By Julie Daines
Scott's great post, "Where Do You Get Your Ideas" has made me want to post another follow-up article: Taking those ideas and converting them into a story that works.
As writers, we are constantly collecting ideas, but rarely do those ideas come complete with a 65,000 word plot. Here are three simple ways to help convert those seeds into a whole story.
1. Take the idea and infuse it with conflict. This is sometimes called the "what if" game. Drawing on Scott's description of the Chinese restaurant where a unique cast of characters are assembled: What if the the TV they are watching suddenly flashes a warning, there's been an attack on the United States? What if there's an earthquake and they're trapped? What if a diner didn't like his Mu Shu Pork and opens fire on the patrons?
Keep the conflicts piling up until you've got a whole story of rising and falling action. This especially works good for plot-driven stories. If you want a more character-driven story, keep your first idea intact, but then carefully explore number 2.
2. Create characters and give them some wants. You can take an idea and turn it into a premise by exploring the main character. Start by giving your main character some basic characteristics. Don't worry if they sound cliche, the deeper character development will come later. Then start brainstorming what that character wants, and then the why they can't have it. Be sure to use action words.
Take the caucasian couple in Scott's restaurant. You can't just say John wants to date Sally. You have to add verbs and be specific: John is desperate to prove to Sally that he is not just another stupid high school jock. Now add to that more action questions: How will he do that? Does he have any skills that might interest Sally? Why does Sally hate Jocks... And you can turn your premise into a story--especially when the earthquake hits.
3. Adaptation. It's been said that there are no new stories, just different ways of telling them. Different characters, settings, and so on. I believe this is true.
Folk tales, Shakespeare, old classics... many of these can be updated and used for inspiration. The advantage is already having a plot set-up that works. And by the end, your original source will most likely not be recognizable.
In this one scene from the chinese restaurant you've got the makings for a cinderella story--only make cinderella the dishwasher boy in the kitchen. You've got Romeo and Juliet with a chinese girl who wants to marry a caucasian man. And so many more...
Anyway, good luck taking your seeds and growing them into a beautiful, mighty oak.