Two Sticks of Story Dynamite for Novelists and Short Story Writers

USED TO BE, I’D FIND GREAT STORY IDEAS in the newspaper that got tossed at my door each morning. Recently, though, I haven’t even had to get out of bed to gather inspirational goodness. That’s because a couple of bloggers have been delivering fresh literary fodder to my inbox on the regular. Here are two such ideas. Either could blast a humdrum story out of its complacency!

1) Inventing narratives

Hip biz guru Seth Godin wrote recently about inventing narratives. He said, That story in your head? It’s invented. It has to be. It might be based on some things that actually happened…. But it can’t possibly be a complete and detailed understanding of everything.

Seth sees this creative interpretation as problematic. That’s because Seth is not a novelist! Novelists are probably especially prone to inventing narratives—and probably particularly good at it! They might tell stories about everyday occurrences, family history, or the big issues life flings at us. For instance, a novelist could make up a story to explain the behavior of someone who snatched a parking spot from her, the reasons her parents favor her sister, or why one person got a terrifying diagnosis but she did not.

Which is actually pretty awesome! (Maybe not in real life—but in our literary lives, for sure.) That’s because it’s a short trip from misinterpreting a situation to taking misguided action on it—which, in fiction, can lead to exactly the sort of trouble needed to drive our story full speed ahead!

Got a dead spot in your plot? A place where not enough is happening? Play with this idea:

  • Your main character misunderstands another person’s motivations—believing them to be acting out of malice, when that is far from the truth!
  • Even worse, your MC takes vindictive action in response to the story she’s concocted.
  • What bad stuff comes tumbling down the hill to complicate her life as a result?
  • How the heck is she going to dig herself out of this mess?

2) Alter egos

Clever tarot writer Kate at DailyTarotGirl.com has been promoting the subversive advice of her “evil twin,” Veronica, for years. As I pondered a fresh approach to complicating a story I was working on, I thought about Veronica and realized the damage an alter ego could do to a plot!

Just imagine it! What if your main character had an alter ego? A persona she allowed to say, eat, or do whatever her daily persona was constrained against? That alternative personality might be braver, stronger, or kinder than she is in her regular guise. Or that other personality might be sneaky and underhanded. Or, if you’re writing a thriller, she might even be murderous!

And that’s just a start! What kinds of literary trouble might such a character generate? The possibilities seem endless—and fascinatingly, conflict-inducing-ly, complicatedly fraught!

So, that’s it for this week. Now, go forth and blow up your plot with these or any other trouble-inducing ideas. Just light the fuse and stick your fingers in your ears. After it gets over the shock, your story will thank you for it!

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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Thank you to Llewellyn Worldwide for kind permission to use the image of the Moon card from the EVERYDAY WITCH TAROT

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