Because of Mama

The Art of Storytelling...

Finding Your Story

What is Your Dramatic Moment?

Who Are Your Main Characters?

What is Your Big Idea?

What is Your Story?


The Art of Storytelling: What is Your Big Idea?

    Still, a good story needs more than interesting characters and dramatic moments in order to work. It also requires a big idea. A good story makes a point. It says something.

    Imagine that you are listening to a friend go on and on about the latest problems with her boyfriend. The problems are dramatic­the two of them fight like cats and dogs­but the drama doesn't go anywhere. They fight, make up, fight again­ all for no good reason or purpose. Soon you get tired of listening. What's the point of these stories?

    On the other hand, another friend tells you about a date that she had with a guy she didn't expect to like. He was too short, too nice, too nervous. And yet, in conversation she finds that he likes her favorite baseball team, the Cleveland Indians. That he cooks a terrific risotto. That he loves Russian novels. None of these details are terribly dramatic, but her story has a point: you can't judge a book by its cover. Love lurks in the most unexpected places. You listen to her story from beginning to end because you feel that she is going somewhere with it. Her story is satisfying because it makes a point.

    Consider the movies you like best, and why you like them. Think about what they "say" to you. Love conquers all; love doesn't conquer all. War is necessary; war is waste. Anybody can be a hero; the world needs a hero. All of these ideas are familiar: in fact, we've all heard stories that make these points. And yet, somehow, without a familiar point, a story just doesn't seem like a story. It seems like a rambling, pointless waste of our time.

    In fact, all story ideas come from a handful of structures. Different people have different ways of defining these plot structures, but for our purposes we define them as follows:

  • Coming of Age Plot: The young character matures to understand something about the world he lives in, and his role in it.

  • Redemption Plot: The character is saved, or saves someone else.

  • Punitive Plot: The character is punished for his wrongdoings.

  • Testing Plot: The character is tempted or challenged, but retains his values.

  • Education Plot: The character makes a deep change in his view of life, almost (but not) always from the negative to the positive.

  • Fulfillment Plot: The character achieves his heart's desire.

  • Moral Plot: The character learns a moral lesson.

    A good story will use one of these plots to get to its big idea. The "big idea" is your own particular point­it's your "take" on one of the common plot structures above. For instance, if you are writing a coming of age story, your "big idea" might be that coming of age means coming to terms with the fact that your parents are imperfect. Or you might be arguing that coming of age means finding your purpose in the world. Or you might say that coming of age means finding out that you can change nothing in your world except yourself. When you have your "big idea," you can begin to work out the particulars of your own unique story.

Back and Forward Arrows
The Process: Who Are Your Main Characters? The Process: What Is Your Story?