Thursday, July 16, 2009

What is a Story Idea?

When I hear some people talk about their story ideas, I’m amazed at what they think is a great idea. One author described her great idea as “an adventure story from the girls’ point of view.” She also described it as a female Lord of the Rings. Doesn’t that just make you want to rush out to the story and buy her book? Yeah, me neither.

I see nothing wrong with putting female characters in an adventure story. We’ve seen several authors do it. But what’s the story? The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley could be described in the same way as that above, although there are many things that are different. What that tells us is that the author above has told us very little. At most, she has told us the plot and one characteristic of the protagonist. But as you’re aware, there is a decade of plots, depending upon who is numbering them.

A story idea includes characters and plot, but these things alone are not enough. Change is the element that completes the triad. We start with a character, send him through the plot and he emerges having experienced change. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo begins as a carefree Hobbit, with little knowledge of the world outside the Shire. We send him on a quest to destroy the ring. He emerges with experience and wounded from the ordeal. In The Hero and the Crown, Aerin begins as an outcast, the daughter of the witchwoman who the people believe enspelled their king into marrying her. On her journey, builds popularity with the people the hard way, by slaying the dragons that ravage their lands, but that isn’t enough. She goes on a quest to kill her uncle and return the Hero’s Crown to her homeland. She emerges a hero and not quite mortal, respected and loved by her people.

Change is what makes a story memorable. I think that’s why the Biblical account of Hosea had such an affect on me and why I chose to write For the Love of a Devil. In Hosea’s case, the change is in his relationship with his wife. Gomer is content to stay with him long enough to have three children, but she doesn’t love him and longs for someone better—her “soul mate”, perhaps. Their relationship goes through the gauntlet with her always seeking someone better and Hosea providing for her. When they emerge their relationship has changed. She no longer longs for other men and Hosea has proven that he will love her unconditionally.

No story idea is complete until we know how the plot will change the character. The strength of a story idea is directly proportional to the amount of change that takes place between the beginning and end of the story.