Incubating a Story Idea - Travis Senzaki

Incubating a Story Idea

As I wrote last week, I recently decided to abandon editing my long-standing work-in-progress, a multi-POV story that was intended to be the first in a long, involved series, and try something a little more appropriate to my experience level. I wanted a story with a smaller central cast and a single POV character, so I could really focus on his characterization and arc. That meant that I needed a whole new story and for the first time since 2011, I faced a truly blank page. It was time to get to work.

Step One: Story Idea. Crappy Will Do.

I learned several important things from the epic that I’ve temporarily set aside, but one is a “secret” that I think will help any writer: you don’t need a terrific story idea when you start. With Banner, I thought I was going to write a story about a character who went to war and found out that it wasn’t the noble struggle that he’d thought it would be. I started my background material with that premise in mind, sure, but by the time I got around to outlining, that concept was utterly gone. First, I decided the character needed a reason to be off at war to begin with, and I wanted him to have a noble social background, so that he would have a good reason to be in a leadership position. As I started writing the backstory, the lead-up to the war, I discovered other threads that were far more interesting and other characters who made for a more engaging tale (in my opinion). The novel I wrote ran 200,000 words in the first draft (many to disappear during editing), and never even got to that war he was supposed to be disillusioned by.

What’s my point? I knew that when I sat down to write this second tale, I didn’t need a brilliant premise. I just needed something I could use as a starting point. So, I have a boy from a farming town that falls in with a bandit who’s stolen a crown. That’s where I was last week, and you can have that story, because it’s nowhere near where I am now.

Why did the bandit have a crown? Well, we need to know about the kings of the land. How many kings? Why does a king lose a crown. There’s a story in that. And it went on from there. Over the last week, I’ve sat down each day to write something new about the background of the world. The political situation, the economics and resources. The terrain and settings. The farming village. The hero’s family’s background, and relations with the town. The bandit’s background and how he came upon a crown.

Ideas came and went through the week. Things that I wrote on Monday made no sense after I completely twisted the story on Tuesday. By the end of the week, something came into shape, and I’m kind of excited by the beginning of a story I have now. On Friday, after stumbling across the “Snowflake Method” I took my commute to focus on the first step of that method- working my story into a single sentence. And that gave me some good ideas, too.

So, I’m off and running now. I have a few more bits of background that may shake everything up again, but I’m nearly to the point that I can begin an initial outline.

Take that, blank page.

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