story development (creativity) The imaginative and creative process of taking a first idea and developing it into a full story. There is the first jolt of an idea that might create a story. It could come from: a personal event: something that happened to you, to someone you know, or it can be a story that you’ve heard
It might come from a theme. Such as; will people take personal responsibility for others in a crisis? What will a patriot do for their country?
It could come from a factual source: book, television, news, internet
It could be from a fictional source: film, play or book. You will add new elements. You could have an idea that tries to improve or oppose an existing story
Your story could be within a genre that you particularly like or understand very well.
An idea will not develop into a full story unless it has some resonance with you. Success in storytelling will come from recognizing and focusing on ideas that you like and which you can write in a format, within a genre, with a dramatic structure that connects with a reader. To develop an idea into a story you need:
A plot that is coherent and works within a credible world
Characters with back stories, with motivations, with conflicts and relationships
A narrative structure that tells the story within a dramatic and involving format
Things to do to develop stories: Note ideas, sit with them, think about them, work on them; build an idea into a story with events and things happening: a static story is no good.
Interrogate your ideas: are they any good? Is your idea developing? Is the jolt of an initial idea coming to nothing? Is it time to move on to another idea?
Outline your story, then put that outline into a plan that identifies the separate chapters for a book: is it a whole story? Is it enough for a novel? Is it too complex and confusing?
Read your story aloud. Read it to someone else. Do they ‘get it’? Do they enjoy it? If you’re the only person who understands the story, then you’ve probably got a problem with your characters and motivation.
Stand back and judge your story. Finish a story and after a few weeks read it again. With this gap in time, you will see what it is that’s missing or fails in the story, because it’s not well told. What’s weak will come through, and also what’s good will be clear and certain. This practice, coming back to the writing after a period of time, works well to judge a book, because you’re reading the story from a distance, and you can see it from the standpoint of a reader, rather than a writer.
Start a story using a source: The concept of jig-sawing is one that sets out how to develop stories by moving narrative elements around and fitting them together to make a coherent story. These narrative elements come from a range of sources and while there is no absolutely clear way to find a start for a good story idea it’s useful to know where to look and also to note, that more of than not, in creating stories, writers’ use a range of sources for a single work. Using established formats and genres: Why start from the blank page? Why start from scratch and reinvent the wheel? Why not look carefully at how established formats and genres tell stories? Choose whatever type of story that appeals to you; thriller, mystery, romance, study it well, and then use it as a springboard. What you add to a format – the setting, the characters, the specifics of the plot are what make the story original.
The problematic aspect of using established formats and genres as your guide is superficiality; where a weak understanding of story genre leads to poor imitations of successful work, and a reliance on what is worn out; the clichés of plotting, using hammy out-of-date stereotypes. Working from a base, a genre, that is established, is a strength, but the writer must avoid re-hashing, and producing hackneyed work.
Developing new work from other stories: If you know a fiction story very well, the precise details of its plot and characters, you can develop a sense of how those characters might behave in another situation and in doing so create a new and different story for them. Can you imagine a sequel? Here you are saying; ‘I know this story, but where does it go from here?’
When you watch a film or read a book do you sometimes say; ‘The plot didn’t work and this is what should have happened …’ If ever you do have those thoughts, then at that moment you have started to create a new and different story.
Though it is not highly publicized the practice of having multiple writers working with the same characters is common; many authors have written Sherlock Holmes and also James Bond stories. This re-use of characters happens in books, television shows, film sequels and film prequels: so, to create your own story why not do this?
Writing for the market: Why not write stories that people want? Look at the top films and the bestseller lists for books. Look at the work of the most successful screenwriters and authors. Can you find a similar type of story, with the same type of characters? Writing for the market can give you a place to start and you can develop your own story style from there. This approach should not be just a case of imitating and copying, but one of developing, changing, and revitalizing.
Working from people: By deciding to devise a story with a person you know or a historical figure, you have already put in place someone, a figure, who you can develop into a story character. This person will give you incidents, relationships, social context and history.
The challenge with real people and real lives is that they do not behave with the consistency of fictional characters and their stories do not necessarily fit into a dramatic structure with a clear set of acts and a suitably powerful and poignant climax. If you work from a person you can’t just put them into fiction, you need to make an effort to define them as fictional characters; create a back story for them, give them clear motivations.
