Ideas make the storytelling world go round. Everything writers do is based on developing, outlining, and enshrining ideas in prose. But, for people like me, coming up with good ideas can be hard—partly because of a misconception about a story idea’s purpose.
Former Story Embers Head Writer
Raised on C. S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend physical reality to reveal spiritual realities that apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts, and solar systems (including our own).
When not writing fiction, Brandon spends his time landscaping the great outdoors, sportsing, or romancing his all-star and lifelong coauthor, Megan.
Great stories have a broad emotional range that sends readers looping through laughter, soaring toward ecstasy, and plummeting into despair. When we open a new book, we hope it’s our ticket to a rollercoaster we’ll never forget. Unfortunately, building this thrill ride as a writer is challenging.
“Show, don’t tell” is a mantra that writing teachers quote to conceal the challenges of story crafting, and their students regurgitate it to sound insightful—whether they understand the concept or not. It’s lasted through the decades because it defines the difference between engaging and boring fiction.
One of the biggest challenges with writing speculative fiction is clarifying how your story’s magic and/or technology works. Once you’ve accomplished the monumental task of developing those systems, how do you educate readers without making them yawn? They don’t want you to pause the story to give a lesson on all the phenomena, yet they don’t like being confused (and prone to disbelief) either. (Aren’t readers exasperating?)
Abortion. Homosexuality. Feminism. Race/border politics (because those have gotten conflated). These topics dominate the news, and fiction needs to accurately portray our world, but how do we write with caution and avoid inflaming or alienating readers?
Sometimes a book’s theme is straightforward. Eustace is sucked into a painting and learns humility. Henry York crawls through a cupboard and learns bravery. Parvin Blackwater crosses the wall and learns to trust God. But the path to transformation isn’t always that simple. Characters may need to wander through labyrinths of tyranny, persecution, murder, neglect, and revenge.
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where the interaction between two lovers became graphic? Have you ever been absorbed in an adventure story and suddenly had to skim unnecessarily steamy scenes? I have, and I hate it. Not only does the sensuality rip me out of the story and make me roll my eyes, it taints the characters (and prevents me from recommending an otherwise great novel).
The time for New Year’s resolutions has come and gone. Why are we talking about journaling now? Because, as a writer, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a fad on Instagram and contemplated joining in. Maybe you even started a journal but couldn’t keep it going.
“I started a project a few years ago and wrote a chunk…but I never finished it. What should I do now?” I’ve heard this tale from every writer ever. We’ve all had a project sputter and die at some point in our journey. When we take a break for too long, restarting the engine can be difficult. The abandoned story probably bores us, and we may have trouble remembering the timeline and the different character motivations that propelled it.
I rarely buy stuff on impulse, not even books. When I bring home a book I hadn’t planned to get, it’s because the cover and the first line grabbed my attention. Cover design usually isn’t an author’s responsibility, and even if you’ll be involved in yours, that comes at the end of the writing process. Instead of worrying about that prematurely, I want to talk about the other half of the equation—a story’s beginning.