How do you come up with a winning concept that gives rise to a winning story? 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 his victims 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 his victims alive, keeps evading the police?
How modifiers make for winning stories
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 create a winning story:
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 his victims 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 strengthens the central concept and helps you write a winning story.