1. Eusebius
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    Eusebius New Member

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    How do I turn an idea into a story?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Eusebius, Oct 20, 2012.

    Hi, guys. I'm a bit stuck here and I could use your advice. I want to start writing short stories, just for my own pleasure, and I've spent the past week buying and reading anything related to short-story writing (or writing in general). Still, I must be missing something.

    I have no trouble coming up with ideas, but my ideas are not stories. For example:

    A guy comes back after a serving two years abroad in the military, right after high school. He's had a lot of time to think of what's important to him and decided that he was truly in love with his high school girlfriend, with whom he hasn't spoken since he left. When he returns, he sees a mural in a conspicuous street in his town dedicated to her memory. She died in a car accident. Filled with pain and regret, he becomes obsessed with the mural and the painting of her on it until he eventually finds a way to enter it, literally become part of it. Then he disappears, no one knows where he went. But in the mural, his face has appeared next to hers.

    Now, here's my question. Is this a story? If so, how do I tell it? I mean, I can't just write this one paragraph and say, "Voila. Done." How do I make this into at least 5,000 words? Word count isn't even the point. I just want to make it into something with substance, something that will make a reader FEEL. So what do I need? Plotting? Come up with a series of complications and have the main character (the guy) attempt to solve them and fail?

    How do I make a story out of a simple, pedestrian idea? :( I just need a glimpse into that "headspace," and I'll be able to just latch on to it after that. How would someone do this, technically speaking? Start drafting paragraphs? How?

    Thanks for any pointers!
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    No, you're right. What you've laid out is an idea, and a pretty good one (by that I mean, one which I think has enough elements that you should be able to turn it into an interesting story). Why didn't he keep in contact with her? What got in the way? Did he not realize how he felt until after he left? Was he too filled with dreams of glory to realize what was right in front of him? What happened to him in the military? Time alone wouldn't make him realize that he loved her, there must have been other, more compelling, incidents that occurred. Maybe his best friend was killed by an IED. Mourning the loss of his friend made him realize how much he missed her, how much he needed to go back to her. What happens to keep him from her from that time on? How does it make him long for her all the more? Then he comes home and sees the mural. Learns of the accident. Such a waste. Here comes the hard part - what does he remember from their time together? What was so endearing about her that he just can't let her go? Bring the reader to that point where he knows he made the mistake, knows he should have planned for something permanent, or even that he knows that joining the military was a mistake. Let teh reader feel the sense of loss. Then...shift of POV: someone else is walking by the mural, sees the two of them together in it, and comments, "They always did belong togethger." (Or some such).

    I could give you an example of exactly how to do that, but then it wouldn't be your story, it would be my story. And, actually, I think I'd probably like yours better.

    Good luck.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    One other hint...don't make her perfect - beautiful, accomplished, popular, etc. Maybe she's attractive, but in an understated way. The popular girls at school looked down on her. She didn't date a lot of guys. Why? Because there was something special that he saw in her that no one else did. And vice versa.
     
  4. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    You have to have a starting point and an ending point. You have characters, and motivation. You certainly have the makings of a good story. But you need to jump in and do it. Do you start with your MC's return, and then fill in background? Do you tell your story in strict sequence? Do you know how he's going to accomplish his goal? Can he, or you, explain why to the reader?

    I don't test the waters before jumping in the pool, and when I start work on an idea I typically pick a spot that allows me to sink a good hook quickly. And then I jump right in, and start swimming. Close your eyes, picture the world your character sees, and then report on it. Distill the world down to a few signatures details , fill in as needed, and focus on the interaction of character and plot.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Short stories are a little less involved than novels, and it sounds like you have the makings of a good one. I picture one incarnation as entitled "The Mural."

    I think to write stories, you just have to write. Play around with this idea, using different prompts and viewpoints. Start your story from the POV of your MC -- what is he thinking? How does he eventually realize he's in the mural? What happens to him when he is in the mural? Just sit and write and see where it takes you. Write it again, from the viewpoint of the girl. Write it from third person omniscient. Maybe even write it from the POV of a reporter for the local paper.

    If you google "writing prompts" you'll find a bunch of sites that list them or even will send you one prompt a day. Pick one of those, but use the character you had in mind and see where it takes you.

    Practice will be one of the most helpful things you can do.
     
  6. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Just expand, expand, expand.

    What I do is grab a bunch of index cards and start by making 'Character Cards'. Put the characters name on the top and tell all their details below. Do this for all your characters.

    Next, break down your story into scenes. Start very broad. Like 'MC Homecoming', then 'MC Finds out about Death', then 'MC Spends every night talking to mural'... etc..

    Then just keep expanding the larger scenes into smaller ones. Like, 'MC's High School Friends Celebrate Homecoming at Local Hangout'. This would be a good transition from the initial homecoming scene to the revelation of his sweethearts death.

    You have a good beginning, but you also need to hammer out the exact details of him 'entering' the mural. This will be tricky and will set the tone for your story. It could be lighthearted where she floats out of the painting and they spend a night together and no one else can see her. Or... I'm rather dark so I might do something like this. (This would be the part where someone would post that 'everyone will have their own ideas, etc..)

