Friday, March 27, 2015

How to Expand A Story Idea

From Story Idea to Basic Story Elements

You’re listening to the radio; talking to your friend; overhear a conversation in a café; read an intriguing fact.  All of a sudden an idea comes.  You wonder what if.  The idea strikes.

How do you go about turning that idea into a story?  The first step is to expand the idea.

You hear Li’l Red Riding Hood (Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs (1966) Lyrics written by Ronald Blackwell.) on the oldies station and all of a sudden you decide to have a female protagonist.  What kind of story do you enjoy reading?  What types of films are in your library?  In other words, what is your favorite genre?  Action?  Mystery?  Psychological thriller?

The Characters

Is Red going to be edgy and street smart, voluptuous and ready and willing, sleek and sultry?  Is she naïve but smart?  Lovable but needs protection?

Is the wolfish villain going to match her or be her opposite?  Sophisticated and charming?  A menacing gangster? A diamond-in-the-rough Harley rider?  Maybe he rides an old Indian. Naw, not a villain.  Does he keep his sheep suit on until the end, or does she know right away?

The Setting

Where does the story take place?  Is she in L.A. on her way to Ohio?  Is it a historical piece? Maybe she really does live on a small farm near the woods.  Does she hang out at jazz clubs in New Orleans and Grandma lives across Lake Pontchartrain?

And what about the Woodsman?  How does she meet him?  What does he look like?  Is he a double-barreled hunk?  Retiring and stoic but rises to the call?

And what about Granny?

The Questions

Do you see how this process goes? Questions, questions, questions.

Does Red actually get rescued by the Woodsman?  Or, like some French versions of the folktale, does she get rid of the wolf by means of her own smarts?

At this stage, you just keep asking questions and coming up with answers.

When you are clear on all the various attributes, write it all out.  You idea is now expanded into the basic elements of your story.

No process is carved in stone; every writer develops their own way of putting things together.  But especially for a beginning writer, having a traditional process as a guideline at least gets you going.

Zara Altair

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Long View of Writing Story

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin... Image via Wikipedia

Writing a story is a test of your persistence.  

You may have writing talent and great creativity but to write a complete story (novel or screenplay) you need to work.  You need to think of your process as work and act accordingly.  Set a regular time to write at least six days of the week.  

Be committed.  In the best of all possible situations you will have no distractions or interruptions.  Turn the ringer off on your phone.  Email and social networking are definite come later activities.  The hardest part will be to train your family and friends to wait until your declared work time is over.  Yes, there are more steps after that first draft is written.  

But first let’s get ready to begin writing the story.
  1. The Idea and the First Event
  2. People of the world—your story’s characters in broad strokes
  3. Research—the where and when
  4. Characters—the details
  5. Setting—the place(s) where your characters interact
  6. Scene Outline—all the possible scenes and how they are causally related
  7. Plot Outline—organizing the scenes into story form

But I want to write my story, you say.  

Doing these steps first will actually facilitate your writing.  You’ll know every room in the courthouse; you’ll know which character has the scar over his eye and whether it is clear blue, green, hazel, or black.  You will know how scene two sets the conflict for scene eight.  And much, much more.  

Your writing will flow. If you can’t wait, go ahead write one of your scenes.  But just keep it on hold until you have done your background work. Be prepared.  Along the way people are going to ask you, “You’re writing a screenplay/novel?  How many pages have you written?”  Instead of answering with a humbling one or three or maybe ten, cite the 120 pages of character delineation, or the 20 pages of settings.  They are all part of the process.  You will know that you are taking the necessary steps to write a professional piece.

Zara Altair

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How To Prepare Like A Professional Writer

Your goal is to be a professional writer.  You want to be paid for your story. When you begin your manuscript start with correct formatting.  This way you will be accustomed to seeing it as the first screening reader will see it.  Agent, editor, publisher, it doesn’t matter.  

The industry standards are the same. Picture this:  The reader comes in from lunch feeling just a bit sleepy.  A stack of manuscripts sits on his desk.  She’s ready to start a new one.  He pulls the first off the top of the pile: it’s already smudged because the paper is correctible bond.  He tosses it in the reject pile.  She pulls off the second neatly bound in a leatherette cover.  She tosses it.  The next manuscript is printed single spaced in a tiny sans-serif font that makes her eyes hurt just looking at it.  Toss. 

 Your aim as a professional writer is to present your story in a professional manner.  You’ve read the tip sheet from the publisher and followed all the guidelines.  You know the industry standards.  Your goal is to be part of that industry.  

As Chris Roerden says in Don’t Murder Your Mystery (Bella Rosa Books, 2006): The writer is expected to do whatever it takes to come up with a profitably publishable manuscript

The next manuscript is yours.  She has it in her hands.  She idly flips through. Yes, Courier font (not Courier New), double spaced, wide margins for notes, crisp clean 8 ½ x 11 inch paper (no perforated edges, no three-hole punch), loose pages numbered sequentially, held together by a large rubber band. She starts to read your story.

Make certain to read the publisher's submission guidelines. For example, online submissions often require either Arial or Times New Roman font.

Zara Altair

Monday, March 16, 2015

Crime Writing - Getting the Facts from a Suspect

Get the Facts

In this session of Interview and Interrogation for Writers Sgt. Derek Pacifico, retired Homicide Detective discusses some of the interview mechanics of conducting a proper, legal and fact-filled interview. These techniques apply to any situation really; human resources, person-to-person sales, conducting research interviews, etc. 

Anytime you want basic fact-filled information. This is the method.

If you have a cop in your story, this is how he leads the suspect down a path to sort the facts from the lies.

What Makes a Professional Writer?

I met with another writer to begin a collaboration process on a story idea requested by a producer.  The producer gave us two brief scene ideas and a request for a fantasy romantic comedy.  We have to come up with a story.  The two of us were asked to collaborate. 

We met with our stacks of 3x5 cards and notebook and started asking questions.  In roughly two hours we changed the nature of the protagonist, came up with an antagonist, one subplot, the second main character and the theme.  

My partner is going to write a couple of tentative scenes to get the feel of the characters.  I'm going to brainstorm more character and plot developments and, also, to do some background research.  Our next goal is to write a story outline. 

Is this the story either of us would write for ourselves?  No.  But to be a professional you use all the tools and processes of building a story and put them to work on someone else's idea.  Then you twist and turn the characters and plot to make it something you can work with.  You hone your skills. 

Best of all, you are getting paid to write.  That's what being a professional is.

Zara Altair

Writing Consultation from The Story Bodyguard


Story Consultations for Writers.

My goal is to help you write your story, from idea through to publication with tips, advice, and guidance.  Your story is your inspiration, as a story coach I provide practical  techniques to implement your writing. Thanks for stopping by. 

 Zara The Story Bodyguard 

 P.S. For information on my coaching and consulting services send a note to


Script Analysis

Novel Storyline