Ever wonder how people come up with wild original stories and vast colorful worlds?
Many writers and readers think it’s a God-given gift that few possess, and even less have mastered. The truth however is that at the heart of every story lies a very simple core, the concept. Don’t believe me? Take these:
The One v. Symbol of Evil (Harry Potter)
Rebel v. Tyrant (Hunger Games)
Group 1 v. Group 2 (Twilight; talking about Vampires and Werewolves here… sprinkle in a Love Triangle and voila)
‘But all those are Young Adult novels. Of course they are not as complex.’ You think that makes a difference? Take these:
Tragic Hero v. Evil Uncle (Lion King… I meant to say Hamlet)
Rebel v. Tyrant (1984; same concept as Hunger Games, yet the approach is more intellectual)
Creation v. Creator (Frankenstein)
Now if you think your concept is boring it’s just because you haven’t dressed it up. All concepts root back to basic archetypes wherefore the term ‘original’ is really inapplicable when talking about concepts. I challenge anyone to find a single book with an ‘original’ concept. If you do I will review your book. More on archetypes in my next post.
So here is my top 5 list (in no particular order) about ways to find the perfect story:
Can’t be easier than this, can it? I come up with the craziest out of the box twists on common concepts in my sleep. By now I have an entire list of future titles I will write as I get the time, ranging from Thrillers to High Fantasy. Number 1 rule here: Write your ideas down the moment you wake up. It can be overwhelming to outline the whole narrative, but what I do is spend a moment recalling the plotline. Usually, since it’s a dream, it has gaps and logical fallacies so I thread it together the best I can and give it a vivid title or a one sentence description. Now when I look at my list and see the description/title, the story immediately pops back into my mind.
- In the moment (write them down)
Ever been on a long roadtrip? Often times when I pass by old castles or interesting sites, I get creative sparks. In such moments I immediately pull out my phone, open a notes app, and type down whatever comes to my mind. One time I wrote an entire Shakespearean sonnet within two minutes on my phone as I walked through the grocery store. Trust me, you will have those moments in the strangest places. You never know when or where you can use those ideas and prewritten texts.
- Real life events with a twist
Maybe you are looking in the wrong places for good story material. While you are digging and digging in the news for something to spark your creativity, the perfect story can already be happening—in your life. Family drama, relationship aspirations, or things happening in your career can sometimes be the perfect foundation for a page turner. But don’t be fooled, your life alone is probably too boring for people to read it… so put a spin on it. Say that new cute guy in your biology class is a vampire, or that stepdad you hate (who also happens to be your uncle) is the King of Denmark (see what I did there). Putting twists and major changes on common ideas is the key to writing an exciting novel. For a case study, check out this article about my novel Dark Age.
- Untold side of your favorite movie/book
If you are anything like me, you probably wonder about the motivations behind people. For example, I often question why the antagonists of my favorite novels or movies became the way they are. The result is quite fascinating. Because for every story about a Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, there is a story about a William Wallace or Spartacus. If the market is oversaturated with stories focused on Rebels, then write a story centered around the Tyrant. Dig into his character and find why he became an oppressor. Find out for example the heart, soul, and inner motivations behind the evil wizard or the coldhearted monster. The ambiguity of good versus evil paradigms is personally very important to me, as you will see in my works. It’s one of the reasons I admire Mary Shelley for creating Frankenstein, the most vivid, real, and ‘human’ monster in fiction.
- Theme first story will come second
So maybe you just don’t seem to come up with your Westeros or Middle Earth. Character and world-building can take time. And it can distract. When all else fails and you can’t think of a story, maybe you are asking the wrong questions. Start asking “What do I want to talk about?” “What message do I want to send?” It’s important to me that people question what is happening around them, but I also want to caution those that question too much as an obsession for knowledge can be destructive. So when I wrote Dark Age, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I only had to figure out HOW I would say it. And for that I could use some of the ideas I had gathered from Step 1 and 2.
EXAMPLE: You watch a lot of Crime TV-shows. But there are already so many thrillers, and adding one to the pile might not be as original. So why not write a story about a criminal, let’s call him Bob.
Personally you feel that it is very important to take responsibility for your actions, and you want more people to think like you. So that will be your driving theme… the problem is that Bob never takes responsibility for the mistakes he makes. What starts as a petty theft turns into many small repeated offenses, then his first jailbreak, more serious offenses, drug problems, and on the run he keeps committing worse crimes… until one day he kills a cop. Then there is no turning back.
One of your best friends is always gone on business trips and drinks a little too much. The way his relationship is under constant strain may be a great inspiration for how Bob could have the love of his life in his arms, but he is too busy messing things up and running away, that ultimately he loses her.
At breakfast you read a headline about abuse of policepower. Is it out of the ordinary? Did it make you go “wow”? Maybe when Bob was a teen he was subjected to bad treatment by officers, and since then felt an apathy against them.
You have a nightmare. You are locked in a room. You cannot escape. The sweat is sitting on your neck and is turning ice cold. Wildly you run around pounding on closed doors, but there is just no way out. You wake up terrified. Immediately write down how you just felt. This could make an interesting scene about Bob in prison.
Is Bob’s story completely fleshed out. Of course not, but I made this up in 5 minutes, based on experiences you could find around you on a day to day basis. That’s how you turn a cold piece of writing into a living and breathing one. As you see here however it can very likely take a mix of the five steps. I hope this got you thinking. If you have any questions or thoughts, comment below. For more advanced awesome free tips, sign up for my newsletter on writing.