    He becomes obsessed with the mural, spending too much time there. Sleeping on the bench facing it, eating meals there, etc.

    His family and friends worry about him and try everything they can to get him away from it. They all fail.

    He becomes weaker from his obsession.

    He wakes up in a hospital bed, only to find out that something that happened in the war has now has become fatal regarding his health. Doctor tells him he won't live much longer.

    Despite being weak and near-death, he makes his way one last time to the mural.

    He dissapears and in the early morning light you see his face next to hers.

    This is just an example but once you get into the 'meat' of it, you'll find you have a hard time keeping it UNDER 5000 words.

    Some other ideas off the top of my head would be...

    What if she was killed by a drunk driver?

    What if the drunk driver was his best friend? His stepfather?

    What if she had a non-serious boyfriend when she died?

    I hope my silly ramblings got your brain working and you will open up this idea and create a wonderful story!

    Good luck!

    J. J.
     
  7. crashnburn
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    crashnburn Member

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    I think the most important thing is like thumpalumpacus said: dive in and test the waters. You could start perhaps with his plane landing, or getting out of a taxi, and from there have your mc experience backflashes of moments throughout his service when he was lying awake at night thinking of her, or something like that. And from there ask yourself "what if" and "why". That's how you expand your story. Nobody can really tell you what to write, that has to come from within you, but with an idea like that...I don't think you'll have any problem. Good luck.
     
  8. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    This, pretty much. I won't give you a list of suggestions for your story, but just keep adding detail to the idea as listed above, and soon you'll be fleshing out a story. After that, you can start to edit and tweek the longer text to build more tension, add more humour, whatever you want.
     
  9. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have a good idea for a story - next, you need to flesh it out.

    It may be a good idea for you to read some twist in the tale short stories - Roald Dahl's short stories are excellent!
     
  10. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    I would say that this is a story, it has a beginning, middle and an end. I personally see a story as a list of questions that you need to find answers to. The beginning; is your first set of question(s), Why has this guy returned home? Where was he posted and what experiences did he have there that made him want to come home to see his first love? The middle; are the answer(s) to these questions, plus more question such as; Has his home town changed? Or is it he who has changed? Does he feel he belongs there? Why was the death of this girl felt so deeply within the community? The ending would be the answers of all the questions and of course the conclusion (in this case how he merged with the mural and was once again united with his first love)

    You can also flesh out the stories with flashbacks from the characters past, to build a 'real feeling' you are looking for, and by giving your characters believable dialogue and allowing them to express their feelings and thought to the reader. Put yourself into the shoes of your character how would you feel?
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that could make a very effective short story... don't overthink and overwrite it...

    the best short stories are just that--short!... and simple... it doesn't need much more than what you have there, no side issues, or subtext... it can be told in a straighforward way with just good description/imagery and a believable character's feelings and actions disclosed to the readers...

    read the best short stories to see how it's done... read o'henry's works, particularly his 'gift of the magi'... read jackson's 'the lottery'... and poe's and de maupassant's and twain's and london's best short gems, along with others on the 'best short stories of all time' list... if you haven't been reading good short stories, it's no wonder you don't know how to write one...
     
  12. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    From the way I read your idea I feel you have a decent ending there. However, you lack the background. I believe your story lies here:

    "He's had a lot of time to think of what's important to him and decided that he was truly in love with his high school girlfriend."

    Tell us what brought him to that conclusion. Why did he love her in the first place? Why did he decide to join the military? Why did he choose leaving her in the first place? Did he make a mistake? Once you have done that then we'll truly feel his loss and understand why he is obsessed with the mural.
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My question is - why weren't they in touch? Did he try to get in touch? Did the girl? Or did they break up (and why?) before he left with the army?

    I'd find your focus - what're you trying to tell your readers? Would you focus on how the war changed the guy? Or his obsession with the mural? Would you focus on the war and its effects on your MC, or rather the relationship between the MC and the girl, and its gradual deterioration? What made it fall apart? What made him realise he loved her and he's made a mistake? Would you show anything from the girl's perspective?

    Ask yourself questions like: Why? How? What caused this?

    You already know where you want your story to lead to, so it should make things easier :) You have a very interesting premise IMO!
     
  14. Snyder80
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    Snyder80 Member

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    Great question! One I've been trying to figure out for years. Usually I can begin a story well enough, even fleshing out some characters, plot lines, motives, etc. However, at some point I seem to lose the general idea of the whole thing.
     
  15. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Perhaps because he joined the Army. That's what happened to me, sadly. She was morally opposed to the military. Artists and the military don't often mix, and considering she created the mural, I think this fits.
     
  16. littleshoe
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    littleshoe Member

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    Hi,

    English is not my native language but I hope my experience will help you (I have had some success writing short stories and the rules apply to Spanish, French or Russian).

    In school, they teach you how to analyze texts. There are different approaches. The one you should practice is called “commentaire composé” in French (I could not find the translation). The main objective is to determine the theme(s) of the story.

