Easy Way to Write – The Art of Storytelling 101.
Identifying a Great Concept:
Coming up with a concept to write about is the easy part. Writers are inspired by many things, including daily conflicts in their lives and their friends’ lives, what they read in magazines and see on the news, and even by daydreams while driving to work. That moment of inspiration usually arrives in the form of a plot idea. A slightly sunburned writer is sitting on a plane, returning from a family vacation in Hawaii, her husband and daughter asleep beside her, when she looks out the window and asks herself, What if there’s no one in the airport when we land? No one at all! Excited, she grabs the sick bag from the seat pocket in front of her and the crayon from her daughter’s tray and begins scribbling notes for a possible novel.
At the same time, a writer across the aisle is tapping away on his laptop, writing an impassioned letter to his father and mother detailing all the reasons his visit to them ended so disastrously. But as he lists his complaints about his father’s emotional distance, overbearing expectations, and biting temper, he remembers the summer when he was ten and his father patiently taught him how to build a model of the Golden Gate Bridge out of Popsicle sticks. He wonders what happened to change their relationship. Was it something he did to disappoint his father? Was it something his father did to betray his family? He opens a new document and starts describing that summer—the smell of the glue, the dank humidity in the garage, his father’s laugh when he pretended to be Godzilla about to destroy the bridge. The writer smiles, realizing there’s a novel in all this.
Will either of those concepts ever become an actual novel? Mostly that depends on the drive and discipline of the writers. But that drive and discipline is greatly affected by their ability to maintain interest in the novel. And that interest is affected by how well they’ve thought through their concept. This is the domino effect of writing. Many good ideas are abandoned after fifty pages because the writer doesn’t think through and clearly articulate the concept.
Boiling Your Concept Down to One Sentence
The first step in insuring you will actually finish telling the story is knowing what the story is about. That means you should be able to write the concept of your story in a simple sentence (fewer than one hundred words). Beginning writers often think this is impossible to do because their concepts are too complex, multi-leveled, or thematically tiered. While the novel itself may be all of those things, the concept really isn’t. Imagine if your novel were made into a movie; how would it be described in TV Guide?
The advantage of the one-sentence concept is that it helps the writer focus on the main elements of the story: character (which characters are most affected by the events?), plot (what is the core event that causes most of the conflict?), conflict (what are the conflicts that characters face with each other, with themselves, with outside events?), and theme (how the protagonist will change—and if he doesn’t change, what happens?). Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, you’ll be able to flesh out that cool idea into a workable concept that is able to support the weight of a novel.
Let’s take one of the most complex novels in American literature, Moby Dick, and see what the one-sentence concept might look like if Herman Melville had to write it for TV Guide:
A naïve young sailor joins a doomed whaling ship whose captain is obsessed with killing the giant white whale that took his leg—and with it his faith.