The early stages of dreaming up a new story are wonderful! At this stage, nearly anything goes. Dozens of characters and problems and ideas can troop through your mind, auditioning for a spot in your next escapade. Nothing has to make sense yet.
These various parts begin to coalesce into a whole, and then you can begin the actual plotting process, where you organize the thoughts into some sort of order in preparation for writing the story.
But here, in the early stages, you’re tossing a bunch of things into a mixing bowl, giving it a stir, and sniffing what’s created. If it smells sweet to you, you keep going. If it’s sour, you can change things up, add something else to the mix, or remove the offending ingredient (which would be a handy trick for cooking in my kitchen).
- 1 heaping tablespoon story spark
- 2-6 half-baked characters
Whisk rapidly until the story spark permeates the characters. Then add:
- A generous dollop of setting
- Equal parts honey and vinegar (to taste)
- A few shots of problem hot sauce (to taste)
Stir until the characters are crying for mercy. Pour into a suitable dish (genre) and allow to gel before slicing (outlining) and serving (writing and publishing).
Doesn’t that recipe make it sound simple? It truly is basically the process. You’ll need your story spark (or basic idea), a few characters, a setting, and a situation or problem. Some may think the honey (romance) is optional, but most stories do well with at least a hint of it. All of these are mixed within the parameters of your favorite genre and allowed time to gel together until they become one thing, the basis of a story.
- What do you get when you add a heaping tablespoon of story spark to some half-baked characters? click to tweet
- Want a recipe for cooking up a tasty story? click to tweet
Where do you begin?
Well-known speculative fiction author and writing instructor Orson Scott Card says you need M.I.C.E. to structure your novel.
M is milieu, which is basically the setting. This can be a farm, like Green Acres in my Farm Fresh Romance series, a planet, an urban area…wherever your story takes place.
I is idea. Card says that a story based on an idea is the process of finding information. I suspect that a theme-based story might fit “I” as well.
C is character. Remember that characters aren’t usually static throughout a novel. They learn and grow and change. A short story may not allow room for this.
E is event. Stories that come from this direction tend to focus on plot. It’s about the problem and how it will be solved. The characters are there mainly to act out the plot.
Most writers seem to be character-based or plot-based. If character based, you probably find characters strutting into your mind, nearly fully formed, but you may not know what to do with them. If plot-based, you’ll come up with a situation and need to find the right characters to act out the story you have in mind.
I tend to start with a setting and then find the characters, plots, and themes that want to play in the world I’ve created. That may not be startling when you think that my first several novels were speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction), but it still holds true for my farm lit romances.
The best writers start wherever the ideas first come, but make sure all these areas are fully developed by the time the story is complete and edited. In most cases, the reader can’t pinpoint the author’s methods for getting to the end result.
How do you cook up the basic idea for a story? Which part of M.I.C.E. comes first for you? Is it usually the same one?
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