Don’t you wish you could know if a story idea is a good one? One that will be interesting and make sense before you get 50,000 words into an idea that goes nowhere?
Ok, if you are a plotter, you might have an answer to this question! But what if you didn’t want to outline every chapter and spend a month figuring out plot details before you decided it all sucked and it was time to move on? What if you had a simple tool to vet a story idea in an hour? Heck, what if it could also tell you where plot holes existed in the main plot or subplot BEFORE you spend hours lost, wondering how to salvage the story line?
Yeah, sign me up for that too!
Actually there are several techniques out there to try if you want to run through an internet search. Maybe that is how you found this one! The important thing is it is possible and it will save you a ton of writing time, frustration, and will help you write your novel faster. And all you need to do is follow seven steps and put in some time.
The path of all stories
Some really smart people figured out that all great stories follow the same formula. You can reject that notion, ignore it, or nod your head in agreement, but I promise you they have a point. Once you learn it, you’ll start to see how all stories do have the same framework even if the plot itself is totally different.
And it is this underlying, hidden framework that will allow you to find weaknesses in your idea – or develop it into an awesome story.
This is not just the idea of a three or five act story structure. That is all well and fine to say that a story has a beginning, climax, and end. You’ve probably figured out that much of your story idea and I can promise you there are a lot of holes you haven’t even though of yet if you’ve only used this structure.
What really works is following the 7 stages of story structure.
This is a awesome tool for fantasy stories especially. But even if you switched to contemporary romance, these seven stages won’t lead you astray. And if you can answer the questions of each stage, you will know your plot is going to work out before you get to the end — or the middle where everything usually falls apart.
Stage 1: Intro
Introduce your character and world, but most importantly allow the reader to see what every day is like for the main character(s) before you throw them into chaos with the BIG plot of the book, which is often saving the world. It helps the reader to know and like the character enough to follow them through the big adventures. Not to mention seeing that there are problems in the world of the story with buried secrets, corrupt mages, or big troll armies before you send the characters off to fix them.
Stage 2: Inciting Incident
Something happens to turn the main character’s life upside down. If the Intro was a normal day, whether that was a good one or bad, the inciting incident is when normal blows up and shatters the world.
How about an example? For Daenyrs in Game of Thrones, the inciting incident was being “given” in marriage to Drogo in exchange for a promise to her brother of winning the iron throne. Nothing will ever be the same for her after that. But before it, we saw what her normal life was like as she and her brother hid in fear for their lives, moving from one questionable patron to another, frequently with hunger in-between.
Stage 3: Reaction Phase
When life drops us on our butts, we tend to reel, either trying to get back what was lost or scrambling to survive in this new reality. Or both. At the same time. It, and us, don’t always make sense. This is your character after the inciting incident. How is she reacting to the upheaval in her life? Is she defeated or wants revenge? Does she rise above? Survivors find a way to make it through, though it is often the kindness and help of strangers that make it possible. Figure out how your character is reacting, who is going to save them and why.
This is Daenyrs lost among the Khalaseei and Ser Jorah Mormont, guiding her in how to ride as much as how to comport herself.
Stage 4: New Info
Something has to set the stage for the character to come to grips with their new reality and that is the New Info stage. Sometimes referred to as the “dark night of the soul,” this phase can stem from a devastating failure. Or it can come with news or a revelation. Somehow the character realizes what it is they need to survive. Maybe she just needs training. Or maybe she needs a magical talisman and learns where it is. The character progresses from a newbie lucky to be alive to getting a clue and some experience. The story moves on!
Daenyrs learns to be the Khalessi, how to speak up to her brother, how to please her husband in a way that also pleases her, she learns to trust herself and by doing so realizes she has the potential to be more.
Stage 5: Planning Phase
What makes this phase different is the character has a plan and motivation. If she was lost in the reaction phase, now she is headed toward a goal. Things can still go wrong, problems abound, but now the character is meeting them with some steam and persistence.
This is Daenrys eating a raw horse heart to prove she is strong enough for Drogo as much as to be a ruler.
Stage 6: Climax
It all must lead to something. Whatever or whoever caused the inciting incident must be dealt with, whether it was a corrupt mage searching for an ancient artifact he shouldn’t have or an invading army, the main character has been journeying to this moment. Make it big, epic, and unforgettable.
This is Deanyrs strong enough in knowing what is right and what true nobility is so that she sees through her brother’s artificial strength to his weakness. And when he is killed, she doesn’t shed a tear.
Stage 7: Wrap up
Just like the story begins with life before everything goes crazy, the novel ends with what life is like after the scales are balanced. Is it as good as was hoped? Are there lingering problems or new ones developing? This phase sets the stage for the reader to hope for more or for a glimpse of that “happily ever after” at the end.
Daenrys traveling with Drogo but no closer to regaining her throne until… well the story goes on, doesn’t it? Launching into a new character arc as Daenrys becomes something even more than a Khalessi with a new inciting incident. The wrap up is really the Info phase all over again!
Of course this was simply following one plot line. Stories can be much more complex and to do that layer in the 7 stages with the plot and subplots, each following, or diverting, the paths of different characters. Just remember, the seven stages don’t all happen at once or to the same character. This divergent spacing enriches the story. Just don’t forget which one belongs to the main plot of the novel so that you don’t water it down, leaving the reader wondering when you are going to get the climax, end, and if that was supposed to be a wrap up?
Follow your ideas through the seven stages to find weakness or if the plot is making sense. If you can fill in the gaps, you know this idea will make a great novel. Or, if nothing lines up, put the idea on a back burner to cook a little longer and avoid months of writing that leads nowhere!
For more tips on using the seven stages to develop a story idea, check out Video 1 of the 15 Minute Fantasy Writer or go even more in depth by signing up for The Ultimate Fantasy Writer’s Starter Kit!
Have you ever written yourself into a huge plot hole and had to rethink your entire story? Or do you have a different idea development technique that you use? If so, let me know in the comments!