What do you do when you’re starting to feel the urge to write an exciting story, but you don’t know where to start? You don't want to start a story just to find out six months later it doesn't have any real potential
How do we condense that lightbulb story idea into a promising premise?
To answer these questions, we need to look back, way back. Back to the first time a story was ever told.
Robert McKee points out in his book, STORY, that stories exist to seek answers to the ageless question Aristotle first proposed in Ethics: How should a human being lead their life?
We crave stories because we want to gain insight into how we should live and grow. When coming up with story ideas, our aim should be to establish a connection with the reader and explore Aristotle’s question. So we should think of these five elements when developing a story:
Who’s the hero of our story? Who’s this character that, through their journey, will teach us how to lead our own lives. And most importantly, what does this character want?
For a character to take action, they must want something worth taking said action for. Ask yourself, what does my hero want to achieve? The goal should be something tangible, something that we could witness in a scene and easily realize the goal has been met. If the hero’s desire is to be happy you might ask yourself how the reader can witness that a hero has achieved happiness in a scene? If the answer is something along the lines of, by being with the person they love, then that right there is the goal.
But if our hero achieves their goal on page one, we don’t have a story. Which means we need obstacles.
There are two types of obstacles that your hero will face in their story: flaws and opponents. Flaws are weaknesses within your character that keeps them from reaching their goal. Opponents are those who want to keep your hero from reaching their goal by using their flaws against them. If your hero wishes, for example, to avenge their family, then our hero needs a weakness that directly stands in the way of their revenge. Let’s say for a moment that our hero is a nun who wishes to avenge her family; however, she is committed to an ideology that condemns violence.
When developing an opponent for our hero nun, we need to realize that this character has to be the best character at attacking our hero’s flaw.
A hero is only as good as their opponent. By attacking their flaws and keeping them from reaching their goal, your opponent pushes the hero into a scene where they’ll have to overcome their weaknesses or die (literally or metaphorically). This character change related to overcoming their weakness is commonly known as the character arc.
4. Character Arc:
Your hero’s character arc is not a part of your story, it IS your story. When developing a story idea, the quality of your story strongly depends on the quality of your hero’s character arc. A character arc is nothing but the change your character goes through as they struggle with their weaknesses to reach their goal.
In our previous example, our nun will have to challenge her values to reach her goal and change from a harmless nun to a dangerous avenger. That is what the story will be about, the journey of becoming this menacing figure.
5. Values in conflict:
Your story will also show a clash of values between your hero and their opponent. When coming up with a story, you should consider what values will be opposed.
An example of some values in conflict are Love vs. Duty, Freedom vs. Safety, Justice vs. Peace, the Individual vs. the Collective, Success vs. Happiness, and the most common value in stories, Good vs. Evil.