Are you struggling to develop your ideas and story concepts into sound characters, and brilliant plot-line?
Do you ever come up with this fantastical, x-factor story idea, and then boom. You can’t think of a way, or rather the right way, to bring it to life?
And, you have no clue who your characters really are and what they should bring to the story?
Don’t worry – it happens to us all.
It’s an absolute nightmare!
But, it’s going to be ok.
When a roadblock steps in front of us writers, what do we do? Bulldoze it out of the way with a ten-tonne truck! (Disclaimer, please don’t hit literal roadblocks with trucks… That could be bad, like, really bad).
Struggling with concept development has been the bane of my existence since I first put pen to paper. Often than not, I’ll write out a few pages of a story I really love, only to let it gather dust all because I don’t know where to take it or what to really do with it. It’s so gosh darn frustrating!
But luckily and much to my astonishment, I’ve found a few nifty ways to overcome this writing dilemma, and I figure if they helped me, they’ll certainly help you!
Find out what works for you – and stick to it!
Writers in some ways share a lot of similarities. For the most part, we’re always unhappy with our work, and rejection makes us want to scrape our nails across a chalkboard.
But still, even in spite of such similarities, we differ drastically in how we like to do things and overcome hurdles.
The first step to turning a great story concept into an even greater story, is to figure out what works for you. Learn to understand yourself; how do you think about things, how do you learn, what makes you tick?
When you have a firm grasp of who you are and what you’re capable of, it’ll be easier for you to set in place steps that’ll help you achieve the goals you want to achieve.
So this means, it’s always good to remember that you’re you – different and unique.
Don’t fret when what works for one writer doesn’t work for you. Just carry on with a smile on your face, and keep attempting new techniques and ideas – eventually something will stick.
Ask yourself questions
An awesome way to help you develop story concepts, and a trick I believe will work for just about everyone I hope, is to ask yourself questions.
Sit down and write out a list like:
- What does my character want?
- What is the premise of this story?
- What is the setting of the story, and how does the setting affect people?
- What is the history of the people I am writing about, and the world they live in?
And an especially great question to ask, if you’ve already roughed out the plot is – how does my main character feel about the plot?
For instance, if the plot of your story is this epic, winding narrative, where a hero must conquer a fierce dragon who has ruled the land for a millennium. Figure out how your character feels about the journey they must undertake and the dragon they must vanquish.
Are they sad, angry, frustrated? Whatever they feel, is a big indicator of their personality, and it’s a brilliant start to building a believable character and a solid story.
Another thing you can do to supercharge this trick, is to get a friend to ask you questions – be broad, and don’t give them too many details about your story idea – give them just enough. Then, let them fire away questions which you’ll inevitably have to answer.
Turn your concepts on their head
A lot of us, when coming up with a great idea for a novel or short story, tend to start with the plot first – ignoring characters for the most part, and letting setting rot away pleasantly in the backgrounds of our minds.
This is utterly wrong, and a hindrance to good writing.
What makes a story, will always be its characters. Whether you write literary fiction, or sweeping adventures, your story still wouldn’t be much of a story without a character here or there.
A productive way to visualise and develop concepts, is to try and start with the characters first – specifically, the main character.
Figure out who that character is. Look into their personal back-story. What was their childhood like, what motivates them, what makes them want to stab needles into their eyes etc etc etc.
If you know your character, it’s easier to create a plot that flows effortlessly.
Because the characters you’ve created are so in tune to the world they live in, or should be, that plot will almost seem like its coming directly from their actions. Not some omniscient overarching author, forcing unnecessary plot-points and tedious reactions that are stale and bereft of foreshadowing.
Think about it. Life tends to work like this – we do something stupid or grandiose, and the world ends up throwing it back at us. There is always a reaction to our actions!
If we know our characters, and the plot stems around their personality, their thoughts, and their behaviours, it makes sense that it’ll be an easier story to write. And, a more believable one at that.
Throw your characters in a room, and keep ’em there!
Trying out writing exercises prior to undertaking a giant writing project, is always a useful technique to keep in your arsenal.
If you want to successfully hit concept development right on the head each and every time, routine is a must. And a great routine to implement is – shove your characters in a room, once you know who they are and what they want, and get them talking and doing things.
