Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

I read People magazine on the regular (it’s my guilty pleasure), and one thing I love about it is there’s always a “Best New Books” section, mostly filled with novels. I love reading this section to keep tabs on the new books that are coming out.

Plus, I always learn something about Concept and Premise.

Take the write up I saw for the book, Maybe In Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The write-up for this book details the plot as:

Tired of meaningless jobs and fresh from a breakup, 29-year-old Hannah goes home to L.A. seeking a new start. What she encounters first is her old boyfriend, Ethan, in a bar. Is it fate? Should she stay with him or leave with her friend? In parallel story lines, Reid plays out the consequences of each decision.

What’s Conceptual about this story is the parallel story lines–we’re seeing two stories happening to the same character simultaneously, and we don’t know which one is reality and which isn’t. This in and of itself is interesting, and an Antagonist hasn’t even been introduced.

And then the Premise happens when we see that she has moved all the way back home–only to run into her high school boyfriend (the story’s Antagonist, I’m assuming, since I haven’t read the book).

Where Story Ideas Comes From

I don’t know about you, but I love the Concept that Reid is playing with in this story. It has so much inherent conflict, and so many possibilities built right in. It’d be cool to know where the idea for this story came from, and how it transformed into the book Reid published.

‘Cause story ideas are just that–ideas. They aren’t actual stories. Not yet.

In order to count as a story, it needs a whole list of things, like a Protagonist, an Antagonist, a Concept, a vicarious experience, and something happening.

Story ideas are merely seeds or sparks of inspiration that can be turned into a story by asking questions, playing with different scenarios, and finding the most optimal choices.

But a good story can be sparked by almost anything:

  • something you hear or see in real life
  • a story in the newspaper
  • a song lyric
  • another story
  • an experience you’ve had
  • an experience someone else has had
  • an experience you’d like to have
  • a character
  • a setting
  • a year in history

This list of story sparks could go on forever…

But none of these sparks is an actual story. Not yet.

First, a Concept and Premise needs to be introduced.

An Inside Look

There’s so much that goes into what you see in the final published story. And there’s so much that came before it–the story development process, writing the draft, revising the story, editing, polishing, etc.

Problem is, you rarely ever get to see this stuff. All you ever see is the final product.

So I wanted to give you an inside look at my story planning and development process, the one I use for my stories and all of my client’s stories. I’m live-planning my new story starting next Monday. 

The idea seed for my new story comes from something that actually happened. Back in 2008, I came across an inspiring story online that totally captured my heart–a Starbucks barista donated a kidney to one of her customers.

It struck a chord with me, and made me ask a lot of questions:

  • Why would someone donate a kidney to an almost-stranger?
  • What would it be like to go through this experience?
  • How would it change you?

These questions were enough to hold my interest and spark a story idea that I’ve been marinating on for years.

Next week, I’m diving deeper into how I’m turning this idea seed into an actual story, with a Concept and a Premise.

Be sure to join my email list so you don’t miss a thing (and you’ll also get a special freebie I only give to newsletter subscribers). 

 

Image courtesy of Magenta Rose

Story Coaching Case Study: Stephanie Raffelock

Stephanie Raffelock came to me twice–once in January and then again in February. The first time she came to me, we talked about her complex story idea and working together to bring it to life. She wasn’t quite ready to get support yet.

But after a few weeks of trying to do it herself, she came back to me, determined to figure it out.

The thing I loved about working with Stephanie is she’s really a student of story. She showed up every week with a finished assignment, whether she knew what she was doing or not. She wasn’t afraid to attempt it. She wasn’t afraid to fail.

And that’s why she was able to successfully finish her novel.

In her own words, she shares how my 90-day Author Intensive program helped her go from story idea to completed novel draft.

Stephanie Raffelock

Stephanie Raffelock

Name: Stephanie Raffelock

Location: Ashland, Ore.

Occupation: Businesswoman

Website: SoManyBlogsSoLittleTime 

How long were you thinking about/working on your story before you hired me?

