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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Giving Your Idea Form

Giving your idea form, but how, you may be wondering, do I get from a good idea—with a few rough notes scribbled on paper—to a finished product—the written manuscript? One way is to give your ideas form by thinking of a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Story Article

Problem: Beginning Lead or hook
Complication: Middle Development
Solution: END Wrap-up

Since a whole is the sum of its parts, it can be easier to think of the parts of your story or articles first, breaking your writing down into small workable segments as you outline your ideas.


Step 1 Fine-Tune Your Idea

Try jotting down your story idea in one sentence. This is a quick way to bring your idea into focus and to test it for human interest.

Some writers call such a one-sentence idea a “headline” or putting their story into a nutshell. Get to the core of what your story will be about—without any of the trimmings. If it seems hard to find this core at first, keep working at it.

Step 2 Turn Your Idea Into a Story

What makes a story? People tell each other stories all the time—what happened on the way home from work, what a neighbor did, what the grocer said, how a co-worker reacted—but if these stories were written down they wouldn’t qualify as good fiction. Why? Because they are only incidents.

We see or are involved in incidents continually. An incident doesn’t have a plan—it just happens. Incidents can be funny, dramatic, heartwarming, even horrific. But they are still incidents. They make for good conversation but not good fiction.

Here’s an example of a wonderful incident:

Late on a cold November afternoon, a girl got on a New York City bus. She was loaded down with luggage: a heavy backpack, two big suitcases and a long cardboard tube that might have contained a large poster. She was puffing with exertion as she hauled everything up the steps. The driver shouted, “You can’t get on with all that.”

The girl ignored him, quickly dropping her fare into the farebox and trying to disappear down the crowded aisle. Angrily, the driver pulled the brake, got out of his seat and went after her.

“Hey,” he shouted. “You can’t get on.”

“But I am on,” the girl said.

“Well get off.”

“Why?” the girl asked.

“You can’t bring all this stuff on at rush hour.” He glared at her. The girl tried to hold her ground but she began to falter.

Her face grew red. Her eyes began to water. She looked confused and very tired.

“Off!” The driver yelled, seeing his advantage.

Suddenly, as if they had rehearsed it, all the passengers stood up. “We’re getting off, too,” they shouted back to the driver. “You’re unfair…look at this poor girl…let her ride…”

The driver was stunned. He snapped his mouth shut and ran back to his driver’s seat, put the bus in gear and took off down the avenue without another word.

This incident is a “slice of life.” It’s wonderful to hear about…perhaps even read about. Such slices of life are often used as fillers in newspapers or magazines. But they don’t qualify as stories, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, we don’t know anything about the girl. If we analyze more closely, we might have to agree with the driver that she should not have gotten on the crowded bus with all that luggage. If we knew her better, we might not like her.

For another thing, nothing is resolved. The girl got to ride the bus to her destination but so what? We don’t learn much knowing this. We have no reward to take away from the story except that it was a sympathetic gesture on the part of supposedly coldhearted New Yorkers to have threatened a riot.

More important, the girl didn’t do anything to solve her own problem. The people in the bus did it for her. At the end of the incident, the girl and the people remained as they were at the beginning: strangers.

What’s needed to make this incident into a story? The basics of any good piece of fiction. We need to know more about the girl and what her problem is. Her trip must be urgent. If she can’t get to where she’s going on the bus, what will happen?
Perhaps she must be at the station to meet her fiancé, with whom she is eloping. If she misses the train, he will go without her, knowing that she meant what she said. What did she say? Earlier in the day she told him she was through with him forever, because she thought he had betrayed her. But no sooner was he off to the station, than she found out the truth. Of course, she regretted her words immediately. She packed quickly, rushed out the door.

Now we are worried about the girl, hoping she will get to the station on time. But a complication sets in. The people in the bus join in with the driver, urging her to get off. It’s rush hour, they’re tired and she’s taking up too much room. She hasn’t got enough money for a taxi. What will she do now?

Drama? Urgency? That’s what makes a story.
An incident is something that happened. The action occurs by circumstance and had no particular purpose, nor does it lead anywhere.

A story describes the actions and events that grow out of a particular problem. Things move along a purposeful path to the resolution of the problem. A reader gets involved with a story because of concern for the characters and interest in seeing how things will turn out.

An easy way to remember the difference between an incident and a story is to think of a prize fight. A blow-by-blow description of the fight isn’t much of a story, is it? But what if we know all about one of the fighters and why he must win the fight, and also find out that someone wants to make sure this fighter doesn’t win?
Problem, complication, solution—these three elements woven together with characterizations that make a reader care are what make a good story plot.

When you think plot, think design and plan. A story is designed and planned by you—that’s what makes it a story, not an incident.

When you think plot, think entangle, perplex, intrigue. These elements will add the conflict and concern that will keep a reader interested.
Have you jotted down a sentence that sums up your story? Now, begin thinking of your story’s parts.