How to find story ideas and the story’s concept is one of the key ingredients to writing a great story. How we go about finding story ideas is not often talked about. The Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference that was recently held in Pasadena was filled with useful information for writers, from how to deepen your characters to overcoming writer’s block. While, the information provided by the presenters at the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference was a testament to how important mastering the art of craft is for our writing, not a lot was centered on how to find your idea.
Larry Brook’s presentation on The Promise of the Premise was very helpful as he stressed the importance of the story’s concept and premise. When writing a story, it all starts with the great concept which is really an idea or thought that emerges in the mind that catches your attention. This then fuels and frames the story’s premise. While he said, “a conceptually driven premise is the secret to putting your story in a position to succeed,” it is the concept that fuels the creative process.
The story idea leads to the concept which is a situation, condition or even a setting that is intriguing and inherently interesting. It often starts with the magical ‘what if’ question that gets you thinking in about an idea that is provocative, engaging and perhaps even terrifying. Here are some examples that Larry Brooks’s gave for The Da Vinci Code: What if the largest spiritual belief system is based on a lie? How about Harry Potter: What if a paranormally gifted child is sent to a secret school for kids like him?
When we find a story idea that has a powerful concept, this leads naturally to the premise and to the dramatic arc of the story. While there is a lot of information on story structure and craft which is critical to a well told story, if you don’t have the right concept, your story may not develop legs and grow. So once again it is about getting the idea, that leads to the concept and the premise.
Finding your story idea and concept is not something that is readily taught. Many of our story ideas tend to come from our experiences and or what intrigues us. Some writer’s say it begins with a situation or problem and others with a character.
One of the presenters who was particularly engaging was Neal Shusterman who did the final closing talk. He talked about his process and how he came up with some of his story ideas which included reading a disturbing article about teenagers in England, that got his imagination intrigued combined with another on the psychology of the American voter and the issue of abortion. This triggered the question, what happens when the issues get out of control and you end up with a worst solution to the problem?
In reflecting on the wisdom that was shared over the weekend at the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference, I would say that novel writing is a unique passion that brings out our curiosity, and what we are each being uniquely called to write about based on our experiences and what is below the surface that wants to be explored. Trust your instincts, when something interests you ask yourself why, then start to let your imagination have fun by asking the magical question what if…. Journal what you come up with and try to find the big concept or idea. After that, you can start to think about the characters and situation. This is a subject that particularly interest me. If you want to read more check out Where Your Stories Come From. I would be very interested if anyone else wanted to share their thoughts on how they get their story ideas. Have fun.