Day 1 – From Idea to Premise…and Beyond?

Day 1

Grab your Short Story Framework and let’s have some fun!

Too often people start writing before they have more than a simple premise for a story. They have a cool idea, but no clue where to take it. We’re going to work on that part today, but rest assure, by tomorrow, you’ll have a much better idea of how to develop your cool idea into a real story.

Another problem I often see is that people rush through the first draft of a short story in one sitting (that’s part of the appeal of short stories, right?!), leaving themselves rushing the ending, and not really knowing what the story is about.

Today, I want you to brainstorm the very first pieces of the Short Story Framework: the character, their adjective, and their desire.

Spend some time on this.

Remember, we’re not writing today. Only planning.

Figure out your person, their adjective and their desire 

(Bonus points for thinking about setting because it will contribute to their adjective, desire, and the actions they take in the story.

The Idea

If you’re struggling to come up with an idea, ask yourself these questions:

  • What if…
  • What makes you angry?
  • What makes you happy?

And how could you use that in a story? What kind of character would be interesting to have experience it?

Give your character an adjective

This adjective will describe your character’s default state. Are they a happy housewife? A frustrated teacher? A timid wrestler? A nervous tree?

(You might also want to think about how they strive to hide that state, and what they will do to avoid showing the ‘real them’ to others…)

Think About Setting

Setting is important because it dictates what your character might be concerned about.

  • In a historical fiction, your, historical character isn’t necessarily going to be, unless it’s very recent history, very interested in, you know, worried about the next iPhone upgrade. (They might be concerned about the impact of the Spinning Jenny on the community)
  • If it’s a futuristic Space Opera, they’re going to have very different concerns again.
  • If it’s modern-day low-lying coastal area, they might be very concerned about climate change and floods.

What Does Your Character Desire?

There’s the famous piece of writing advice that says your character has to want something, even if it’s just a glass of water.

(I had great fun writing a story one time where all my character wanted to do was sit down and stuff kept happening to stop them from sitting down — there were bandits !)

This desire doesn’t have to be dramatic, In fact, it can be very effective in short fiction to have your character want something pretty mundane.

World Peace? Meh, not very interesting, because you can’t do it justice at a short story scale.

But if your character simply wants to leave home (or stay in their home) that’s a thing you can have some fun subverting in a short story!

Remember short stories tend to be about one lightning-bolt moment in a person’s day or week or life. One very specific moment that has the potential to change everything (even if the character can’t see it). So don’t make their desire too ambitious.

Finding Your Tone

I believe it’s important to decide what kind of tone you want your story to have, overall, in order to keep it on track.

Do you want it to be funny? Cynical? Satirical? Romantic? Uplifting? Disturbing? Horrifying?

Decide now and it will help you choose the action of your story, and its ending, later.

Remember that playing with the opposite emotions can be very effective too (if you want to make me cry, make me laugh first! If you want to frighten me, have a very ordinary setting with one weird thing in it!)

Your Character’s First Action

Brainstorm the first action your character is taking to try to get their desire to come true.

Remember to make this very specific to your character, based on their flaws and strengths.

This first action doesn’t atually have to end up in your story. You can imagine that they have tried something that has made everything worse, and use that as the starting point for your story when we write the opening tomorrow (a great way to get that in medias res, middle-of-the-action start!)

The Secret to A Successful Writing Practice

OK, I know it’s probably frustrating not to have done any ‘actual writing’ today but I want you to understand that what you just did….

…is actual writing! It’s part of the writing process and therefore it counts as ‘writing.

This is something we talk about a lot in the Superstars group – the inner circle here at StoryADay. We get together in so many different ways to write and to talk about writing (revising, reading, critiquing, dreaming…) and all of it counts as ‘writing’.

This is been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the past few years…and we still have to keep reminding each other about it, even in the Superstars Group, s

So don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes you a while to absorb the truth that ‘writing’ is more than simply ‘adding new words to a draft’.

Congratulations, you took your first step to internalizing that message today!

Tomorrow, when we sit down to write the opening of our stories and brainstorm the complicated middle, things are going to go much more smoothly, trust me, because you did this work today.

NB This is exactly what you’ll need to do when someone asks for a summary of your story, so whether you go through this process now, or after you’ve written and edited down a long, rambly draft, this is a super-important skill to learn!

Now, you get to take the rest of the day off. Yay, You!

Leave us a comment telling us how the exercise went. You can share what you wrote if you want (everyone else: no stealing ideas, ok?!).

7 thoughts on “Day 1 – From Idea to Premise…and Beyond?”

  1. Some writers don’t like the word “system,” but what else would you call a series of small steps that move you toward finished work?

  2. Oh wow! how easy you’ve made it seem. I’m quite excited about the exercise and I hope my story turns out the way I envisage. Thanks a ton!

    1. Straightforward, perhaps. Probably not ‘easy’. And that’s OK.
      Keep pushing even when it starts to seem ‘not easy’ and you’ll be giving yourself a great gift.
      Thanks for the feedback!

  3. I wasn’t able to join the live call. I work early on weekends. This exercise helped me flesh out a character idea I have been thinking about around one of the prompts from the Story A Week newsletter.

  4. I really enjoyed this exercise.
    I’m hoping to write a short story as a lead magnet for my book series and I enjoyed following these steps. I’m hopeful about what comes next.
    A lovely beginning!
    Thank you!

    1. That’s a GREAT use for a whort story. Yay! (It also makes it a bit simpler, because the world already exists, right?)

  5. While I really don’t need a shiny new thing, I am excited about the story I’ve come up with because of the time I’ve taken this morning to go through these steps. Thank you!

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