I’d already written two novels when I hired you. Neither of them had a story that hung together beginning to end; and while there were moments of talent and flashes of awesomeness (is that even a word?), those things won’t make a reader keep turning the page, waiting to find out what’s going to happen if there is no story.

Where were you at with your story prior to working with me?

I was in writing hell with a dash of angst thrown in for good measure.

What fears did you have before you signed up?

What if I didn’t understand how to construct a story?

What finally caused you to say, “I’m ready for support?”

I did a Story Analysis with Larry Brooks, who pointed out that I wasn’t ready to have a story analyzed, since I didn’t really have a story yet, and that what I needed was a story planner and a story coach. That was you.

What did you like best about this program?

I liked how you worked with me step-by-step from idea to concept to premise, and then worked with me on plugging in plot points, pinch points and developing characters.

The process was quite creative and even though I was itching to write, the planning and development of a story was much more creative than I thought it would be.

 

How did you feel about the feedback you received from me each week?

The feedback kept me thinking about the plot and how to make it better. You could see things that I couldn’t since I was so close to them . . . rookie mistakes, I’m sure. Plus we had a lot of fun talking about writing.

You inspire. I’m eager to start my re-write, utilizing your weekly notes.

How does it feel to have a finished draft of your story?

Friggen’ fan-tas-tic!

How long did it take you to write your draft (in days/weeks)?

About 5 and a half weeks.

What made the biggest difference working with me versus trying to do it yourself?

You were my guide, my light. You kept me from getting lost. If you don’t have a structure to work from, after about twenty-five thousand words, you will not know where you are, let alone where you need to go.

You made sure that I planned out the story so that I knew where I was headed.

Was your experience and results in this program worth the money you invested?

Though I do not have story structure and story architecture fully integrated in my mind yet, this was a great beginning!  This novel is my best to date. As a result, I will do a second project with you.

As for the money, this is an investment in myself and my chosen craft.

 

Are you ready to discover what coaching can do for your story? Join me for a free Clarity Call and find out if The Author Intensive is right for you.

Confessions of A Converted Story “Pantser”

It isn’t often that I’m truly touched by a blog post. But over the weekend, I was moved to tears when I read a guest post on Larry Brooks’ site, StoryFix.

I was moved because I realized that I had a hand in changing someone’s life; I helped turn an emerging writer from a dreamer into an author with the potential to go far in her novel-writing career.

The guest post was written by my client, Stephanie Raffelock, about her experience writing a novel that works. She worked with Larry and I to make this happen, and now she’s a total believer in the story planning and developing process.

Here’s an excerpt from her post:

Larry Brooks made me cry. An ego bruising, embarrassing cry.

He did it by asking a simple question: What is the dramatic goal of your hero?

I answered every question he put forth in that scary, unflinching Questionnaire he uses in his coaching programs… all but that one.

It was like when my mother asked me if I had taken her beloved blue Mustang without her permission and I told her, “I have so much research to do at the library. I have a paper due.” I never did answer her simple question–“did you take the freaking car or not!?”

A series of questions loomed on the rest of that damn Questionnaire.

After answering the first few, the harsh truth began to reveal itself. In spite of intelligence, a modicum of humor and a great passion for the written word, I would not recognize the components of a good story if I tripped over them and landed in a puddle of my own shock and awe.

Welcome to Novel Writing 101…

…And that’s when I began to study story structure.

Larry recommended story planner and coach, Jennifer Blanchard, to help me take my story to the next level after his initial feedback (it may have had something to do with some of the names I called him at the time). I bit the bullet and signed up to work with her. It is humbling, and also a great deal of fun, to be learning from a woman who is young enough to be my daughter.

Jennifer, by the way, is a passionate practitioner and spokesperson for the very same principles that Brooks used to crush my belief that my original story had legs.

Step by step, she took me through the principles of Story Engineering (Brooks’ first writing book), and helped me to plan and plot a story.

