I’m in that battling through ideas stage, wondering what thread of excitement engages me enough to begin story development. It sounds easier than it is. Some ideas will be best expressed as poetry, others as a short story and others in a novel.
How does one get past the muddled mess and move forward? Here are five questions to help you determine how you want your inner storyteller to tell the tale.
Is this a story with interwoven plots and subplots?
Complex stories can be told in any form, including poetry. Think of The Iliad by Homer, a marathon Greek poem about the Trojan war, or Caged Bird, by Maya Angelou, a story about freedom. Could these tales have been told in a different way? Probably, but not as poignantly. That said, if you have a story that’s deep and wide, consider writing a novel, or at the very least, a novella. You have more time and space for compelling characters and intriguing plots.
Is this story a shovel or a knife?
A shovel digs deep and uncovers what is hidden; a knife is more precise and goes to the central theme without a lot of lead in. Deep is best handled in a novel; precision in a short story or poem. O. Henry was the master of short form writing with satisfying – often unexpected – endings. Remember The Gift of the Magi?
What audience is the story geared toward?
I don’t like to bring it up, but yes, you do need an audience for your work, no matter what you write. Children’s books are written in a certain way for very good reasons. Consider carefully the profile of your reader and forge ahead accordingly. One of my favorite authors is David Baldacci. This is a writer who knows his audience and creates powerful characters in compelling situations. His novels sell worldwide and have been translated into many languages.
How much do you love your idea?
Writing a story is a process. The seed is just that, a seed. For it to grow into something that will inform and entertain requires nurture (creativity), weeding (editing), and feeding (revising).
But – as writer and literary agent Lisa Cron would ask – how much do you know about your character before you push him or her onto page one of your novel?
Cron, the author of “Wired for Story” encourages writers to understand their protagonists’ deeply and well before proceeding. This isn’t pre-writing; it’s exploring the lead characters backstory so, as the author, you know going in the “inside intel” that drives the character and mucks up his or her life as they make their way forward. It sounds easy, does it not? Well, it isn’t. It is probably the most difficult thing a writer must do. Is it worth the effort? Cron says, yes, citing authors in her acquaintance who – by way of this process – went from rejection to seven-figure book sales.
My stumbling block is focus. To write, one needs to set everything else aside an focus on the goal, and be willing to do the work.
Back to basics. Who is my story about? What does she want? What does she fear that will keep her from achieving that goal? How can she overcome her fear and succeed? Therein lies – THE STORY.