    In your short synopsis, I could say the theme is love, art or eternity… Anyway, it doesn’t matter. You have not developed the story; you have not decided the theme(s). Once you have decided the theme(s), you can work the style. For example, if the theme is love, idealistic love, most probably your character will be full of inner thoughts and conviction. If the theme is love, sensual love, sensations and libido will make part of your story.

    Analyzing other writers’ text will help you to understand what I mean (There should be useful guides in school libraries).

    Once you have an idea of the theme(s), your mind adapts and it is easier to write. For example, let’s say the theme is how ephemeral things are in our time. Your mind will look for examples, like the internet or people that become famous few days. Let’s say your theme is art, you will think about artists and their works.

    Your mind is a wonderful tool and if you let it be, it will be your best companion. Once you have a vague idea of the theme(s), it will also tell you how to write. For example, you may choose a dialogue structure, with short sentences, to represent how ephemeral things can be. You may choose technical words (canvas, negative image, composition…) if your theme is art. In fact, my examples are not important. When you think about something, your brain goes there and uses the experience, feelings, sensations and knowledge you already have recorded. It is a little bit like neuro-lingüistics: they can tell your state of mind depending on the words you use; your state of mind will tell you the words you use. This way, writing is much easier.

    Short stories have some rules. Because they are short, no extra word is allowed (i.e. you cannot abuse of adjectives and adverbs). Many critics use the expression “roundness of the story”. It means that the beginning (first sentence, first paragraph) and the end (last sentence, last paragraph) are related, they close a loop. Often, short stories are very condensed: more than one theme (maybe four or five).

    Short stories don’t need a plot. They can have a plot. Most of them do. However, you should not worry about the plot as in novels or screenplays. Short stories are just the path from the beginning to the end. Short stories do not need conflict. Conflict in short stories is like sugar or salt. It makes the story tasty. In long stories, like novels, you can develop conflict in subtle ways, like a chef. In short stories, you risk making fast food (pizza and coca cola).

    Short stories just tell a (short) story and leave an effect/sensation (feeling, emotion, idea…) in the reader's mind. I did a fast search in Internet about short stories rules. Try not to follow them (i.e. character development, plot development, surprise, conflict…). People who (most probably) never wrote a decent short story write these rules. And they believe a short story is a condensed novel. In contrast, follow the simple advices from writers like Poe or Chekhov.

    The only sure rule about short stories is that theme/idea/subject and form/style are married. Because it is short, you can edit every sentence and every word many times. You have heard of writers revising and editing at least four times their novels of 60 000 words. Short stories (less than 10 000 words) are revised and edited at least 10-20 times.

    Before you start writing, try to read short stories from well-known writers (i.e. Katherine Mansfield). Try analyzing their work and learn from them.
     
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  17. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Simple.

    1)Where does the story start?
    2)What happens next?
    3)Repeat 2) until you get to the end of the story.
     
  18. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    I generally like to just start writing when I have an idea like this.

    So he gets home from the military, maybe you could start there.

    How does he arrive home? Did he fly or take the bus? Is he happy to be coming home? What is he feeling and thinking? Does he noted act with anyone? Maybe start writing his homecoming scene. See where it takes you.

    Some people prefer writing from outlines. I've tried doing it and it makes it much more difficult for me to write anything. So, I just imagine that first scene and see where I go with it.

    I agree with Ed. The story idea seems to have the foundational elements upon which you MAY build a great story. I like it because it reminds me of a Night Gallery episode involving a former nazi guard who wants to be brought into a painting (depicting a man fishing). Good luck with it.
     
  19. Knarfia
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    Knarfia Member

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    Good idea with endless potential!
     
  20. Eusebius
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    Eusebius New Member

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    Guys, thank you all for your thoughtful and helpful advice. I've saved this thread so I can refer to it again in the future and I'm taking everything to heart. It's going to take some time to internalize it all. I love Poe's short stories but I've never read Dahl, which I've now seen recommended in more than one place. I'll get on that right away.

    Thanks to all.
     
  21. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Parson's Pleasure and Lamb to the Slaughter are two great short stories by Dahl.

    Edit - The Landlady is another great story by him.
     
  22. Fife
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    Fife Senior Member

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    It sounds like a good setup for a horror story--but maybe only because I enjoy the darker stories. I'm not an established writer or anything but here are some questions you could ask yourself:

    • What mood do you want for your story (or perhaps, the mood you want to convince your reader to have).
    • What audience do you expect to cater your story towards--appropriate your plot and language accordingly.
    • What structure do you want for your storytelling? If you want the reader to be slightly disoriented, you can use methods like Odaantje's non-chronological narrative style; which has also been used in movie-making, like Memento, which plays the movie essentially backwards, where the chronologically initial event is the mystery (and our journey is taken front end-to-front) or Pulp Fiction, where the chapters are cut into non-chronological slices that expose what you want the reader to see in a complementary manner.
    • How will you convince the readers to associate with your character(s)?

    I hope that helps. Good luck on your story. And by the way, I think one thing that helps is writing snapshots of a story--without concern for continuity (between snapshots). These snapshots will inspire you to write other snapshots of the story. When you've collected enough ideas and inspiration, you may be able to piece together a story--and it may not even be like how you imagined it in the beginning.
     

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