Welcome to the part 2 of thriller outlining. This process is to be both fulfilling and inspiring to you as a thriller writer. To start, we are going to discuss arguably one of the most frustrating areas for writers and, that is the creation of your original story concept.
We’ve all read books in the thriller genre and marveled at the intricate plots and story ideas from other authors, and if you are like me, you’ve given thought to their scheme and wondered how they’ve come up with the idea. Maybe you’ve even googled your favorite thriller author to see if they discuss in an interview how they develop their story concepts.
Usually, you will find one or two or three of the leading authors have provided background to their process by which they come up with story ideas, but each of their methods is very high level and do not offer a lot of depth making it reasonably generic.
In this post, I’m going to show you two proven and relatively natural ways, and by natural I mean not too much stress on the brain to develop a worthy story concept but two ways where you can create story ideas with relative ease.
Let’s get right into it.
Pre-Questions for Story Concepts
To begin, if you already have a basic story idea, you can skip the next paragraph or two and go right down to the first story concept creation method where you will learn a process on how to expand on your idea. If you have not come up with a plan, then there are a few pre-work steps I like to take to narrow the focus. If you are like me, I work in a step-by-step type process and if I think too broadly from the beginning that’s where I become frustrated. So the next paragraph or two will provide you a way to focus down to a manageable level.
We are all in the thriller genre. That we know, but as well also know there are several sub-genres we should be considering when we begin to develop an idea. So, let’s get that nailed down and out of the way now.
What sub-genre of fiction are you planning on writing?
Legal, Crime, Medical, Political, Physiological, Conspiracy
The sub-genre will determine (obviously) where you need to go with your initial story concept.
If you aren’t sure of your theme yet, that’s okay. In fact, it’s probably true for most of us at this stage. But, the truth is, like this entire process we’re narrowing our focus to help us create a better story. By spending a little time on a theme now, we’ll give ourselves a better chance at coming up with a strong concept. So, because theme isn’t always the easiest of decisions, you can begin by choosing one of the ten standard theme’s in literature today.
To do this, there is no need to recreate the wheel. Our friends at ThoughtCo.com have written all about theme. Visit 10 Common Themes in Literature and choose a theme. No worries if you settle on more than one at this stage. Write them down and come back to our site and continue. We’ll wait.
Okay, you’ve decided on an underlying theme for starters, and now we’re going to give a quick consideration to a character. If you have an idea for the main character, a hero or even a villain, now is the time to jot that down. I wouldn’t go into too much detail here, but if you have something in mind, write it all down. Don’t worry about incomplete sentences. Get the basics down and move one.
If you don’t have an idea for a hero or villain, not to worry, our second story concept method is a shoe in for the perfect way to come up with a hero or villain.
Next up, and remember we’re narrowing the focus here. That’s the point of the pre-questions. Don’t lose focus here because it helps a lot later.
Ok, but next up is asking yourself the question,
What is happening in your story?
If you have an idea, now is the time to jot those ideas down. It’s okay if they are not all the same story idea. Jot all of your thoughts down. What do you want to happen in your story? Is there a serial killer, a missing person, a political murder? Get that idea or ideas down now. It will help you narrow the focus later.
Last in our pre-questions is where and when does the story take place?
This might seem silly, but not all accounts can take place in any old place and time. The setting is as important as your characters and plot, so if you have a place in mind. Jot it down. If you don’t, consider your above answers and find common ground.
For example, does your idea include drowning or boating? You may want to consider a coastal area. Does it cover a desert or forest area? How about mountains? Or cities in warm climates. Maybe cold climates. Jot those ideas down now. Again, when we get to the two methods below, you may have a specific time in mind where your initial story concept doesn’t fit.