From idea to concept, premise, plot points, pinch points and character development, we worked together for a month before I wrote a single word of prose. The exercise not only changed the way that I write novels, it changed the way that I see the world: there are stories all around us in the people we know. When the next-door neighbor tells me about her trip to visit her aging parents, I’ll be darned if there isn’t a hero, a villain, if there aren’t obstacles to overcome and conflict to negotiate, demons to slay, and a desired goal motivated by stakes that matter.

I watch television and movies through different eyes now.

Where’s the first plot point? What does the hero want? Why am I rooting for him? …

…Working with Larry and with Jennifer, I embraced the notion of being a novelist. I respect the craft of novel writing enough to want to study it, learn it and integrate it, thereby respecting my readers enough to want to give them a good story.

We live in a fast, digitized world, where people abbreviate their words (that drives me crazy) and do their lives in limited character sound bites. Writers, I believe, are entrusted with the sacred task of being the keeper of stories, the full and rich stories that connect us all.

I haven’t read the latest talked about writing book whose cover reads “Story Trumps Structure,” but I can tell you that I hate the title. It goes against the grain of what I know in my bones to be true. Hey buddy, I want to say, story IS structure!

[You can read the rest of her post here.]

Share With Us

What has your novel-writing journey been like so far? 

 

Story Coaching Case Study: Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer came to me at the end of 2014 with a story idea he’d been working on for a few years. But no matter what he tried, he couldn’t move past the plot problems that were holding the story back.

In his own words, he shares how my 90-day Author Intensive program helped him go from story idea to completed novel draft.

GlennDyer

Glenn Dyer

Name: Glenn Dyer

Location: Park City, Utah

Occupation: Retired

How long were you thinking about/working on your story before you hired me?

Started working on the project back in 2000. Would pick it up for a while then drop it.

Where were you at with your story prior to working with me?

Back in 2004, I got about 190 pages into a draft but plot problems became a big issue and I dropped the project. I picked it back up around September 2014.

What fears did you have before you signed up to work with me?

That the plot problems were not solvable.

What finally caused you to say, “I’m ready to get support with writing my novel?”

I turned 61 in October of last year. No time to waste.

What did you like best about this program?

The specific feedback about plot, characters and other things that didn’t make sense to me [before doing this program]. The written feedback, which could be revisited as many times as needed. Also, that Jennifer were available via FB at anytime during the term.

How did you feel about the feedback you received from me each week?

I found it most valuable. In particular, the feedback received during the first six weeks was critical to being able to finish the draft.

How does it feel to have a finished draft of your story?

Tough to describe. I was so fearful that I would never get it done after wanting to do it for so many years.

I never mentioned this before, but back in 2003 I promised my son, Mike, that if he would go out for cross-country in his sophomore year, that I would finish my novel. He ran cross-country for three years. I just finished the novel.

It was important to finish it for many reasons, but that reason was the most important. When I told him that I was “slow” in meeting my end of the deal, he responded by saying that my end was harder. He’s a good kid.

How long did it take you to write your draft (in days/weeks)?

Sixty-two days.

What made the biggest difference working with me versus trying to do it yourself? 

Having someone to bounce ideas off during the first 6 weeks was critical.

Was your experience and results in this program worth the money you invested?

In my case, yes. Definitely.

 

Are you ready to discover what coaching can do for your story? Join me for a free Clarity Call and find out if The Author Intensive is right for you.

Idea to Draft Case Study: Christopher Y.

Christopher Y. joined the Idea to Draft Story Intensive with a story idea in his mind… and today he’s a few thousand words away from being finished. In his own words, here’s how the Idea to Draft Story Intensive has helped him take his story from “idea seed” to (almost) completed first draft:

1. Where were you at with your story before joining the workshop?

I had a fairly complex story idea, and was struggling to apply Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering” principles to it.

2. What challenge did you have/what was preventing your from writing your novel prior to joining Idea to Draft?

My approach to writing fiction lacked structure and discipline. From reading “Story Engineering” I knew what an outline should be like, but had trouble applying it to my own story. I would sit down with my story idea in mind and type out sentences, hoping that the various milestones would emerge from them.

