Story ideas pop in my head all the time. When I’m drinking coffee. When there’s an ending to a book or a movie or a scene in a Kdrama that I don’t quite agree with. When there’s a couple sitting next to my table in a restaurant barely talking to each other. Are they breaking up or the guy just feels so nervous because he’s about to pop out an engagement ring? Or when there’s a cute dress on display at Forever 21. Could it be the dress that my main character is going to be wearing when she went out on a failed date and now she has a collection of Failed Date Dresses? Although, my creative brain cells are more active when I’m chatting with Nicole. I bet we can finish an entire romance novel if we’d sit down to it in one day.
Maybe there’s something that’s been playing in your head. Not exactly a story, but a flicker of idea and you just don’t know how to start making a story out of it. There’s the character, and you can picture this person in your head, but you do not know what this person does and thinks, exactly. You have, however, a little bit of the details of where this person might be, or what he or she wears and what he or she is holding.
Now, think of all the what ifs. What if this person is lonely? What if this person loves tea instead of coffee? What if this person doesn’t know what love is? What if this person meets someone who loves coffee instead of tea? Possibilities are endless, and the moment you start thinking of all the what ifs, that’s when story ideas come up.
But maybe you already have a story in mind that you’ve been itching to put on paper. Heaven knows the story might already be completed inside your brain. But then, what? Is it clear enough to be finally put into words?
Well, here’s what you can to do to come up with a clearer version of the story idea in your head. Think of the main character. Is she a heartbroken girl? Is he promiscuous guy? What does she or he wants? Why can’t she or he get it? And finally, how do they plan to get what they want? In short, your character must have something that he or she wants; there’s something that prevents him or her to have it; and a plan on how to defy that obstacle that keeps him of her from the goal.
Let’s put it this way:
- The character of the story
- The goal (what does the character want)
- The obstacle (what prevents the character from the goal)
- What does the character do to defy the obstacle (has to be specific)
As you try to think of these items, always go back to your what ifs.
Let me give examples from my own books.
In Right Where You Left Me, Sahara has multiple goals but let me talk about the prominent ones – she wants to follow her dream of becoming a writer and she wants to be with Dan. What keeps her from these is that she has learned to love being an ESL instructor that she can’t just leave her job and follow her dream, and Dan is a resident physician leaving for fellowship so she can’t just be with him. What does she do to achieve these? She eventually leaves her current job, and takes the matter into her own hands to be with Dan who’s too reluctant to be with her and came up with a compromise.
In The Shape of My Heart, Natalie’s recent breakup ignited her yearning to find out what went wrong between her and her university love interest Lawrence, when Lawrence suddenly went missing in action several years ago – that’s her goal. Only, Lawrence appears to be too elusive (obstacle) and she had to go to the ends of the earth and find Lawrence (literally) to finally get the answers she needed (plan to defy the obstacle).
I didn’t do this for some of my books. But I sincerely believe you (and I) should start doing this moving forward, because it helps you to just focus on the character’s goal when outlining and finally writing the actual story and avoid unnecessary detours in the story.
Now that I’ve come to think about it, maybe I could have written better stories if I did this. Don’t get me wrong, I love my books and I’m proud of them. But when you grow and begin to learn more, you’d start to look back and say, hey, we could’ve done better. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being an author, it’s the fact that it doesn’t begin and end with the book or books you’ve written. It’s a never-ending process of learning, relearning, and unlearning.
Because, what if?
Still not sure how to do this? Comment below and let’s talk about it.