Working from true life and history: Putting a story in a historical context gives you a rich environment to work from. You know how the society is structured, what its mores and morals are, what creates conflict in that society and what stories might emerge from this. You can choose a society you know well personally, or one that you have studied during your education or you can research a society that is new to you. A great bonus is that you can find historical sources, visit historical sites, even, interview participants in the actual events to develop your story idea. You can then create fictional characters who will successfully inhabit that era.
Working from personal events and biography: The closest source of events that might be developed into a story is your personal life. This has good potential but as with other real life sources it needs to be fictionalized and developed. What is interesting and worthwhile as a personal experience is not necessarily of interest to others; a fiction based on a true story still needs to have themes, structure, narrative drive, entertainment. Often, personal stories tend to be incidents, anecdotes, and these bits and pieces don’t have the plotting to keep a reader interested. The personal story might fill a couple of pages, but at two hundred pages might well be only a set of episodes.
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, is an example where real life characters have been renamed for a fiction novel. This book does have a meandering sense of story, which is the problem for many weak books, but in this case it is saved by having a strong relationship between the two central characters, and by the quality and style of the prose.
It’s fine to write a memoir, or a roman à clef, but this is not likely to be something that others want to read, unless the people involved are already famous. The difficulty is that those who regularly read novels are familiar with the genres, the kind of story they like, the type of literature they prefer, and a one-off story, by an unknown writer, has far less appeal to publishers and to the reading public.
Working from places and locations: The specifics of a place, from a country, to a town, to a single building can help you create stories. Specific locations, the shape of rooms, how buildings are laid out, can give you a sense of the possibilities for how action and events can take place. Rather than imagining from scratch what the setting for a story is like it can be much easier to consider an actual place and use this, because then the setting is much more concrete, and it is easier to develop fictional ideas, which are well thought out. You can always create your own buildings and locations, and even draw maps or diagrams. A story is easier to imagine if you have a plan of the world where the events takes place.
In Robert Harris’s novel Fatherland, there is a fictional Berlin, and to make sure that the reader understands this there is a map of the city at the start of the book. Similarly, Tolkein, drew maps of his fantasy world of hobbits, elves and orcs. A writer with no clear idea of their fictional world risks being inconsistent and unconvincing when describing action and events in their story.
Working from themes: If you identify a theme or a topic that you want to write a story about you can try to fit it into a range of formats: this theme might be driven by a political viewpoint, a social perspective, a personal belief, or a social issue that occupies or interests you. Rather than just looking for stories almost at random, it is easier to have a theme that creates an environment where a story can grow. If your interest was the effects of slavery, you might not want to write a historical novel, but could shift this situation into another setting.
Working from research: Research can feed into any writing project. But it can also be a source for ideas. If you study a topic, any subject, you can approach it with the idea that you will try and see if stories emerge from this research.
Summary: What to work for to become a creative writer
Gather story material: To ensure that you have enough material at hand to help your storytelling you need to make a commitment to be a storyteller, which means that you will consciously look for and gather story material.
Recognizing your motivation to write: Liking films or books is not enough to want to write. If you can recognize your strongest motivation this can drive you forward and keep you going as a storyteller, rather than you remaining a consumer of stories.
Recognizing your strengths: Just because you like a particular type of story, doesn’t mean that you should write it. Your own strengths in storytelling can be quite different from your taste as a consumer. If you find it easier to imagine and write one type of story, then this is probably the right genre for you. Also, you don’t have to write for yourself. You could, for instance write for young readers or write stories set in different environments to the world you inhabit.
Putting aside weak or unrealized ideas: Just because you have an idea for a story does not make this a good idea. When you first start thinking about stories any plotting or characters you have may seem precious. These ideas may develop, but don’t hang onto a setting or incident that doesn’t keep growing. If, after a couple of months, what you’re thinking about hasn’t built into a structured plot with developed characters, set these bits and pieces of story aside, and begin thinking about another novel. There’s no need to completely discard your first ideas, but it’s just not giving you enough to start writing. You need to start again.
Give time and effort to developing stories: You have an idea, it’s vague, but you have to spend specific time and effort thinking about a full and complete story, working on ideas, mapping it out, re-starting. You can’t wait for a story to form fully fledged. The starting idea for a story will die on you if you don’t work to develop it.
Keeping notes of story ideas: Days go by in a distracting rush. The habit of making notes, of keeping a store of ideas is important. Good ideas will be lost and vague ideas will never crystallize if you don’t put something down on paper, or on computer, and then return to work with these notes.
Keeping successful work habits: You need time to think about your stories and you need time to write. When you commit to a long story you need a lot of time, and a sustained effort and concentration to carry it through.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019