3. What, if any, hesitations did you have about signing up for this workshop?

Well, there is a twelve-hour time difference between me and Jennifer. So I did wonder whether the logistics would work. As it turned out, there were no problems on my end at all.

4. What changes have you noticed in your writing? In your story? In your life?

I’ve become a “butt-in-chair” fiction writer, which is great. Professionally, I have over 20 years of experience as an advertising copywriter, and I never had any trouble applying that mindset to my commercial writing; in fact, with deadlines and my paycheque at stake, it was the only way to get things done. When it came to fiction, though, I still clung to a romanticised ideal of the writer who produced stuff strictly through inspiration and spur-of-the-moment insights. Not any more, thank goodness.

My story, while still complex, has a definite shape to it now. You can see the skeleton where all the other bits need to be attached. I am still working on my first draft but I have no doubts about whether I will finish it. I will because at every step, I know exactly what the next step will be. No more feeling around and hoping. This is very liberating.

And as far as my life goes, I am beginning to allow myself to think of myself as a fiction writer. This is because I know now the things that a fiction writer needs to know to get the work done. You cannot put a price on this.

5. What specific feature(s) of this workshop did you like best?

This workshop is all about helping you put Larry Brooks’ principles to work. It’s the practical application of theory, if you like. This is never easy to do without knowledgeable guidance, in any endeavour. More specifically, writing a novel can seem like a huge, overwhelming undertaking.

Jennifer’s step-by-step approach breaks it down into very manageable individual tasks. You just lay down one brick today, another the next. Anyone can do that. Then one day you look back and realise your wall is already half built. The intimidation factor is completely gone.

6. Would you recommend this workshop to other writers? Why or why not?

I’d definitely recommend it. But only if the writer is committed to the idea of structuring and outlining the whole story before writing the first draft. This is not for writers who write to discover their story’s ending, or to find out who their characters are.

>> Learn more about Idea to Draft

Idea to Draft Case Study: Chrissy Medeiros

chrissy_medeirosChrissy Medeiros joined the Idea to Draft Story Intensive with a story idea in her mind … and today she’s 74,000 words into her draft and a few thousand words away from being finished. In her own words, here’s how the Idea to Draft Story Intensive has helped her take her story from “idea seed” to (almost) completed first draft:

1. Where Were You With Your Story Before Joining This Workshop?

I had a very vague idea surrounding a paranormal romance before I joined the workshop.

2. What Challenge Did You Have and/or What Was Preventing You From Writing Your Novel Prior to Joining the Idea to Draft Workshop?

Time, and fear prevented me from starting my novel prior to joining the workshop. I am a stay-at-home mom to a three-year old, and time is something that’s hard to manage. Also, I had an awful inner critic that caused me to question everything that I wrote.

I feared that I wouldn’t be able to construct a workable, cohesive plot, and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to create three-dimensional characters that changed from the beginning of the story, to the end. I even feared that I’d read too many writing craft books, and wouldn’t be able to transfer my knowledge to the story!

3. What, If Any, Hesitations Did You Have Signing Up For This Workshop?

I just didn’t know if I would have the time, and dedication it takes to finish a novel. Now that I’m almost done, I have my answer, and it feels wonderful to have a story to share with the world!

4. What Changes Have You Noticed In Your Story? In Your Writing? In Your Life?

By the midpoint of my story, I noticed that everything started to improve: my descriptions, my ability to “show, don’t tell,” my ability to weave plot threads together, my dialogue, the inner thoughts of my characters… Things that I’d felt I’d mentioned randomly in the beginning of my story, came in handy in the later parts. Everything seemed to flow, and not feel as forced as it’d been before I started.

Now that I’m nearing the end of my first draft, however, I noticed something had changed: my writing started to flow, the plot suddenly started to make sense, and my characters now live like real people in my mind. I had someone to encourage me, someone who I could share my ideas with, I had someone who cared about helping people reach their writing goals.

Yes, you have to be willing to do the work to reach your dreams, but to have someone there to push you forward when you want to give up, that someone is hard to find, and it’s priceless.

