Unless you’re highly gifted, the stories you write aren’t likely to just fall out of your brain and land intact on the page in front of you.
Instead, we writers have a tendency to start with just one small story element. A seed. From there, all the other necessary bits and pieces evolve until we have the makings of a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
This evolution often takes place in the mind before anything ever gets written down on paper. Whole books have been devised while completing the most mundane of tasks, like washing the dishes.
What are the most common story seeds–the elements from which we grow our stories?
It’s extremely common to grow your story from a central character or characters. Literary writers are particularly likely to create a vivid cast in their minds before contemplating the plot within which they’ll set them.
But be forewarned: while it’s perfectly fine to use characters to seed your story, don’t fall into the trap of writing something without a coherent plot, as with some character-based novels. The plot doesn’t have to be action-packed, but characters should face conflict and work to overcome it.
Boy meets girl and tries to suck up to his future parents-in-law. A group of friends go on an unforgettable road trip during their summer break. Little green men plot to invade earth in search of resources for their home planet.
Any of these sound familiar?
If someone asks you what your story is about, you can spout off a one-line description. That’s your premise–your starting point–which is not to be confused with plot. Plot grows from premise.
Maybe you have no idea who your characters are, where you’ll set them, or how your story will begin or end. Instead, you have a clear-cut conflict you’d like to see faced.
There’s a bomb on a bus. A civil war breaks out. A man gets amnesia.
You may have a premise to go with your conflict, but if not, one isn’t too far away.
Sometimes we can be simply overwhelmed by the beauty of a setting, or its lack thereof. Some writers like to start with a place (a country, a city, a town, an isolated area), while others prefer to start with historical era.
The nice thing about seeding your story with a setting is that it leaves the door open to the vast majority of characters, premises, and conflicts.
I’ve heard it said that a few of the literary masters refused to write a story without first knowing the ending.
There are some who find it easiest to start at the end and work their way toward the beginning. While it may seem backward (literally), starting with the ending can be a great way to avoid writing oneself into a corner.
What Are Your Story Seeds?
Are any of these story seeds more commonly used than others? More effective than others?
Which do you use, and what’s your story writing process?