Story Foundations for the Serious Writer

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnn Mills

Story ideas can be like fireworks. They soar and explode in beautiful colors…then their dance fizzles to the ground and we turn our attention to the next one. But story ideas don’t have to fade away. A writer can take those wild moments of inspiration and build a credible, colorful, creative, and compelling story.

Where do story ideas come from when we’ve spent hours brainstorming and feel like giving up? Buster Moon from the movie Sing says: “When you’ve reached rock bottom, there’s only one way to go, and that’s up!”
Here are suggestions to give your story idea bestseller (up) status.

  1. Pieces of a conversation…juicy tidbits that move us to explore story and character
  2. An article in the news that grasps our attention
  3. Books we’ve read—fiction or non-fiction
  4. Music—including lyrics
  5. Poetry
  6. Nature—with all its beauty and danger
  7. A movie you’d have written differently
  8. The behavior of family or friends
  9. Historic events about people and places
  10. Genealogy
  11. Personal experiences
  12. Dreams – Deep within our subconscious activity lies this realm where plot problems find answers, character situations resolve, and new characters are born.

I know you have a story idea. It’s banging against your head and heart, keeping you awake at night. You’re not sure what to do with all the information, and you fear you may lose it. So, let’s turn your burning thoughts into a book project.

Ready? Are your fingers poised on your keyboard? The exercises below will take a little time but so worth the effort.

Step One
Write your story idea in one sentence. Don’t concern yourself with character names, setting, and genre.
A few examples:
1. A young mother confesses to her police officer husband she is not only addicted to drugs, but she also deals them.
2. A businessman discovers the owner of his company is smuggling assault rifles into the country.
3. A newly married couple is left behind on a wagon train when the husband is suspected of carrying a terrible disease.
4. A young woman travels west to marry a man she’s never met—only to discover he doesn’t exist.
5. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s means a middle-aged woman must become the caretaker for her mother, with whom she already has a strained relationship.
6. A couple is awakened by thieves in their home. While the husband attempts to overpower the intruders, the wife is killed.
7. During wartime, a prince is forced to take the throne for his ailing father. Then the prince learns he’s not the real heir, but the son of the warring king.
8. The inhabitants of a planet wracked by pollution face extinction. Their only solution is to exterminate half of the population.

Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself. You’ve given your story life.

Now perfect your one-sentence storyline. Tweak it until you’re satisfied. Do you envision your protagonist(s) and antagonist(s)?

Step Two
Take your one-sentence idea and write at least one paragraph about your story. Extend the idea to include what you know about your characters and the storyline. Don’t worry about grammar and punctuation. Simply envision the story. When you’re finished, save and edit your paragraph(s).

Step Three 
What is your story’s genre? Consider the list below and find a home for your idea.
1. Contemporary
2. Historical
3. Romance
4. Suspense/Thriller
5. Mystery
6. Western
7. Women’s Fiction
8. Speculative (includes science fiction, fantasy, allegory, etc.)
9. Young Adult

Story ideas often mix genres with romance, such as:

  • Contemporary Romance
  • Historical Romance
  • Romantic Suspense

By including a thread of romance, writers increase their readership. It’s been said that 80 percent of book buyers are women. Half of them buy romance. Do the math and consider adding a spark of love to your project.

Where do you find the foundation for your story ideas?


Story Foundations for the Serious Writer by DiAnn Mills (Click to Tweet)

Three Steps to Turn Your Story Idea into Book Project~ DiAnn Mills (Click to Tweet)

Story ideas can be like fireworks.~ DiAnn Mills (Click to Tweet)

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers

should expect an adventure. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Suspense Sister, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference with social media specialist Edie Melson. She teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at