Wednesday, May 25, 2016

An Idea is Just the Germ of a Story

Writers are often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer is easy: ideas are all around us.

You discover them in what your read, what you hear (writers are notorious eavesdroppers), in what you see, and so many other places. But an idea is not a story. An idea is the germ of a story. It's what gets you asking, "what if..."

The next step in the process is creating character(s), a plot and a story location. There has been argument over which is more important--character or plot. In my opinion, they're equally important. You can't have one without the other.

For instance, you want your main characters to have substance, not be paper cutouts. Readers can relate to a realistically portrayed character. So how do you do that? You give them lives. You describe them, their characteristics, their personalities. Many readers are turned off by two much description. Some want no description of a character so they can employ their imagination as to the character's appearance. My feeling is it's your story. Their imagination may not match your vision. That's why I prefer to describe my key characters.

Others will quote Elmore Leonard's famous 10 Rules for Good Writing, citing Rules 8 and 9, which tell you to avoid detailed descriptions of characters and not to go into great details describing places and things. The important points are "detailed" and "great details." He doesn't say don't describe. Read Leonard to see how he subtly introduces characters and place, so aptly we feel we'd recognize the character anywhere and know the place even if we've never been there.

So you don't want to give them everything about your character in one lump. Introduce details gradually throughout your narrative.

Now, as to plot, this is the narrative of your story. It introduces the crime, the detective, the investigation, discovery of the motive(s) and, eventually, the identity of the culprit. Some mysteries disclose the identity of the killer at the beginning, but I think that takes the fun out of the story for many readers. Most like to try and outsmart the writer, determining the identity of the criminal before it's disclosed by the writer. Traditionally, mysteries started as this type of puzzle, providing clues through the narrative to lead the reader to the conclusion. Being the sneaky people we are, we throw in red herrings (misleading clues) to throw the reader off the track as well as sub-plots to add a little more substance to the story.

This is how an idea becomes a story.


15 comments:

  1. I agree with you, though I prefer to describe my charachter's personality and history more than their appearance. That to some extent I lke to leave to the reader. I'm working on my first mystery. A bit of a switch for me and a bit scary. Oh, and thanks for the info on guns. I did get to use it.

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  2. I agree, Cynthia. To make a character 'real' you need to give some hint of their personality and history as well as just a personal appearance. Best wishes on your first mystery, and thanks for commenting.

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  3. Agree that they (character, plot, setting) are all important, John. For me, and, I suspect, most readers, the story is less read than experienced through one or more of the characters. An engaging plot will keep the pages turning, but if the characters are cardboard, that distances me from the events: I may see what's happening, but don't feel it. Making the characters flesh-and-blood removes that distance.

    Of course, many best sellers have flat characters--John Grisham's earlier works come to mind, along with Isaac Asimov's. Asimov was great at evoking that spirit of wonder that good SF is supposed to, but his characters just didn't live and breathe on the page.

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    1. I always felt the same about Grisham's early work. Thanks for commenting and for liking my FB author's page.

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  4. I believe that well-developed characters are crucial to any piece of fiction. Readers need to connect with the characters and so they need to seem real. Any good piece of fiction needs a bit of mystery even if it's not a mystery novel. They key is to disclose bits of the mystery and solution as the plot develops keeping the reader turning the pages.

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    1. Good points, Jacqui. I like to disclose the personality of a character in the same manner. Thanks for commenting.

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  5. Great post! To me, setting is just as important as plot and characters, at least in the books I write. A book set in one place simply couldn't take place somewhere else. The setting becomes a character in its own right.

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  6. Oh, I agree. Setting is another of those primary parts of a story. I also like the idea of it becoming a character in its own right. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. I think description and characterization can be subtle by using specifics: he didn't drive a car, he drove a Corvette, a Rolls Royce, a Honda Civic. You can conclude much about the person via defining details.

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    1. Good suggestion, Sunny. Works for me. Thanks for commenting.

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  8. I think description and characterization can be subtle by using specifics: he didn't drive a car, he drove a Corvette, a Rolls Royce, a Honda Civic. You can conclude much about the person via defining details.

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  9. I think description and characterization can be subtle by using specifics: he didn't drive a car, he drove a Corvette, a Rolls Royce, a Honda Civic. You can conclude much about the person via defining details.

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  10. Nice, short and to the point. I especially like your siting of Elmore Leonard.

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    1. Thanks, Jack. Appreciate the comment.

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  11. I believe that well-developed characters are crucial to any piece of fiction. Readers need to connect with the characters and so they need to seem real.
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