Discovering Your Story

Bear with me, I’m going to tell you one of the simplest, most effective tips I know when you first sit down to write a story in just a moment…

When I was kid, I once visited an uncle in upstate NY. He had a couple of ATVs and one day, we went off-roading through the woods. During the trek we entered a sprawling field that seemed to stretch on without end. My uncle drove up alongside of me and said Nick, I want you to get up in that field and go as fast as you can, throw the throttle all the way down.
I was nervous, but I listened and flew through the field like Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon. When I drove back to my uncle, I asked why he had me do that and he said, “I wanted you to get a feel for everything the ATV had to offer. Now you have a complete reference point from how it drives at its slowest and its fastest. You know exactly how she handles and you’ll have much better control of her.”

It wouldn’t be till a couple decades later that I learned this exact same lesson for writing.

When you sit down to write a story and you’re going through the initial discovery process on your characters, premise and plot, take things to the extreme–as far extreme as you can imagine.

Only when you really push the limits do you discover the true boundaries of the story… and usually, they’re not where you originally thought they’d be–which makes for a richer, more engaging, more entertaining story.

For example.

Let’s say you’re sitting down to write a crime thriller comic about some detective chap tracking down a serial killer in 19th century England–some Sherlock Holmesy kinda stuff. You know you want the villain, the serial killer, to be targeting women in London. This is your rough concept.

Many writers will concentrate at this point, falling back on the useful “what if” approach to establish the story.

  • What if the killer’s mum was a prostitute and exposed, him to a harsh life and broken home?
  • What if the killer was abused?
  • What if the killer’s mum killed his father… yada yada yada.

You can develop a solid story in this fashion, but this approach won’t necessarily reveal the stories boundaries.

Always brainstorm in extremes.

  • What if the killer isn’t just targeting a handful of random women, but instead wants all of London’s women dead?
  • What if he wants ALL women, everywhere, dead?

Wow, this chap really has problems–which suddenly makes him a lot more interesting.
And what if he has some means to pull off his diabolical goal?

It’s pretty unfathomable for a regular joe to wipe out an entire gender… Could the killer have some possible supernatural connection, maybe he’s a demon or vampire… or the devil himself? Maybe he’s working on a ritualistic plague that targets only women?
Come to think of it, the thought of all women being exterminated might not sit well with some. What about a witches council that reaches out to help the detective to stop the killer?
OK, this story is going in a totally different direction, but I’m diggin it!

Another quick example.

A standard sci-fi trope: The sun has gone wonky.
Electromagnetic radiation is ruining the planet and causing all hell to break loose. Our story develops as a survival horror tale, with the MC’s trying to live through the downfall of civilization.

  • OK, but what if the sun isn’t just going wonky, what if it’s getting so out of control, the Earth is totally toast, nothing’s going to survive. Now the story has to focus on a means to escape the planet.
  • If we go even further, what if the sun is going to explode and take out the entire solar system.

Now the MCs not only have to escape the planet but they have to get into deep space, another dimension, another time? Sounds like they’d need the help of an advanced alien race OR maybe a secret government project hidden deep under a Nevada mountain…

When I mentioned a survival horror story about surviving electromagnetic storms at the beginning of this example, did aliens and time travel come to mind?

That’s exactly the point.

Nine times out of ten, you’re not going to use the extreme concepts you explore. After all they’re extreme and crazy and may not gel with the approach you want to take.

But the exploration of these different extremes open a whole host of unexpected concepts–allowing us to probe and examine, choosing what works, what inspires us while disregarding the rest.

Always go to the extremes when you’re brainstorming new stories, you’ll be amazed at the results this simple technique yields. ▪

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.

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© 2016 Nick Macari. No reproduction without written permission.