The basics of storytelling consist of three elements: character, plot and setting. When building a story idea, it’s important to start with these three areas keeping in mind that conflict is the glue that holds all of these together and thrusts the story forward. Who is the story about? What do they want? What’s stopping them? These are questions you need to think about as you consider what you want to write.
When choosing who your story is about, making your characters relatable and sympathetic are elements to consider. This is not to say they have to be a “good” person, but they should have qualities that drive the story so your reader wants to read about them. They should have some level of confidence, this can start high and level off or start low and gradually increase. They might start out sympathetic or be completely unsympathetic. They can be active and willing to engage as a character or be reluctant to become actively involved. You should try to have them be at least a couple of these in order to create a character that readers feel are more like them. Giving your characters flaws prevents them from being too good to be true. You want to create a character that’s just as interesting to write about as they are to read.
Based on the theme of your book, creating a setting that is consistent throughout needs to have a set of rules and laws that govern it. Setting can either be a background to plot and character or it can be a central element that helps to drive your story forward. Science fiction and fantasy tend to have more emphasis on setting because you need to draw your reader into a new world and make them believe it’s real. Regardless of your genre, providing a time and place helps to ground your reader in the story.
When considering plot or what your story is about, it’s important to understand the big picture first. As a writer you are making a promise to the reader about what the story is really about, and the plot follows this promise from the beginning through the middle to the end. This leaves the reader feeling grounded in the story and fulfilled at the end. If you are writing a romance, the reader enters the story believing that though there will be conflict between the characters at the end they will be satisfied with a romantic conclusion. However, if you start with the promise of a romance but end with the lead character deciding to go off into the sunset choosing to walk away from love and be alone, you are not fulfilling your promise and therefore the ending is very disappointing to the reader. It’s essential to ask yourself what are your big questions and do they relate directly to the promises you’re making to your readers.
When thinking about story ideas and brainstorming the elements, using these three as a starting point and imagining the conflict that’s created between two or more of them will help to create a unique and interesting story for your readers.