Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

This post is the third in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Last week, I wrote about three areas you need to develop before you start writing your novel. Then I began thinking about it. This is a series for people starting out in writing. Perhaps you don’t have a story idea, or perhaps you have one but can’t determine if it is good enough or has sufficient conflict to last over the length of a novel.

Now, I don’t typically write short stories, and I don’t write novellas. (Check out word lengths for different stories here.) I write novels that are over 80,000 words. That means there needs to be quite a bit of a story to make it carry through all those pages. You can certainly brainstorm other ideas for things to happen in your novel, but you don’t want to fill the story with “fluff” just to meet a certain number of words. Every scene in your story needs to advance the plot.

Where to get story ideas

There are many ways to get ideas for a story. I am only going to focus on two of them here. (You can use Google to find more if you need them.)

You can save time on researching and planning if Write What You Know. This does not mean that you need to write about YOUR life. It simply means take things you are familiar with and use these as a springboard into your story.

Use your fear of snakes and how it makes you feel as inspiration for a novel. Or if you grew up on a farm, it will be easy for you to write a story set on a farm or ranch.

There is a level of authenticity that outsiders just can’t match. Someone who has lived in the mountains and braved a cold winter, someone who has done archery or competed in a beauty pageant will be able to bring a little extra realism to their work than someone who only did research.

Writing what you know can mean putting it into a different world or a different time. I am not saying to write about your life. I am talking about taking your experiences, your fears, your dreams, and your knowledge – whether it be of a location, a hobby or a profession – and put those things into your story.

So what do you do if you don’t have a story idea at all? Brainstorm!

While many authors have so many ideas bouncing around in their heads, newbies (and even a few veteran authors) may need help deciding on a story idea. Check out my blog on 9 ways to brainstorm story ideas.

Making Sure Your Story Ideas is Sound

Once you have your story idea, you need to make it is good enough to be made into a full-length novel. But there is no easy test to see if your story idea has what it takes. You can look at the plot and the main characters and still not know. Sometimes you just have to start writing to see what you have.

But here are two suggestions that might help you decide before you write.

Method #1 –

One solution is to write out a basic plot outline (even if you aren’t an outline type of person). Consider subplots that can be interwoven into the story and add those to your outline. As you do this, look for holes in your story. Keep asking yourself why – why is this happening, why is this character doing this or that? As you answer these questions and fill in the holes of your story, you will be able to see if you can develop a strong story or if your story plot just isn’t strong enough.

Method #2 –

Another easy way to have a strong story is to develop a good protagonist. Do they have a past? What drives them to act in your story? The more details and depth you have to your protagonist, the better. A good character can make a story. Of course, a good, well developed antagonist is equally important. Remember people don’t stand in your way for no reason and hardly ever is anyone just born evil. There is a reason for what they do even if it is rational only in their mind.

Now let’s say you come up with an idea, but you are thinking your plot sounds familiar. Some people say that there are no new stories. That everything that comes out is just a rehashed version of other stories, and if you look at the movie industry with all of its “remakes” of older movies it would be easy to conclude this is true.

In many stories, the originality doesn’t come for the actual story but from the tone of the story or the characters involved. If you can create unique characters, an “old” story line can be brought to new life.

For more on originality – check out my post “Can your story idea be original?

So hopefully, you have a story idea in mind. Now it is time to start doing a little planning before you write. And next week, I will start with covering the first item on my “Three areas to develop before starting to write your novel” – characters.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

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