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!