Building A Simple, Strong Foundation For A Complicated House

Now that your brain has been melted, we can start off our post for the day.

Today’s post is about the one thing that I most often see happen in the development of narrative: A base idea that goes horrifyingly wrong. Stop me if you haven’t heard anyone describe a story they’re working on somewhat like this:

“Well, my story is about a kid that ends up getting magical powers from this really old wizard and then he has to go save the world but there’s also a complicated love triangle that goes on between him and his best friend and the girl that he ends up meeting and it’s pretty cool and great and they also go on a crazy adventure and there’s lots of dragons and magic and elves and it’s really cool.”

I’m here to tell you that if you’ve ever written something like that in regards to your story? YOU DONE FUCKED UP. Start over, and I’m going to tell you why.

You haven’t actually written what your story is about. You’ve written about things that HAPPEN in your story. Those things described in that example are not what your story is about; they are events, sequences that occur. They are things that help you TELL the story. They are not the story itself. I’m going to break you of that nasty habit and I’m going to help you start building actually writing what your story IS, with a little help from Dr. Seuss.

Green Eggs and Ham. CLASSIC read, and almost every single person who read it as a child, still remembers it quite thoroughly. On the right, you see what the story was ACTUALLY about. I can’t speak for the man since he’s no longer here, but I’m fairly confident that the good Doctor didn’t sit down and say, “I want to write a story about a guy who gets this crazy looking ham and eggs and this dude is all LOL try it and the other dude is like NO WAY and then they go on like that for several pages until he eats it and it’s really fun.” 

No. He MORE THAN LIKELY sat down and thought to himself, “I want to write a story for children about not being afraid to try new things.” In less than a full breath, in one sentence, we’ve just described the entire plot of Green Eggs and Ham.

THAT is a good, solid strong foundation to build a story upon. A good narrative foundation is vague enough that it can be executed in MANY different ways; It’s one of the major secrets to avoiding writer’s block and writing yourself into a corner. Having many possible solutions to your scenario will make it easier for you to navigate around your work.

Now that is a foundation, but we can we take it back even FURTHER? Yes, yes we can. After all, you must find the material for the foundation itself! And often times, these things are ABSTRACT CONCEPTS, things that you can’t actually quantify. See below:

  • I’m writing a story about love. (Titanic)
  • I’m writing a story about revenge. (Count of Monte Cristo)
  • I’m writing a story about fear. (Green Eggs and Ham)
  • I’m writing a story about coping with loss. (Batman)

These abstract concepts are the concrete of your foundation. Good, SOLID material makes a GOOD, SOLID foundation. A house built on a shaky foundation is destined to fail.

I want you to do something for me:  I want you to stop being afraid of having IDEAS. Ideas are good things to have. BEWARE of having BELIEFS about your writing. Beliefs are dangerous. They cause you to stop being able to take criticism about your work; it makes you blind. An IDEA is something that can be changed, they are by their very nature malleable. A BELIEF, on the other hand, is a commitment. And beliefs can cause you more harm than good, particularly if you happen to be wrong.

More often than not, ideas fail not because the idea (the foundation) was bad; they fail because the method of  EXECUTION was bad (the wood was rotting). Don’t be so quick to abandon an idea. With the right amount of time, attention, and tender loving care, you can take that idea and you can turn it into something good, possibly even GREAT, or BETTER.

With that, I’m going to close out this post with one last example to illustrate my point:

Idea: Captain America (1990) was about super soldier Steve Rogers fighting his nemesis The Red Skull.
Idea: Captain America: The First Avenger was about super soldier Steve Rogers fighting his nemesis The Red Skull.

Hrm, I wonder why the huge rating discrepancy. Although, if you’ve read this far you should know by now!



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