All stories need some sort of development, to a degree. Writers are as individual as their stories and everyone approaches fiction writing in a different way, so there are authors who like to develop and plan their stories in great detail, and those who write ad hoc, commonly known as “pansters”.
It’s entirely up to the writer what they do, however some planning and development is encouraged, otherwise the result could end up an incoherent mess.
There are a number of benefits for story development. It’s the difference between driving a car in the dark with the headlights on and driving without any light at all. Without lights to see where you’re going, you’re quite literally in the dark – in every way. Story development works in the same way – you can choose to be in the dark about, and just hope for the best, it or you can plan your story/novel in as much detail as you want.
Story development makes the process so much easier, it helps the writer not just to put together a story, but to understand the underlying complexities of that story, because of the varied elements involved – everything from structure, the characters, plot, themes, sub plots, outcomes and ending. Writing a story isn’t just about sitting down and just writing. What goes on behind the scenes to make the story happen is just as important.
Good story development entails all the elements you want in your novel or short story. But to put the development into action, you have to have some basic foundations to work with first:-
The Story Idea/Plot
- What is the story about? What’s the plot?
- Whose story is it?
- What is the message of your story?
- What will it achieve?
- How will it end?
You need to be fully familiar with the premise of your story, and that means you need to know what it’s about, whose story it is, what it wants to say and what it will achieve; otherwise you may find yourself on a road to nowhere.
- Who are the main characters?
- What motivates them? Why are they involved with this story?
- Why do they behave in certain ways?
- What is the protagonist’s relationship with the antagonist? Why is there conflict?
- What does the protagonist want to achieve? What’s his/her prime goal?
- Which character might be involved with a subplot(s) and the main plot?
Familiarity with your characters makes it much easier to write them because they become almost real. This level of awareness eliminates common problems that occur as the story progresses, such as knowing how your characters are supposed to act in an unfamiliar situation, without them reverting to stereotypes, or by acting out of character. Characters need to be believable in all they do, so you have to know their behaviours, reactions and what drives them.
Other problems that arise without some planning is becoming stuck halfway through because you don’t have any idea what your characters should do next or how they move the story forward. It’s important that characters are thoroughly developed prior to writing.
- Where is the story set?
- What is the time frame? Does it happen over a few days, or less, or over a period of years, or even decades?
- When is the story set? Modern day, decades ago, last century, or further still? Or perhaps the future?
- What kind of locations might also appear?
Know the setting, or locations, and know where and when the story will take place. Writers often zig-zag from location to location (James Bond style) in the belief that including loads of cool places will impress the reader, when most of the time the locations just distract from the story rather than enhance it. A little planning is required to set the story correctly and make it credible and believable.
- What subplots might there be?
- Which characters might be involved?
- What impact will they have on the main story and characters?
- What will they achieve? What are they trying to say to the reader?
- How will the subplots they be resolved in relation to the story as a whole?
Every story needs a theme or two. They underpin and add layers of depth to the story. Themes such as love, betrayal, deceit, forgiveness and so on, all add to the strength and weight to the story.
What’s the genre? Is the story horror, fantasy, a romance, sci-fi, or a hybrid of genres? Too often authors write their novels but don’t have a real indication of what genre it actually is, and the type audience it’s aimed at. Sometimes their stories start out as one thing and change halfway through the process, thus making things messy, so knowing the genre you intend to write helps to define the whole story from the outset.
Now that the basic ingredients are ready, you can now start to develop in detail. There are many ways to do this and writers can use as many or as few as they like. Next week we’ll take a look at the different methods to adopt for developing your story.
Next week: Developing a story – Part 2