How to Upgrade your Story Idea

Girl with light over head


How do you come up with a story concept that’s potentially a winner? In other words, how do you take an idea and turn it into a concept that causes movie producers or book publishers to sit up and take notice?

Start with the Basic Idea

Let’s say you have an idea for a story that goes something like this:

A story about the dangers of DNA experimentation.


A story about a psychopath who skins young girls alive.


A story about a man who keeps ending up in extraordinary situations.

Put the ideas in a “What-if format”:

1. What if unregulated experimentation with the DNA structures goes wrong?

2. What if an ordinary man keeps ending up in extraordinary situations?

3. What if a psychopath, who skins young girls alive, keeps evading the police?

The Magic of Modifiers

Modifiers are specific techniques used to trigger or inspire an improvement to the story idea. Listed below are some of the most important ones:

1. Take the idea to an extreme level.
2. Collide two opposites together.
3. Raise the stakes.
4. Make the environment unique.
5. Ensure you have the most appropriate main character.
6. Ensure you have special inter-character relationships
7. Include a unique dilemma.
8. Ensure it has a powerful twist.
9. Change the sex, age, race, nationality, species.
10.Change the norm.
11.Ensure your plot includes a fascinating plan or strategy.

Here are three examples of modifiers used to improve a story idea:

If we apply Modifier 1 to our first example, (what if unregulated experimentation with the DNA structures goes wrong), we might end up with a story about a theme-park full of prehistoric animals grown from the DNA acquired from the blood of mosquitos preserved in raisin—Jurassic Park.

Applying Modifier 2 to example 2 (what if an ordinary man keeps ending up in extraordinary situations), we could end up with a story about a simple-minded man who accidentally acquires wealth and becomes part of the most important political events of the 1960’s—Forrest Gump.

Applying Modifier 6 to example 3 (what if a psychopath, who skins young girls alive, keeps evading the police), might inspire us to come up with a story about a young female FBI agent who enlists the help of a brilliant cannibalistic psychiatrist who agrees to help her in exchange for playing mind-games with her—Silence of the Lambs.

As an exercise, try applying the remaining modifiers to some of your existing story ideas.


Taking an ordinary idea, putting it in a what-if format, and applying a modifier to it, often helps to lift it up to the level of an inspired story concept worthy of being turned into a book or movie.


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4 thoughts on “How to Upgrade your Story Idea

    1. Wilene

      I have another question. With today’s media ideas spread very quickly and it can become quite tricky to think of something “unique”. There are so many books, television series and films out there that it becomes very difficult to find out if your idea has already been used. I’ve run into the issue where my “unique” idea was actually already in a film that I haven’t seen before, so I had to change it in my book. Are there any tricks you can follow to try and avoid that?

      1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

        Unfortunately, Wilene, there are no sure-fire shortcuts to this. My advise is to determine your genre, then do a search through google, IMDB, and Amazon, for similar ideas. If you belong to sites such as Goodreads, you can also quiz members about the topic. The problem there is that you don’t always want to let the cat out of the bag…


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