To develop a story is to delve into the very essence of what you’re writing and why. In the literal sense, a story is simply a recitation of an event or series of events. Development means the process of growing to become more advanced.
What dictates whether a story is simplified or advanced? It’s a bit of a loop to describe what advanced is because it relies on comparisons in most cases. The idea of “highly developed” can only exist alongside what “undeveloped” might mean and vice versa.
Simple, or undeveloped, tends to mean being composed of only one thing, element, or part without any additions or modifications, actively avoiding being complicated.
When some writers come up with an idea for a story, they think of a ‘What If‘ and often it becomes a simple ‘If…. Then…‘ as taught in school regarding rudimentary logic and foundations of scientific method.
This, I would suggest, is the best example of an undeveloped story. For instance, I ended up watching Thinner based on Stephen King’s novel the other week (was tricked into it by my partner) and it’s clear that the story was built from a What If… premise; ‘What if a person kept losing weight and couldn’t stop?‘
Story development is taking that simplistic premise and building modifications, additions, involvement to what surrounds the basic idea/theme.
In Thinner, King does this by adding elements like gypsies, magic, and the tenuous relationship between husband and wife. All of these elements are meant to create complexity to the original (undeveloped) premise.
What development does, ideally, is that it provides direction for a story. An author modifies a potential premise to take an idea somewhere only their mind can take it. If you gave fifty authors the exact same ‘What If‘ premise and told them to write a story based on it, it is likely that you would receive fifty entirely different stories in return.
The development of a story is the mark of the author, it is the projection of their mind and thoughts, and sometimes it is a very conscious steering of presenting values and beliefs to readers.
Fables are an example of this, morals wrapped in story development and presented in such ways that beliefs might be swallowed easier when lubricated in allegory. No one likes to be preached to, but everyone loves a good story.
This complexity of modifications applied to ideas creates involvement for both the reader and writer. Development can happen at any level of a story. It can happen within the plot, through characters, expressed in world settings, or literally anywhere.
There is no cookie-cutter approach to story development and there shouldn’t be. As with most things in writing for authors; there is uniquely what works and what doesn’t work. However, there are structures and frameworks shared by others specifically to help organize the way we think about the stories we’re writing and potential routes of development. Whatever works. If a framework helps, wonderful. If not, move on. Make your own if you have to.
Most of all, as the writer, we should aim to figure out points in our stories that interest us and others. There’ll be points that require more depth and spark the imagination while some other points might be unnecessary and better off cut from the final presentation.
Eliminate the unnecessary and evolve the interesting, both are required to achieve a well-developed story. Discernment is a most useful skill when it comes to story development.
Here’s an exercise for writers; Your most current WIP… step away from it for a night, sit or lay down and visualize through the story (start to finish) in your head. See how far you can get, see what you forget entirely, and where your mind keeps going back to think over. This will help hone in on what to develop and what to let go.
Look for at least one scene/part/element that you can remove and find at least one element to weave more intricately in the story to develop it further.
Img Source: Funkwood.