3 Tips for Writing the Big Story Concept

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by Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

Have you ever wished you were a fly on the wall when George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were brainstorming ‘Star Wars?’ Can you imagine it? They probably started with an overall theme—good versus evil—then began to build their characters.

Luke, the impetuous boy who would become his father’s last hope for redemption; Leia, a princess warrior determined to save a way of life; Hans, a cowboy/rogue who becomes a reluctant hero. And of course, Darth Vader. Good verse evil is a simple enough idea until there are two empires on a collision course, two men on route to a battle of good and evil.

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Can you imagine the excitement building, how scenes probably started unfolding in their heads? It had become more than another movie idea. It had something that most everyone could relate to, something that drew on your emotions.

That’s a big story concept, and it’s something each and every writer wants for their book. So how do you do it?

1) Take a simple idea and magnify it.

At the very core of ‘Star Wars,’ we find it’s conflict—good verse evil. Simple, yes, but a dozen movies or books have the very same theme, yet they don’t have the pull of ‘Star Wars.’  Why is that?

Mainly because the good verse evil theme is an integral part of every character, characters we identify with. It makes us care about the outcome because we’ve struggled good and evil before. Look at Luke’s relationship with Vader.

Adversaries on the big scale, at times, physically fighting each other. Yet the moment Vader whispers those words—‘Luke, I am your father’—Luke changes. He begins to see this as a personal battle to save his father’s soul. It becomes more personal and real to us—most of us know what it’s like to have a family member or friend that may need saving.

Luke’s battle becomes our own. If he can lead his father back to the light, maybe we have hope of doing the same.

2) Look for the story within the story.

Most everyone knows about America’s space race with the Soviets in the 1960s. How the best and the brightest were chosen to lead our country into space exploration. Alan Shepard was the first American in space, John Glenn, the first to orbit around the earth. Their names are in our history books. They were our heroes.

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But what about the people behind the scenes of the space launches, the mathematicians who calculated the trajectory of the rocket and figured out how to get the astronauts safely home? They’re heroes, aren’t they? Now, what if those some mathematicians were fighting a battle against racial and gender injustice of the time like the women in ‘Hidden Figures?’ To see these women segregated yet overcome the odds and do something extraordinary gives us hope that we can overcome our own situation.

3) Search out the unexpected.

When my oldest daughter was a teenager, she loved everything having to do with the movie, Pearl Harbor. From the moment she saw it, she wanted to know everything about that time period—the battles, life on the home front, the clothes and music. Being the Bible-thumping, women’s libber that I am, I searched the library for anything on women’s efforts in the war.

I found one book.

And in it, there was one paragraph on the very last page about a small group of women pilots who flew planes and trained flyers for the Army. These women were my heroine in my first book, Hearts in Flight. Since then, I’ve found dozens of stories about these forgotten women who made an impact. And when I share these stories, the faces in my audience light up, and I hear what every writer loves to hear.

“I can’t wait to read it!’

If you’re interested in learning more about big story concept, here’s a great article in Writer’s Digest by Jeff Lyons of Kensington Entertainment.

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Patty Smith-Hall – A multi-published author with Love Inspired Historical and Barbour, Patty lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters, her son-in-love and a grandboy who has her wrapped around his tiny finger. When she’s not writing on her back porch, she’s spending time with her family or working in her garden.