TAP008, How to Flesh Out a Story Idea into a Synopsis (Part Two)
TAP008, How To Flesh Out A Story Idea
So, you’ve created an idea for your story that you can’t wait to write. But, you’re feeling stuck and don’t know how to flesh out a story idea. It’s at this point that you start to realise that writing a novel is a much harder task than you first imagined.
This realisation is perfectly normal. It’s the result of focusing on a grand goal instead of the next step along the path. And, this is exactly what you need to do when you flesh out a story idea. You need to focus on the next step, not writing the first chapter of your book or even creating an outline for your novel. Before you start planning or writing by the seat of your pants, you need to flesh out your story idea into a synopsis.
How to flesh out a story idea
In the previous blog and accompanying video, I discussed how to identify your story’s problem, what’s at stake, protagonist and antagonist. These steps were the first four steps of my eight-step process on how to flesh out a story idea into a synopsis. All you have right now is the first basic elements of an idea. How do you take this information and flesh out a story idea even further? In this second blog and video of my two-part mini-series, I’m going to discuss the final four steps you need to take to flesh out a story idea or one-liner pitch into a story synopsis. If you haven’t completed the first part of these series, click here and do this right now before you go on to complete the final four steps below. In the video below, I discuss the final four steps to fleshing out your story idea into a synopsis.
So, let’s get started.
#5 – What does the protagonist want?
By now you should have clearly identified your protagonist’s stakes. And, have a hint at your protagonists why. People tend to take actions for a few reasons, and the two most popular ones are out of habit, and the second is because they want something. Take a few moments and look over the information about your protagonist and consider their goal.
- What do they want?
- Or, what does your protagonist think they want?
As a coach, I’ve discovered that people rarely know what they want. Someone may think they want X but, as time rolls on, they realise they want Y. This same evolution of discovery will be true of your protagonist. Your protagonist may want a few things when they first start out in the story, and that’s okay. These wants are essentially your protagonist’s goals. This goal is the point where your story’s plot will develop. The protagonist’s goal will ultimately determine the actions they take, which is essentially the plot or the events that unfold in your story.
Character Driven vs Plot
There is a lot of debate over whether you should write a character-driven novel or a plot-driven novel. But, I believe you can’t have one without the other. An active character will take actionable steps which will lead to certain outcomes. These outcomes are the plot of the story. So think of plot as the events that unfold, as opposed to a mysterious story device. When people read books and continue with a series, it’s because they connect with the protagonist, not because of an exciting series of events (plot).
Review Your One-Liner
Take a few moments and rewrite your story’s one-liner based on this new information about your protagonist. Think of your one-liner as…”Protagonist” is trying to solve “problem” or “stakes” will happen, and “antagonist” is trying to stop them for “these reasons.” This new one-liner is the core conflict of your story. It’s this core conflict that can navigate you when you become lost or stuck with your story
#6 – What are the motivating factors in your story?
Take a few moments and consider your protagonist, stakes, goals and antagonist; What matters most to your central characters? And, what is motivating your antagonist and protagonist to act? Something needs to motivate your characters especially when the goal seems unattainable. This motivation is usually deeply rooted in emotion. Think of why millions of people want to lose weight. It’s not the numerical goal or a certain size that motivates people. What is motivating people to lose weight is a feeling. That feeling of looking in the mirror and liking what you see.
- So, what is motivating your characters?
- And, what emotion is this motivation deeply rooted in?
Don’t forget to focus on the antagonist as well. A great antagonist is just as important as your protagonist. I know I touched on this in an earlier step but, everything your antagonist does will be for a reason. The more time you spend fleshing out motivations, the more convincing antagonist you will create. Understanding motivation will help you understand how your antagonist will act, which results in your protagonist taking action, and this is the basics of a story plot.
Questions to Consider
If you feel stuck with figuring out what’s motivating your characters, reflect on the answers to the questions below.
- Why is this important to the protagonist/antagonist?
- What do they have to lose if the big thing isn’t resolved
- What are they afraid of happening?
- Why don’t they want that to happen?
- What are they willing to risk or do to resolve it?
- What are they not willing to do? Or, Is there a line they won’t cross?
- Who do they have supporting them in this goal?
- Who is against them?
- What weaknesses do they have that will hurt them in this?
- What strengths do they have that will help them?
At this stage, I want you to focus on the things that will directly affect the plot and leave the character-building work for another time.
#7 – What are your story’s key moments?
At this stage, you probably have an idea of how the story will unfold or at the very least the crucial moments in your story. Make a note of the key moments in your story. Forget about story structure for a moment and focus on the key moments that need to happen to pull your characters closer to the end of your story. These are essentially story anchors in which you will frame your story around. To help you brainstorm these crucial story moments, I’ve created a list of question to help you get started.
- What is the first moment in which your protagonist realises they have a problem? The answer to this question will relate to the core problem of your story.
- What is the moment where the protagonist discovers who or what is in his way?
- What is the moment where they try to act and fail for the first time?
- What is the moment where they feel it’s pointless to even go on or they want to give up?
- What is the moment where they decide they’re going to risk something to fix this problem?
- What is the moment when they resolve this problem?
As you go through the questions, don’t worry if you cannot answer them all. That’s perfectly okay. Focus on using these questions as a guide to help you create these key moments. Consider how the questions may relate to your story and just write down a few ideas. At this stage, write down any interesting ideas about any scenes you may want to include in your story.
#8 – Summarise your story
Pull together all of the information you may have about your story and simply tell it. Forget about writing well or if moments are in the right place and focus on telling the story. The synopsis that you will write in this step is just for you. It’s not intended to be seen by anyone. So, tell the story in the same way that you would tell a friend or a reader who wanted to know more about your novel. The goal of writing this synopsis is to get a general feel for how the plot unfolds. It also serves as a guide for those of you who love the “minimal plans” approach to writing or as a springboard for those of you who love to “plot and plan out” your story.
So, these are the final four steps to fleshing out your story idea into a synopsis. I want to make this as easy for you as possible and help you avoid overwhelm that comes with getting too much information at once. After you’ve finished watching the video or reading this blog post, I want you to take a few moments and take the following five steps.
- Get clear on what your Protagonist wants.
- Rewrite your one-liner based on what you now know about your story.
- Define your protagonist and antagonists motivations.
- Write out your story’s key moments.
- Summarise your story based on what you now know from completing these eight steps.
Are you struggling to flesh out your story idea into a synopsis? Which one of these tips did you find most helpful? I want to hear from you. Let me know by sharing your thoughts in the comments section below.
Thank you for listening, reading, commenting and sharing with such enthusiasm.
I’m Amelia. I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Missing, the first book in the James Lalonde series. On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process. Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.