Brainstorming a Book

Brainstorming a Book

In this post, I’m going to discuss the process I go through before ever putting a pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard).  Part of this pre-writing process I go through includes determining Story Concept and Premise.  So if you would like the complete picture of my process, be sure to check out my posts on both of those topics.  You can find them at the links below.

Story Concept: https://hineswriter.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/story-concept-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important/

Story Premise: https://hineswriter.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/story-premise-what-is-it-and-why-does-it-demand-its-own-writing-classification/

I thought my Pre-Story Structure series was going to end with Story Premise, but I think this post will make a nice addition.  I was planning to write about story beginnings this week, but it just didn’t feel right without laying out my pre-writing process in a little more detail.

So, with that said, let’s get into it.  The first thing I do is think up an idea for the plot that sparks my inspiration candle.  I’m not going to go into detail about how I come up with the ideas, usually they just come to me out of the blue.

Once I get the idea, however basic or general, I will spend time working out the details.  For instance, if I get the idea to write a book about a colony of people the size of ants, I’ll ask questions such as: Where do they live?  Why are they so small?  Do they like being so small?  Could the goal of the book be the people endeavoring to find a way back to their normal size?  And so on.

I strive to plan enough plot details to keep my book from blowing in every direction based on my mood, to keep it anchored to some form of structure.  What I don’t want, however, is to stifle my creative freedom while writing.  In order to achieve this balance, I use a checklist.  This keeps me from planning to much or planning too little.

So, before I begin writing my book, I decide my main character’s goal, conflict, stakes, climax, result, and resolution.  This is my checklist.  Now I believe it’s also a good idea to plan some details regarding the setting, other characters, and so forth, but this is the only checklist I hold myself to rigidly.  At least before I begin to write.

My character’s goal will drive the emotion of the entire book.  Every plot point must relate to that goal.  What does my character want?

The conflict will be the thing that stands between my character and their goal.  In some cases, this is an actual villain, but it could be a great number of things.

The stakes are what would happen if my character does not achieve their goal.  If the stakes are too weak, readers will wonder why my character doesn’t give up.  There must be a reason to keep fighting.

The climax is my character’s big choice.  All the conflict and all the tension has come to its head.  “If the character acts on conscience, despite the pressure of self-interest, he attains his goal.  If he doesn’t, his efforts fail.  It’s as simple as that.”  Quote from Dwight V. Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer.

The result is what happens immediately after the climax.  And I always stress that the result should be disaster.  If my character chooses to act on his conscience and sacrifice his self-interest, it should look very bleak for him immediately afterwards.  And then…

The resolution begins once the resulting disaster dissolves and my character attains his goal.  Everything past this point in the story is resolution.  No new tension should be introduced, only tension resulting from the climax should be resolved.

Once I am able to detail those six things, I feel ready to begin my book.  This is my own personal checklist, derived from several books and articles I’ve read, plus experience from my own books, and it has worked very well for me.  The only remaining steps I take are to define my Story Concept and Premise.  Then, I’m off!

I hope you found this interesting and helpful.  I’d love to hear about your own pre-writing process in the comments.

Happy Writing!

-Courtney

Story Premise—What is it and Why Does it Demand its Own Writing Classification?

This post is intended to be the sequel to Story Concept—What is it and Why is it Important?  If you haven’t read that yet, you can find it at https://hineswriter.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/story-concept-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important/.

This will be the conclusion of my tiny series (Two posts) on what I like to call “pre-story structure.”  I call it that simply because it is such a pain to fix after your story is written, or even while your story is in the works.  This is the stuff that should come first.

So what is story premise?  According to Larry Brooks, whose book, Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant, I will continue to use in this post, story premise is, “The vision for the story, without which you end up in chaos, hosting a wrestling match between your ideas and inspiration.”

So it’s important.  But what is it?

If you’ve read my post on Story Concept, you’ll know that concept is the platform from which your story is built.  Think of premise as the structural beams on top of the platform from which your story is then constructed.  It includes main characters, general story arc, and dramatic tension.  It’s your story in “preview format,” as Brooks says.  It’s what’s written on the back cover.  So yes, it’s very similar to concept in that your story is built directly off of it.  This leads me into my second question.

Why does premise demand its own writing classification?