Don’t plan this thing out, and don’t over-think it! That’s not what we want here.
What we want is for your characters to start acting like real living human-beings. And, the only way to do that, is to get them talking and doing what they do best – be who they are.
As you write, and this can be for however long you want – you never know, you might get a scene out of this, your characters will begin either slowly or with speed to become real. They will in a way, seem like tangible people you can reach out and touch.
This is what you want.
You want whatever you write, be it wondrous or contemporary, to have some form of legitimacy underlying it.
You see, readers cannot imagine or relate to (For the most part), what they don’t understand or what is extremely unusual. For instance, a reader is more inclined to relate to a homeless man who is divorced from an abusive wife, than a green-tentacled jelly-like ooze that wobbles around on the surface of mars.
Now, I’m not saying don’t write aliens or monsters as your main characters, what I am saying is you need to personify them. You need to add a touch and a dash of humanity, or else you risk the chance of people being unable to connect to the story you are trying to write.
Utilising this writing exercise, helps you to achieve that human-quality necessary for good stories faster than it would if you just wrote your story from the get go.
Rough out the big stuff
Once you know your characters, and have an idea for a story that centres around or focuses on them, you might still get stuck. But there’s a way to fix this.
If you’re a pantser – a person who doesn’t plan AT ALL, this tip probably isn’t for you. But if you’re not, keep on reading!
What you need to do, is sketch out the big plot-points in your narrative. You know, the stuff that makes your readers swoon, faint, vomit, whatever’s your fancy.
Afterwards, you’ll have a rough outline of where you want to go and what you want to do. Now, you need to get into the small details.
How are your characters going to get from point A, to point B?
Take logical steps, and curate and define scenes that will ultimately lead your character bit by bit, to that all-encroaching climax and epiphany at the end of your story.
Make sure each scene makes sense, and it matches your characters down to a T. Again, one of the biggest hurdles for writers, is writing a story with characters that don’t act believably.
The key here, is to make sure every situation and circumstance transitions with ease from one piece of plot to the next. You want the journey to have made sense – to a degree. And you want the readers to feel like everything is smooth and consistent.
Often than not, planning out your story is harder than writing it!
So, perhaps, this method will work for you not because you have a map of your novel, but rather because you’ll be so frustrated from analysing every angle of your character’s head, and what will come next in their lives, you’ll be begging to just get down and dirty and develop your concept into the awesome story it’s supposed to be.
Theme – you need it
Sometimes, as writers, we can get distracted with one aspect of our concept/story and end up forgetting another. Most commonly, this will be theme. Yet, theme is a necessity for every single novel on the earth!
Theme, is in simple terms, the personality of your story – it’s the way it feels, the message it wants to give, and the topic being discussed. It’s basically the glue that sticks every little piece of the puzzle together. Without it? Any ideas of concept development can be torn up, and thrown down the drain.
To establish theme, you need to think long and hard about what message you are trying to give to readers.
For example, say your story is a gritty thriller with a dark underbelly and a focus on violence and corruption, it makes sense that your theme would perhaps be ‘murder’ or ‘hate’, maybe even greed! But, what makes even more sense is for the theme to be violence or corruption, since it’s what your story is about!
Whatever your story is discussing, that’s your theme, and you need to make it blossom.
Use specific language that matches your theme – challenge yourself. Try to make every page in your story stick steadfast to your story’s personality so that it has consistency, and it matches every plot-point and whatever else you want to throw inside it.
Ok, so, I think that’s about it! What I’ve learned in this good ole’ journey when it comes to writing, conceptualising stories, and brewing them into 100,000 word novels. Is that understanding your characters, your plot, your theme, and yourself is a must.
You need to know where you’re going, and how you’re going to go about it. If you don’t well – you won’t be able to lay down a single sentence you’ll be happy with.
Remember, find out who your character is and what they want. Get to know them, and get to know the world they live in. Quality plot will eventually follow. And soon? Words will fly effortlessly from your typing fingertips.
Stay focused, stay committed, and do your research. As long as you want to write a good story, nothing can stop you doing that but yourself.