Sometimes a story just comes to you whole cloth, as a complete entity. All you have to do is write it down. It’s like your story is written on a wet clay tablet, and once you’ve written it all down it begins to solidify almost immediately. You still have time to modify it, of course, but it’s basically whole and done once you lay it out to dry.
That’s best-case scenario. In reality, it’s usually a little more difficult than that, right?
Sometimes you have to build your story from lots of little unconnected pieces. To keep with my analogy, rather than having a drying clay tablet of a single idea, you have a bunch of little idea stones you need to try to work together into some kind of aggregate of ideas.
The challenge you face is to bring together all these little stones of ideas and hold them together in such a way that they make your story—your slab of aggregate—stronger, more stable. The danger, of course, is that some of your ideas will create weaknesses that break your story.
Okay, maybe I’ve taken this metaphor a little too far. ;) Let’s bring this into the real world a bit.
Last week, I had an idea. Yes, okay, I have lots of ideas; a rare few of them are even pretty good. But I like this one in particular, partially perhaps because it revisits and partially fleshes out a world I’ve been thinking of for years and am only just getting close to exploring. The idea kept popping up in my mind at the most unexpected and inconvenient times, so, taking Ann’s advice (which I shared earlier) I wrote it down.
Now, it isn’t a big idea. It’s not even a proper scene; it’s just two characters standing together. But it’s a little idea stone that fits in well with all the other idea stones I’ve had for this world. So it might someday turn into something more. Even if it doesn’t, though, it creates something solid for the world I want to build. It is a little stone in the wet clay of the world around which I might someday mold both the rest of the world and a story that incorporates it. I need a lot more little idea stones, though, before I can create a story in this world, because right now all I have is chunky clay.
What I’m getting at is this: An idea isn’t usually a story unto itself, but it can be an excellent place to start building one. A story needs lots of ideas to make it work—ideas about characters, ideas about setting, ideas about plot. The longer the story, of course, the more ideas it needs.
The trick is to discover what the clay is that holds them all together and makes them into a cohesive whole.