from the inciting incident? – What is the end of the line bad thing that could happen as a result?
6) If there was a magic solution to the problem, and I mean that figuratively not in a magic-is-real way (although real magic could be involved), what would that be? Hold this in your mind and don’t let your characters do it or anything that would lead to it unless they have to work really really hard to get there.
7) What choices could the character make to move them closer to or farther away from the solution? List them all, not just the ones you want to use.
8) How can the conflict change throughout the story?
9) Is the initial conflict a smaller part of a larger problem that must be confronted just when the characters think they’ve won?
10) What internal conflicts might the main conflict create that would hamper progress?
1) What unique trait would make solving the conflict more difficult?
2) How many characters does the story need? – Main Characters and Secondary Characters not random people they meet.
3) How does your character’s background affect the way they respond to the inciting incident (and all the other events in the story)?
4) Out of the choices available to move the character closer to or farther away from the solution, which is this character most likely to choose?
5) What type of person is least likely to be able to solve this conflict? – Try to help that person find a way to solve it.
6) Who is the most likely person to solve this conflict? – Find a reason for them not to, leaving room for more interesting people to get thrown in.
7) What character will be best, and worst, at working together?
8) Why does this character care about the conflict? What makes them want to react to the inciting incident?
9) How can your character change throughout the story?
10) What internal conflicts does your character have to deal with that might cause their choices to be different, or even counterproductive?
1) What aspects of the setting make the conflict possible?
2) How did the setting shape your character(s)?
3) What is it about your setting that makes it different from other stories in the same or similar places?
4) What characteristics of the setting will make your character’s task more or less difficult?
5) Can the character use the setting in some way to aid them in their search for a solution – or as the solution itself?
6) What in the setting is preventing the character from getting involved after the inciting incident?
7) How can your setting change throughout the story?
8) What impact does your character have on the setting?
9) What impact does your conflict have on the setting?
10) Do the changes in character or conflict throughout the story cause changes in the setting over the course of the story?
Did you find this list helpful? Please share with your friends and help other writers. Did you come up with any more questions that helped you transform your idea into a story? Share them in the comments!