An idea - the beginning of a story
Every novel, every story, regardless whether it is long or short, if it’s two sentences or 1000 pages, starts small. The most fundamental step all authors took long before finishing and publishing their works is simple, but inevitable - it’s having an idea.
Ideas can range from detailed and very well structured complexes to fractures of moments or dialogues, they can be a situation a character has to master, a phrase someone is directing towards them, or just the character themselves who is determined to become someone different. Ideas are everywhere, lie in every picture and hide in every situation we experience, yet they are also one of the most difficult things to be satisfied with.
The beginning is marked by the idea itself.
The most difficult ideas to put into a story are oftentimes those that arise in your mind in the middle of the night, the ones that appear spontaneously. They strike your mind like lightning and don’t let you go anymore.
Those ideas are the ones that need their fixed position in the storyline. They can assemble key moments in the finished project, or they could become something that becomes entirely unimportant for the progress of the story. However, at some point they are bound to happen. What lead to those events, what happened so that this specific situation was created? What characters do you need, and what traits do they have to impersonate to make the situation work?
Let’s take a look at an example.
And my heart stands still.
This is a free translation of a line in a song and will act as our spontaneously imagined line of words that is meant to be written in the finished story. From this line, we can draw concepts of basic story lines and drafts of characters.
The story will have to have a first-person narrator in order to make this line work. Taking this line’s literal meaning, our character will have it in mind in their very last seconds alive, or right before they receive medical help. Let’s make the character male. He might have had an accident and suffers from the consequences. Perhaps he is in hospital, and his love interest came for a visit, only to see him at his worst. They might hold his hand and sit still, listening to the beeping sound the machines make monitoring his irregular heartbeat. Our character might be awake, but very weak, only able to look at his visitor, seeing tears running down their cheek, imagining all the moments they could have spent together, thinking of all the lost possibilities. Seeing the one he loves cry over him adds to the pain he is feeling due to his physical condition. He spends his last moments thinking of what was and what could have been. As his heart stands still and his brain consumes the last remaining oxygen, his last thought is directed towards the person sobbing next to his bed. The person he never had the strength to be honest to about what he really felt.
On the other hand, the line also has a rather bright metaphorical meaning, compared to what its literal meaning can lead to. Our character might be outside in a park, having a sort of awkward date with the person they always loved. Birds might fly from tree to tree while the fresh spring air and the sunlight add to the atmosphere of a beautiful day in early April. The conversation might shift from the weather and the news to more personal topics, making the soon-to-be couple blush. They might talk about their idyllic surroundings and finally stand in front of a beautiful lake. And their heart might stand still for a second as they finally share their first kiss.
One line of text can always be interpreted in very many ways. There is no right or wrong. The only thing that is important is that you have to be happy about the way the story develops. One idea can develop into multiple stories, you just have to find out which of those you want to write.
But what do I do when I don’t have any idea but the passionate will to write? As many other people did I also struggled with figuring out an idea at many points. What I did was that I went and actively searched for inspiration. There is always a fragment of an idea, or at least a direction we already have in our minds. Let’s say we want to write something including romance.
Our search for inspiration takes us outside. It’s spring, the birds are chirping and the sun is shining. We visit the city centre and see a young couple happily sitting close to a fountain, enjoying some ice cream. They have a little puppy with them.
Now all we need is to extract an idea out of that situation. We could write about how the couple met at the animal shelter when the young man wanted to adopt a puppy. The woman could be working at the animal shelter and might have helped him to decide which dog to take home. A couple of weeks later they might have met again in the park, accidentally bumping into each other, resulting in her having his takeaway coffee all over her dress. As a way to apologize he invites her over for a home-cooked dinner the next day. In the following weeks they start meeting more often, pretending that the puppy is the reason since he misses the young lady who took care of him in the animal shelter, whereas in reality, they developed feelings for each other. Since both of them are rather clumsy, a couple of funny mishaps are bound to happen during their dates. The ice cream date at the fountain might be the one they confess their feelings for each other.
If that idea doesn’t quite float your boat, we could also make something darker out of the situation. The couple might already have been together for some time and they always had a dog they adopted together. When the dog died, their relationship almost broke due to their very different ways of mourning. One day, one of them runs across a stray puppy and decides to adopt it. The couple fights over whether or not it was too early to adopt a new puppy, but they decide to keep it, spending a beautiful spring in its company. In summer, they discover that the puppy is suffering under a rare condition. Despite their attempts to save it and their many trips to the vet the dog dies. This time, the relationship might finally break.
Every place, every experience and every situation can turn into a beautiful story. Finding inspiration and a matching idea can be the most challenging part. However, I believe that whoever is determined to write a story will eventually stumble across an idea and turn it into a beautiful tale.
If you’d like to add to this or share your sources of inspiration or even some ideas you don’t want to turn into a story by yourself, please leave a comment down below! I’d love to hear your thoughts!