Category Archives: Story Preparation

How to Upgrade your Story Idea

Girl with light over head

Idea-to-Concept

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.

Or

A story about a psychopath who skins young girls alive.

Or

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.

Summary

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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Asking the Right Story Questions

Question marks

Important Questions:

In his book, Screenwriting, R. G. Frensham quotes William Goldman as saying: “Movies are about story: is it well told, is it interesting? If it isn’t it doesn’t matter how talented the rest of it is.” This is also true of the novel.

So, how do you give yourself the best chance of writing an interesting, well-executed story? This post offers some suggestions:

Having chosen your story idea, you should begin to implement it by going from the general (idea) to the specific (individual characters and events). Here are a number of questions intended to help you clarify, expand, and tell your story in an effective way. Write a paragraph in answer to each one.

Nine Questions whose answers will help you write your story:

1. Why do I want to write this story?

2. Who do I think will want to watch/read it?

3. What is it about?

4. Who is it about?

5. Why is it about this character rather than that?

6. What is the importance of background or setting?

7. What is the most fitting genre for the story?

8. What is the moral of the story?

9. What is the main theme of the story?

In answering these questions you are preparing the soil for planting and harvesting. It gives you the time you need to probe your own motivation for writing the story and forces you to think about its deeper structures.

Summary

Answering a number of pertinent questions prior to writing your story helps you to explore the elements, structures, and motivations that are necessary in telling a tale that is interesting and well-executed.