The amazing thing about being a writer is that you learn to spot the ideas and ‘what if’s that other people would normally pass by. They’re everywhere, and they’re incredible. And they can also be incredibly frustrating. You can get incredibly intricate and detailed ideas in your head, but for the life of you, you can’t do anything about it. Creating a world is wonderful, but it’s just words on paper unless you have a story to take place within it.
So you’ve got an idea…
This afternoon I had a conversation this afternoon on the subject, so I’ll use that as an example: one character discovers that his friend doesn’t actually exist.
It’s a fantastic idea, and there’s a lot of directions you can go on the subject. So how do you shape that idea into a story?
Find the problem
At its core, every story is driven by some form of desire. Everyone wants something– a new bike, their crush to return their affections, the ability to live to see tomorrow, etc.
Every character is going to have a desire driving them– at least one, and often more.
- Does the real friend want the unreal friend to find out about their non-existence?
- Does the unreal friend feel threatened by their non-existence and want to feel more secure?
- Does the real friend envy the unreal friend’s way of life? What about the other way around?
And so forth. There are nearly endless variations of things that your characters can want out of life.
Look for a solution
Once you figure out what each character wants, figure out how they’re going to go about pursuing that thing, and then have them pursue it. Plot is what happens when we watch them try, fail, try again, and possibly even succeed. Of course, they don’t have to succeed, and sometimes it’s for the best that they don’t. People don’t always want what’s best for them, and sometimes Character A getting what they want can have some nasty repercussions for Character B.
When that happens, or when Character A’s needs clash with Character B’s desires, that creates conflict, and that’s what the Western idea of story is built around.
Make sure the action is active
A general rule of thumb I’ve seen around: If the character can get over their internal by just sitting alone in a room and thinking really hard about it, then it wasn’t really a conflict. If a pair of characters can solve their conflict by just sitting down and having a conversation like actual adults, that wasn’t a conflict, either. Problems shouldn’t be solved by navel-gazing.
You can have issues be resolved through conversation and meditation, but the actual conflict will be whatever prevented those processes from happening in the first place.