The reason that premise demands its own writing classification is because it is so important for your story to be compelling, both in simple format and in more detailed format.  Defining your concept is how you discover whether your story idea has worth by itself on its most simple level—basically, whether your story is worth telling.  Once you’ve done that, defining your premise is how you decide whether your story is compelling—or intriguing—enough to snag a reader who reads the summary on the back of the book.

It is important that these two things are separate.  Because without a good concept, your premise will sag, and lumping the two together may create an average synopsis, stuffed with interesting trivia that make it seem better than it is.

The only way to really effectively evaluate your story idea is to strip it down to its bones, categorize it into concept and premise.  That’s the closest you can get to assurance of a good story as a writer.  Because if your concept and premise are compelling to you, they will be to someone else too.

So take some time, and write out your story premise!  In order to craft a premise, simply take your concept and add your main character, their goal, the conflict, and the stakes.  Next week I plan to begin my series on general story structure, and in that series, I will discuss good characters and conflict, including a whole bunch of other things such as story beginning, climax, result, and resolution.  All the elements of great writing, fiction in particular.

For now, I hope this was helpful.  For more information on concept and premise, check out Story Fix, by Larry Brooks, at http://www.amazon.com/Story-Fix-Transform-Broken-Brilliant/dp/1599639114.  Where I’ve written two 600-word summaries, he’s written chapters on the subject.

As always, be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Happy Writing and Happy Father’s Day for all you dads out there!

-Courtney

Story Concept—What is it and Why is it Important?

Note: When I read back over my last post, I realized that it may have been a little misleading.  When I said “Every month I plan to write a Progress Update…” I did not intend that to mean I was planning to post only once a month.  My goal is to post every Friday morning on various writing topics, and once a month, that weekly post will be a Progress Update.

A few months back, I read a book called Story Fix: Transform your Novel from Broken to Brilliant by Larry Brooks.  In the fourth chapter, he discusses the idea of story concept.  I found it extremely interesting, and it greatly influenced how I planned my third book.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Concept?  Why is that worthy of discussion?  Isn’t that just the idea behind the story?

And yes, it is.  But in a larger sense, it’s the ground on which a writer stands or falls.  For it’s the concept, as well as the premise, that you pitch to prospective agents and readers.

Before I define concept, let me define what concept is not.  It is not plot, emotion, or even characters.  Concept is your story in its “abstract idea” form, before plot, emotion, and characters.  For example, the concept of The Hunger Games: Boys and girls are reaped and forced to kill each other in an arena.  It’s simple, it doesn’t include any details—including specific characters—and it’s conceptual by definition.

Now, why did this influence my writing so much?  Because Brooks encouraged me, his reader, to define my own concept.  It sounds easy, but most of the time, it isn’t.  It forced me to strip away my characters and plot and look at what was left.  Analyze it.  Weigh it on an unforgiving scale.  Was my concept good enough to stand on its own?  Was it still compelling by itself?

I had the good fortune to read this book during the very beginning of the planning phase for my third book.  And honestly, stripping away the meat from the many plot ideas swirling through my head changed the direction of the entire book.  I realized that my initial concept was weak without the details to support it, and so I changed it.

It’s amazing how overlooked and yet how crucial defining story concept is.  According to Larry Brooks, “A great concept is your best defense against rejection.”  And his concluding advice, “Take your concept to a higher level, and your story is already a step ahead of the many others in the agent’s in-box.  You now have a live wire to power the story that follows.”

So I encourage you all to spend a few minutes defining your story concept.  Even if you’ve already written your story, this is a worthwhile exercise that could potentially save you from future rejection.  To define it, “Focus on the core idea, cull its conceptual essence, and state it in context to the story arena, proposition, landscape, or framework you are putting into play as the basis for your premise.”  This is a little bit confusing.  What Brooks is saying is to determine the core idea of the story in its most basic form, and then state it alongside what you base your premise on, be it a setting, a question, or a structure.

These are only the very basics of story concept.  If you are still struggling to define your concept or just want more information, check out Larry Brook’s book at http://www.amazon.com/Story-Fix-Transform-Broken-Brilliant/dp/1599639114.

I’d love to hear your own experience with story concept and whether the exercise of defining it has influenced your writing.  Let me know in the comments!

Happy Writing!

-Courtney