Build A Story Out of a Single Sentence: Nanoprep #3

Welcome to installment three of nanoprep. Each week in October, the writing workshop at Bixby Library led by me, Muir Haman, will be preparing for the grand adventure of Nanowrimo for the month of November!

I’ve got an idea. Now what?

So you’ve got a story idea? Great! A single sentence (or maybe you have a few sentences) can be built like a papier-mache mask into a novel (or movie or <fill-in-the-blank-here-size story>). The following is a generalized list of steps…

Keep in mind at some point, though, you’re going to have to write, so if you have the itch, don’t let all this planning and outlining and diagramming interfere. Get out there and write something. If it doesn’t work, you can revise or try again. Each iteration or attempt will get you closer to where you want to be.


Here are ten steps to follow:

  1. One-sentence idea/premise/logline
  2. Brief outline/beat sheet/short(-ish) treatment
  3. Character exploration
  4. Theme/Moral Argument
  5. World-creation
  6. Plot/Long Treatment/Wall diagram/Plan/etc.
  7. Write!
  8. Revise
  9. Revise
  10. Revise

First note: At any stage, you can decide to go back to the beginning or scrap the idea, especially if you are trying to procrastinate and avoid ever actually writing your story. You WILL absolutely discover things throughout that will cause you to reevaluate and change some earlier piece.

Second note: Furthermore, if this seems at all overwhelming at any time, throw it against the wall, then go start writing. Don’t worry so much about it! Write and have fun!

Further Explanation

What is theme? Theme is like a moral argument that you are making in your story. Argument is actually a bad word for it, because you want a lighter hand than that most of the time. You want to show your world to the audience and have them make the argument FOR YOU. (But always, things are open to interpretation and the “best” stories create multiple arguments which can all find support in the text).

Character: Who are your characters? What drives them? What do they want and what do they need? The difference between their want and their need is one dimension that will help you to create convincing, interesting characters. We will talk more about this next week.

World-creation: What is the world like in which these people (your characters) move around? Is it like ours? Different? What are the rules, expectations, limitations? What is its atmosphere? How will you communicate these things on the page?

Treatments: Treatments are just short versions of your story. Sometimes they are useful to write, other times they are a distraction. You can write one and summarize what happens, what your characters feel and do, without figuring out exactly how you will show all of this in your final draft.

Plot: Treatments can help you figure out what needs to happen in your story. Are the climactic moments exciting enough? Does the plot drive the story (think of story as plot+characters+world+theme+symbols) forward?


For next week, write a beat sheet. If you’re really adventurous, write a short treatment that builds on that beat sheet, and bring both to next week’s workshop.

Next time: Characters and Conflict