Turning Your Story Ideas into a Novel

abstract writing

Now you have a story idea. Your excitement grows while you wait for the computer to load the word document, where you will type your new story. The white page pops up and it is as blank as your mind. You have an idea but you don’t have a clue on how to develop it into a story. 

This can be very demotivating and a waste of time. Luckily, I have a way around this mental obstacle. When I worked as an English teacher in Northern California, one of my favorite units was creative writing. I would break the writing process up into weeks to give students time to develop a short story. The first week the class conducted various brainstorming techniques to get their story idea. The following week was dedicated to structuring that idea. A technique I am going to share with you. 

Welcome to the How. Whether you are a pantser that writes where the inspiration takes you, or a plotter with organized structures, the most successful way to completing a novel is having an outline. Nooooooooo!!!! 

boy yelling

Calm down. It doesn’t have to be that serious or that difficult. You don’t even have to stick to it if you don’t want to. Think of your story outline as a road map to destination: novel completion. And like most road trips you can take detours, or alternative routes.  

An outline won´t stop you from discovering hidden roadways. This fun experience, that the secret inner pantser in me loves, can heighten your experience of the trip while successfully getting you to where you need to be. All with the help of having an outline to help steady you back on your course. 

I will discuss the two ways to go about making an outline for the pantser and the plotters. Feel free to omit steps in the plotter if you want a less constricted plan. Either method should ensure a finished novel. The length of time to completed it will entirely depend on you discipline of finding time to write it. 

Finding the Plot 

First, I should point out the plot. Every story has a simple plot line to follow. You need these points to make a strong story. You can’t just have your characters hanging out at a coffee shop talking. Actions and dramas must happen for the reader to want to read on. 

Let’s breakdown the plot structure in this chart. (I love visuals!) 

plot

Okay, so that is the foundation of any story. The creative writing tricks of foreshadowing, characterization, rich description, theme, irony, etc are weaved throughout this structure. In another blog, I will address these techniques. 

Now let’s look at the different approaches to creating an outline. 

The Method  

You notice that the main theme in a plot is a problem and its possible solutions. In order to make problems, the writer and reader must know a little about the character. 

Step 1: Write out a character sketches. 

  • This can be of your protagonist and your antagonist. Or if it is a romance, the two people who are to fall in love. 
  • Keep it simple. Below is a sketch to use.  
  • Name: 
  • Profession: 
  • Hometown: 
  • Current Location: 
  • Inner desire: (Motivates character to continue through obstacles/solve problem in story) 
  • Outer desire: (Motivates character to continue through obstacles/solve problem in story) 
  • Physical Characteristics: 
  • Likes and dislikes: 

****For plotters: You can modify it to add more. Write quick notes about each one. Include possible information: the character’s family history, past lovers and love failures, ambitions, list of favorites from food to color, their go to outfit (=clothes they normally wear), free time activities, thoughts when first met antagonist and/or love interest, etc.  

Also, researching things like name meanings, characters likes and the setting can help you get a more in-depth understanding of your characters’ world, which will come in handy when you are writing. 

Either way you need to know what to write about your character. Plus, you can always go back and add more during the writing process. This is just to get the ball rolling. 

 

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Step 2: Identifying the problem 

What is the main conflict in your novel? What will bring your narrative to life? 

The classic conflicts in the majority of successful stories are: 

  • Character vs. Character 
  • Character vs. Nature 
  • Character vs. Self 
  • Character vs. Supernatural 
  • Character vs. Technology (Ex:) 
  • Character vs. Society (Ex: Animal Farm) 

Both pantsers and plotters should write out the main problem then spider graph the possible solutions. Next, write the possible problems created from those solutions. Here, you have constructed a web of ideas to fall back to when you are stuck. Obviously, the plotters´ web will be far more detailed than pantser. 

This is a good place to do some research about the topics in your story. It may help you come up with more problems and solutions. 

Step 3: Make a Loose Outline 

Following the procession of events set in the basic plot, write quick notes on what scene/actions should take place during each plot point. 

I’ll use the story of Cinderella for an example: 

  • Incident:  
    • Cinderella, sweetie who has evil stepsisters and step mother. Set in a land far away at her house. Conflict/Problem: not allowed to go to ball where prince will choose a wife 
  • Rising action:  
    • godmother allows her to go to ball but must be back by midnight. Dances with prince and falls in love 
  • Climax:  
    • midnight Cinderella must leave before she turns back. Prince doesn’t know who she is or how to find her but she leaves a glass slipper.  
      • (Here the original conflict is solved but with an added complication: Cinderella got to go to the ball but the prince can´t find the bride he has chosen. Now, it´s the prince´s problem, not Cinderella. Her conflict was resolved. In the falling action, we see the aftermath of her resolved conflict.) 
  • Falling Action:  
    • Prince has all the females in the land try on the shoe. Stepmother breaks shoe. 
  • Resolution:  
    • Cinderella has the spare shoe. Marries prince. 

This can be as detailed as you would like, pantsers. Plotters will probably write over 2,000 words in this section alone. Take the day to do this. Come back to it until you have a loose guide. 

****For plotters: Let the plot line you have created marinate for a day or two. Later, go back and add more details such as, how the character gets to one plot point to the other; what other characters come involve at those particular parts of the story; connect the path of conflicts arising; etc. 

After a week or less, you should have a strong direction of where your story is going. 

Step 4: Finally, the Hardcore Outline! 

Pantser this is where you will probably leave us. The next step is a method for plotters. But everyone is welcome to try it. 

For each plot point, write notes on a scene that would express the ideas in that point. I’m a fan of the less detail the better but I like to fall back on a general idea. Again, this is up to your discretion.  

Be sure the scenes are in the order you would like the story to go. It is okay if you decide later to switch out scenes or delete/add scenes. This is only guidelines to get you to complete a writing piece. 

now what

What Now? 

Well, write. 

It should take up to a week or more to complete this process of planning. I like to do it over about 5 days then use the weekend for the novel to settle in my head before I start writing.  

Don’t expect a masterpiece. The important part is to get the words down. If you notice that your flow is constantly being interrupted by research, or lack of how to describe something, just highlight a note to yourself to go back in the editing process and fix it. Continue to write without minimal details holding you back. The editing process will smooth out all those bumps later. 

 

Now you are equipped with a story idea and how to make it into a novel. Good luck! Let me know how it goes. 

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