If you’re creating a story from scratch there are hundreds of places to start. These are a few jumping off points:
- A hero – what does he want? What does she need? What’s bugging him? What’s her backstory and how is it holding her back?
- A villain – what is their dastardly plan?
- A victim – who needs to be rescued, and what kind of danger are they in?
- A theme – this is a big one. What is your story really all about? If you know that, then you can make the other choices to match.
- A world – where is the story set? On our world? A fantasy or sci-fi world? Or somewhere else entirely – a world no one else has ever thought of?
- A location – similar to the above, but more focused. Is this a story set on a Scottish island? Or in Peru? Those choices will shape everything else.
- A setting – which may sound similar to location, but actually is wider. For example, the setting could be a hospital, a firm of lawyers, a military base, a police station, an office, a home, a prison, a space station.
- A genre – are you writing a murder mystery or a romance? A thriller or a hard-boiled sci-fi noir?
- An inciting incident – something happens that sparks a story into life, creating problems that must be resolved.
- A climax – it’s always useful to know where the story is heading. Do you have a vision for a great finale? The rest of the story can be structured to rise to his ending.
- A transformation – is there something your hero must learn? A change they must make? Or something about their own nature which they must realise and either cast it off or embrace fully?
- A character flaw that you want to investigate – think Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. (This is very closely related to theme).
- A single compelling scene – which can act as the fulcrum around which the rest of the story unfolds.
- A clash of ideas – create characters and incidents which dramatise the conflict.
- A crucible – in any story, there has be something holding all the major players together so they can’t simply walk away from the conflict. The crucible could include many of the items above – for example the setting if they are in business together, or all in prison together. Or they could be on a submarine. Or related. Or in love.
- A title – this can work, but you have a long way to go! Sometimes, though, a perfect or even simply a very stark and direct title can be the launchpad for the all the other story ideas: Jaws, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds.
- A mood – beware of this one. You might spend a lot of time going around in circles. Or not creating compelling incidents or characters. A story is about something happening.
- A discovery – this is related to the inciting incident, of course, but doesn’t have to come right at the start.
That should be enough to be going on with. Though there are plenty more options out there. What works for you?
Photo: 'Every Journey Begins with a. . .New Attitude' by Heidi via Flickr and Creative Commons