I’ve got a great idea for a story!

One of the most common things you hear from people when they find out you are a writer (after, “I want to write a book one day”) is “I’ve got a great idea for a story.” If they don’t want to write it themselves, they kindly offer it to you. It is amazing, though, how often the ‘story’ idea being passed on is not a story;

“A car chase with Mr Whippy vans,” was one story I was offered.
“So why are ther Mr Whippy vans chasing each other?” I asked, drawing a very perplexed look from my friend.
“Well, you’re the writer, you figure that bit out.”
–See that is not a story, that’s a scene.

“Cats take over the world, and it ends up being a better place.”
My turn to look perplexed. “How?”
“Dunno, but it’s a great story idea.”
–Again, that’s not a story, that’s a premise.

The easiest way to work out if what you have in your head is a story is to work out if it has a beginning, middle and end. There are many other aspects which are required to make it a *good* story, but without those first three elements you haven’t even got the skeleton to start with.

Let me add a rider that not everything that has been passed on to me has been bad, most are great ideas, but I usually make a point of only writing stories that form in my head. If I can be inspired by the idea, and by inspired I mean I will change many aspects of the original plot, then I might write it. But if the world of that story doesn’t take seed and grow in my mind, I’ll leave it to disappear into the ether, because at the heart of it, it’s not mine.

So if you have a great idea for a story, don’t tell people about it, write it! Your images and feelings will shine through so much better than someone else who is just trying to capture what they cannot properly see for themselves. I don’t want you to tell me about your story idea, I want to read it instead!   

Happy writing,


6 thoughts on “I’ve got a great idea for a story!”

  1. Cats taking over the world (at least part of it) was an element of M.M. Smith’s Only Forward. And what do you know, it was a better place.

    I’m kind of guilty of saying that sort of thing; but only in a movie context. “This would make a great short film!” and “I want to make a movie out of this story.”

    Unfortunately I don’t know anything about the short film/movie industry so I settle for having the story published. Who knows, maybe it could get remade into a terrible movie like Burning Chrome.

  2. The Mr Whippy vans are still a mystery to me, and that idea was given to me over 2 years ago!

    And I have to confess I also get snippets of stuff, either scenes or premises and I think they are cool, but I just write them down in my little ideas pad, hopeful that one day I’ll find the story to insert them into, or grow around it as the case may be.

    But if you are able to write them into a ‘story’ then you should be able to take the next step to script form. I won’t say it is easy, I struggle with scriptwriting so much, despite having purchased/borrowed heaps of books on the subject. I might have to do a course I think. Or maybe it is just like ‘normal’ writing, where you just have to sit down and do it. I’d love to write a feature length film, it is certainly on my list of things to do.

  3. I actually find screenwriting easier, probably due to my technically minded personality finding more comfort in the structure that it requires.

    A good book to read is Save the Cat, which does a good job of explaining the structure as it appears in movies, beyond the beginning, middle, end that every story has.
    The secrets of Action Screenwriting, by William Martell is also good as quick way to see how to get something done, but is out of print so hard to come by.

  4. I think the Mr Whippy van would probably only work in film… But you know, according to many discussions in the media in recent months there are too many aspiring writers already so maybe we should just steal their ideas and deny all knowledge? 😉

  5. Thanks for the book tips Leif, I’ve been able to track down ‘Save the Cat’ and I’ll keep an eye out for the William Martell book. Let’s see if the cat can help me! I’m part way through ‘Story’ by Robert McKee, and have both of William Goldman’s books, so I feel like a bit of a screenwriting self-help book junkie!

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