Okay, for me the narrowing process stops here. Like I said before I follow a process and my method although step by step is broad in the beginning and by the time I finish with a complete outline, it’s pretty comprehensive, but I get anxious in this phase to make some real headway and come up with a story concept I love, so I try not to get too detailed. However, if you need to dive deeper, please do what you need to do until you’re comfortable, just don’t spend too much time on this stage. It’s all about high-level ideas with story concepts, and lots of it will change as we continue anyhow.
Now we’re on to the first of two different ways you can conceptualize your story idea. The first of these two processes is the quickest method concerning taking action and coming up with different story ideas. The second one takes a little more time to build up. Try them both and see what works best for you. Maybe a dual approach is an answer. It is for me.
Story Concept Method #1
To begin the first method, I want to introduce you to two books:(both of which have affiliate links attached)
When trying to come up with a strong story idea, sometimes it’s the slightest of idea’s that trigger the beginning of a great story. It could be something as simple as overhearing a conversation, recalling a vivid dream, or watching a favorite movie. The problem is, ideas do not reveal themselves when requested. We can’t say,
Okay, brain, I need an idea, now recall something from my memory bank so I can write a book about it.
It doesn’t work that way, so many of us resort to methods and tools to help our brains create a new idea. These two books are tools I use on a regular basis and in my view the two very best story concept idea books on the market today.
Both of these have hundreds of different options for high stake plots, subplots, escape plots, examination plots, mystery plots, search plots, secret plots, rescue plots, and the threat of plots, to name quite a few.
The benefit to you as a thriller writer is the classification of the different plots.
For example, in Fred White’s book, the Writer’s Idea Thesaurus: An Interactive Guide for Developing Ideas for Novels and Short Stories, he has dozens of plots that all work perfectly for thriller writers. See chapters 15-19 in his book to get a taste of what’s available. Each chapter has 5-10 plot ideas per section.
Another benefit to using these books for your story concept brainstorming session is both do not only provide a complete plot idea, but they also offer some inspiring ideas around each plot to help flesh them out.
I bet I’ve read both a couple of times, yet each time I need to brainstorm, these two books are among the top tools in my arsenal for story concepts, settings, characters, etc.
Once you find an idea that peaks your interest, switch out the generic information of character and setting with your answers from above and voila! You have an original plot concept!
Story Concept Method #2
The second way to conceptualize a story idea is to use a method I created years ago, called the Story Idea Generator or The Newspaper Method.
This method has generated hundreds of story ideas for me over the years. Hundreds. The process is simple, and I’ve put it together in an hour-long course you can access for free by clicking on the link below.
As I mentioned before, this process is more time consuming than the first. If you’re looking for immediate gratification than certainly consider buying one or both of the books I mentioned above. You’ll be very happy you did, and you might end up with a solid story concept before bed tonight!
The Story Idea Generator is a long-term approach to the creation of a story concept. Here’s the window dressing version of the process, but click over and see the entire description and enroll to get the full effect. It’s compelling…and did I mention free to you? I think I did.
The Story Idea Generator method consists of mining newspapers for stories that match the genre in which you plan on writing, then taking that idea and expanding on it with the answers to the questions I’ve listed above just as you did with the first method.
With all that information compiled into one place, you’ll come away with a great story concept. Seriously. Try it out, and you’ll see for yourself.
The process does take time. There are only so many good options available in the world each day or week, so you may find you have to keep mining the newspapers on a daily or I recommend a weekly basis for a few weeks until you see something that interests you.
Over the course of a few weeks or months, you’ll have enough story concepts to last a lifetime as a thriller writer.
Next in the series
Next up in our thriller outlining series is Brainstorming the Basics.
We’ve touched on the fundamental basics of character, setting, theme, etc. in our questions above, but in the next post, we deep dive into what it all means and how spending time brainstorming early on will make a huge difference in your result.
If you want to keep on pace with the outlining process, I suggest you spend some time working through the two books I mentioned, and/or enroll in The Story Idea Generator for a longer term approach. After next week we’ll finish up with the brainstorming sessions and move to full-on creation mode!