Idea to Story – Broken Spring

I turned over in bed and a spring creaked. Being one of those weird people — a writer, it got me thinking about where ideas come from and how to turn them into a story.

Kevin Chilvers

I turned over in bed and a spring creaked. Being one of those weird people — a writer, it got me thinking about where ideas come from and how to turn them into a story.

Until now, I’ve relied on searching for interesting facts, or that opening line that pops into my brain at some inconvenient time, but lying there thinking about the spring and linking it to what I have learnt about storytelling over the years brought new understanding. 

The creaking spring is a trigger, but I realised turning that into a usable idea needs an understanding of the essential elements of story. So here are my ramblings dragged from lying there in bed thinking.

From the trigger I started asking myself WHAT IF?

  • The mattress is new, manufactured by a company with an impeccable reputation going back centuries who dominates the market (I’ll call them Old Co. — the protagonist) They have great customer service, care what their customers think, value them and their opinion. Okay- this means they have a lot to lose if the spring is faulty (Stakes). No problem, the company decides they can quietly exchange the mattress for a new one with maybe an apology and a free bed. Unless —
  • There is a new company. There are sleazy operators who care more about profit then customers but are experts at concealing this. Old Company’s reputation stands in their way, and they are determined to discredit them. What if they have a spy in Old Company’s factory and planted the faulty spring? (Antagonist). They have leaked a rumour that an Old Company customer has a problem. (Conflict)
  • Old Company discovers a reporter is waiting. Disaster, if this goes public it would stain their reputation. A new decision is made. Sneak the mattress out. But if they are caught, it could look like they admit a manufacturing error rather than a broken part causing questions about quality of their mattress (stakes are raised).
  • When the mattress isn’t collected, New Company learn of the new plan and decided to question the customer... etc. etc. Working through all possible outcomes from each decision, no matter how silly they seem, generates new ideas – a mind map helps here, (I use a program called Scrapple*).

This is another essential element to story – the cause-and-effect chain. To solve a problem, the protagonist must make a tough choice, a decision. When acted upon, this goes wrong (probably aided by the antagonist’s sabotage creating more conflict) and the problem gets worse (rising stakes). This creates more choices with bigger risk and an even harder decision. This cascade of decision-action-consequence with rising conflict and stakes coupled with the effect it has on the character’s life is (IMO) story.

Knowing the elements the story needs helps us use WHAT IF questions more effectively to develop a raw idea — a story starting with a broken spring. 


(* NB: I make nothing from mentioning Scrapple. It’s just a program I use to help me think and organise. Google it if you’re interested).



Interesting, thanks for sharing! :slight_smile:

May-11 2021
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