Making sure your story idea is sound

You have a brilliant idea for a story. You can imagine the main character and even the opening scene…but when you sit down to write, you realize that is all you have. You don’t have a complete story with a structured plot and a satisfying ending. All you have is this great story idea.

Last week, I wrote about the different way to come up with story ideas. But it is one thing to come up with a story idea and quite another to make it into an actual novel. You need to make sure your idea is developed enough and that there is adequate conflict to sustain your story.

Now, I don’t typically write short stories, and I don’t write novellas. 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.

Now technically any idea can be turned into a novel or short story, depending on how you handle it. But also remember that some ideas are easier to turn into a whole novel than others and a story idea that works for someone else, may not work for you.

So you have your story idea, what do you need to do next?

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.

The easiest 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. 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 evil without a reason.

It also helps if your plot lends itself to complications. As I said before you don’t want to add “fluff” to your novel but some plots are more naturally open to twists and turns than others.

There is no easy test to see if your story idea has what it takes to be developed into a full-length novel. You can look at the plot and the main characters and still not know. Sometimes you just have to start writing (or seriously outline for you “plotters” out there) to see what you have.

This is the second in a three-part series. Next week: Coming up with an original idea.