Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Come Up With A Great Story, Part 2

Last week we talked a bit about ten-book syndrome (which might be 2-book syndrome or 12-book syndrome for you since all of our careers are different!).

I suggested that you keep your old synopsis and start taking notes on your editorial comments in order to springboard yourself into becoming a better writer more quickly.

But today, the rubber meets the road.

We're going to discuss the lowest common denominator qualities I have found in all great books, regardless of genre.

Story, theme and vehicle.

I discovered that no matter what your genre, you have a story for your book …

Like: Boss falls in love with secretary. Werewolves invade a small mid-western town. A widow learns to live again after her son dies. A shy engineer finds love when she uncovers her wild side. (I call this a one-line summary by the way. You can use this as an elevator pitch at conferences. An editor says...What's your book about and you say, A widow learns to love again after her son dies. Now, note, it's not high concept. For it to be high concept...Oh, wait. There's too much there for me to try to explain that quickly. We'll talk about that in another blog. Just know that editors and agents know that YOU know your story, when you can boil it down to that one line! And believe it or not that's about all they need to hear to know whether or not what you're writing would work for them.)

I'm sure you already know you need to have a story, but what you might not know is that in addition to your STORY you also need a THEME. (Yes, even for something small like a category romance.) 

Like: Forgiveness is hard. Or you won’t ever find yourself if you don’t take risks. Or sometimes you have to come out of your comfort zone. Love conquers all. Don't judge a book by its cover. Live and let live. (To just touch on a few themes...)

Why? Because themes unify. They give a story direction. And, as a writer, you will appreciate having a little direction! LOL

Then you need a VEHICLE. This is what most people refer to as an external conflict.

Like: A boss falls in love with his secretary when they are stranded in a cabin in a snowstorm.

Do you see how being stranded facilitates the hero and heroine falling in love? It’s the “vehicle” that keeps them together long enough that they stop and really notice each other.

How about: Werewolves invade a small Midwestern town and when the heroine is captured by the leader and used as their source of information to take over the town, she and the Alpha fall in love.

Her capture is the vehicle. It gets and keeps the heroine and the Alpha together long enough to fall in love.

How about: Learning to care for his infant half-brother the hero falls in love with his co-guardian.

Learning to care for the infant is the vehicle.

How about: Investigating the murder of his brother the hero and heroine fall in love.

Investigating is the vehicle.

You can’t have a great story without a vehicle…something that gets them together and keeps them together. Without a strong, worthy vehicle, your book will read as episodic.

Now, reading those examples above, any one of them could be a category romance. How would we turn them into single titles?

By having enough threads connected to the vehicle.

Let’s take: Werewolves invade a small Midwestern town and when the heroine is captured by the leader and used as their source of information to take over, she and the Alpha fall in love.

To make this a single title, you could show his pack becoming disgruntled as he goes soft on the heroine, and mutiny when he officially makes her his mate.

You could also add that her father organizes a search party to find her…because he has an agenda of his own.

You could also add that the town bartender knew the werewolves were coming and wants to join the pack now before the townspeople find out and he becomes a liability.

Do you see how those threads take a simple, one-note story and turn it into something richer, more textured?

Now, you can’t just add threads willy-nilly. Notice how all of the above threads connect to the main story of the werewolves invading town? That’s how you keep a story tight and connected!

And one final point...the vehicle for a mainstream or thriller or straight suspense or science fiction or women's fiction doesn't act as a way to get and keep the hero and heroine together so they can fall in love. Rather, the vehicle in books other than romance is the "thing" that tosses your protagonist into the story in the first place.

Like: When faced with bankruptcy after her son is killed, a widow is forced to get a job at a daycare and learns to live again.

Getting a job at a daycare is the vehicle that helps her to learn to live again. (Going bankrupt is the inciting incident.)

Or: When terroists take over Texas (sure, why not? LOL), Colonel Art Mongtomery faces not just an unexpectly terrifying threat to the world but also his own personal demons when he's the one charged with taking back the state.

Being charged with the job of taking back the state is the vehicle that not only introduces him to the bad, bad terrorists, but also forces him to face his personal demons.

So there you have it.

Coming up with story ideas might be a very natural thing for you at the beginning of your career. But learning how to sort through them and pick the best ideas is a skill you need to acquire. It’s also wise to do a little analysis in your genre or subgenre to see what elements make the most successful stories successful.

And it doesn’t hurt to learn how to build an idea! You may not use the story, theme and vehicle model. You can create your own model for making sure you have enough elements to write a strong, rich, textured tale.

Happy Monday! 

Oh! Don't forget to scroll down to my Thanksgiving greeting and add a comment. I'll be chosing a person from those who comment to receive a $25.00 Amazon gift card.

susan meier

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