Could it be October 25th already?! Yes this means NaNoWriMo is just around the corner! Maybe you are ahead of the game and already have it figured out. Maybe you are still unsure which idea you will choose, maybe you have a vague idea but still need to develop it further, or maybe you don’t have an idea at all. As they say: no idea, no problem!
Today on Writers’ Corner, my incredible writing friend E. Hormazabal will be sharing his tips about how to come up with a great story idea. Be sure to follow him on Twitter!
As writers, and moreso, storytellers, our main responsibility is to come up with interesting stories. I feel that’s something we can all agree upon. We need to allow our imagination run rampant and create those spectacular tales that will wow our friends and let our family know that all those years studying something completely unrelated to writing were worth it.
In light of the upcoming NaNoWriMo, it occurred to me that a wildly over the top story is the kind of thing we need to keep ourselves motivated. If we’re constantly excited about our character next shenanigan, or if you can’t wait to write the next plot twist, then the words will naturally start flowing. We’ll be eager to reach the next WOW moment.
There’s a problem, though. In going over the top, we can often find ourselves creating a mess in which everything is too convoluted and hard to understand. If your story starts with a kid and his father going for a hike to a nearby mountain and all of the sudden they find themselves fighting monsters, dragons, visiting other dimensions, going to hell and back, going inside the belly of a giant, fending off assassins, killing gods, and preparing for the apocalypse . . . then maybe we have a problem.
Something like that would be fun to write, but runs a high risk of losing focus, which could easily destroy the story. So then how to do it? How can we let creativity go wild and not end up with a meaningless mash of nonsense?
This problem haunted me for a long time. You see, I love those stories that grow so out of proportion that when you look back they make you go, “How did we even get here?” I like reading them and love writing them, but I didn’t know how to go about stitching together such complexity in a coherent way.
Let me first say there’s probably more than one answer to this problem. This is simply the one I found. Let’s get to it.
This solution is simpler than you might expect. It doesn’t lie on those overly complex plotlines you’ve cooked up. In fact, it doesn’t even lie on anything you put into the story. Rather, it rests on the shoulders of what you might be leaving out: A grounded goal.
Right about now you might be rolling your eyes and saying, “My main character needs a goal? Duh. Big revelation, you genius.”
You’d be right, but there’s more to it. Also, you’d be surprised as to how easily overlooked this is. Your characters need a goal, that much is clear, but not any goal. You need 2 things:
It needs to be simple
This is where you don’t go over the top. You need this goal to be present throughout the whole story. You need this to be your anchor, the connective thread that stitches all your plotlines together. This is the reason why your characters are willing to go through everything else, and as such, it needs to be easy to understand.
This gives you a clear vision of what’s ahead. No matter how weird things get, you (and your reader) will always have that grounding element that puts everything into perspective. This is where we’re going. This is why we’re doing it.
Think of the 1st Percy Jackson book, if you’ve read it. The one with the lightning thief? There’s a pretty clear goal pushing Percy through all the nonsense Rick Riordan throws his way. What is it?
Eww. No!! I meant the book!!!
It needs to be emotional
What kind of question is that? you ask. The main goal in The Lightning Thief was to recover the lightning, obviously.
Well . . . no, not really.
**SPOILER ALERT FOR DECADE OLD BOOK**
Finding Zeus’ lightning was something Percy did reluctantly (at least at first), while he pursued his real goal: Finding his mother, who disappears at the start of the story.
You see, it’s important to point the difference because Percy has absolutely no reason to care about solving Zeus’ problems, and neither does the reader. Sure, there’s the threat of a war among the gods if the lightning doesn’t show up soon, but so what? Saving the world is too vague of a motivation. There’s no connection there, no emotion. That’s where Percy’s mother comes in, because what could be more emotional than your feelings toward your own mother?
**END OF SPOILERS**
Learn from that. Make your goal something people can easily connect with. What’s emotional and relatable will vary depending on the story you’re writing, but it’s something you want to keep in mind at all times. It’s the reason why your characters go after their goals, and it’s the reason why your readers will root for them to achieve them.
Other than that, make sure this goal is a constant presence in the story. It wouldn’t do if your characters found themselves in the middle of a confrontation against that otherworldly Lovecraftian creature you created, only to realize they forgot why they were doing it.
If you do it well, this will give you leeway to include a lot of surreal and unusual scenarios. Maybe this is just what you need to make your NaNo project shine, and to keep things interesting throughout the month.
If you still have your doubts, let me add one last thing. Remember the example I put up there about the kid and his father going up the mountain? Remember all the far-fetched stuff I put together in there?
Well, that’s not something I came up with. That’s part of the plot of a videogame called God of War, which in 2018 won a myriad of awards and was widely praised for its fantastic story.
The goal in that game? The kid and his father go up the mountain to fulfill the dying wish of the mother: Having her ashes spread from the tallest peak in the realm. It’s simple. It’s emotional, and you go into the belly of a giant snake who can speak, in order to retrieve the prosthetic eye of a living, bodiless head.
These lovely fellows right here.
My point is, you gotta add some tragic backstory related to your character’s mother . . . wait, wait. No. That’s not it. Hold on.
Right, right. My point is that a simple, yet emotional goal will help you ground your story and make sense of it, no matter how ridiculous things get.
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