If I didn’t sign up for this workshop, my story would still only exist in my imagination, and I wouldn’t be at 72,000 words in my work-in-progress.

5. What Specific Features Did You Like Best About This Workshop?

I love the feeling of receiving feedback on my story! Jennifer finds a terrific balance between offering constructive feedback, and inspiration at the same time. For instance: there were parts of my novel that didn’t fall into the correct milestones of story construction: the “research” parts fell into the “attack” parts, etc.

While the writing itself was fine, it wasn’t in the right place. She encouraged me to continue forward, and later I could go back to fix it – that is the key to success. Don’t stop writing. If you keep going back to edit and revise, you’ll never finish. As long as you’re aware of which milestone you should be hitting, than you’ll finish!

6. Would You Recommend This Workshop to Other Writers? Why Or Why Not?

Yes, I would highly recommend this workshop to other writers. If they are dedicated, if they are serious about pursuing their dream, than this workshop will help them fulfill that goal of completing a novel. Some writers might worry if they consider themselves pantsers when it comes to plotting out their novel.

Please don’t worry though!

Before I took this workshop, I’d been a pantser, but Jennifer worked with me to find a balance between creating a flexible map that could change as the story progressed. That way, I still had a goal and milestones to meet, so I wouldn’t write myself into a corner, but I could also change some elements if I’d wanted to on the map. That way, I could keep going and finish my novel!

7. Anything Else You’d Like to Add?

For a long time I daydreamed of “one day starting a novel.” That was six or seven years ago! Until you’re actively pursuing your goals, they’re just dreams with no substance, no real depth.

Before you realize it, the years will have passed, and you’ll have nothing to show the world. Don’t let another year pass, put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard and be proactive about pursuing your dream!

 You can learn more about the Idea to Draft Story Intensive here.

Idea to Draft Story Intensive Case Study: Paula Thorne

Case Study_PaulaPaula Thorne joined the Spring 2014 Idea to Draft Story Intensive with a story idea in her mind, but no clear way to execute it on paper … and today she’s more than halfway finished with her first draft. In her own words, here’s how the Idea to Draft Story Intensive has helped her take her story from “idea seed” to (almost) completed first draft:

1. Where Were You With Your Story Before Joining This Workshop?

It was just an idea I had in my head. Nothing on paper.

2. What Challenge Did You Have and/or What Was Preventing You From Writing Your Novel Prior to Joining the Idea to Draft Workshop?

I always wanted to write it, but didn’t really know how to start and I easily get distracted.

3. What, If Any, Hesitations Did You Have Signing Up For This Workshop?

The timeline and managing the deadlines. I was on maternity leave, but had very long and busy days with my baby. The only time I had to write was 2 naps (which went down to 1) and at night after she went to bed. Luckily she started sleeping through the night. But I also had other chores / stuff to do during this time too.

4. What Changes Have You Noticed In Your Story? In Your Writing? In Your Life?

My idea finally took shape and I’ve actually been writing every day. Some days not a whole lot is written, but something is written every day.

5. What Specific Features Did You Like Best About This Workshop?

The timeline and tight deadlines really kept me focused on what needed to be done. I respond very well to deadline pressure which has also helped keep me motivated.

6. Would You Recommend This Workshop to Other Writers? Why Or Why Not?

I would recommend this workshop to others. The timeline / deadline of 4 months may be off-putting at first (and may not for everyone), but I definitely found it helped keep me focused on what needed to be accomplished each week. One step at a time in a logical manner.

As I mentioned before, I’m easily distracted so unless I have a bright flashing sign telling me what needs to get done I will find something else to do.

7. Anything Else You’d Like to Add?

I have made several half assed attempts at writing before. I say half assed now even though at the time I considered it to be serious. But it never led anywhere.

I didn’t finished my first draft in this workshop, but I did get just over half way which is the furthest I have ever come in any of my writing. I truly believe it never would have happened without this workshop.

And the good news is that I’m still writing. Thank you!

 You can learn more about the Idea to Draft Story Intensive here.