Given that this blog is called “Starting Your Story,” we should perhaps consider what we mean by “story.” A story is a narrative. It has a beginning, middle and end. Or, to look at it another way, story consists of characters in a specific setting working out how to solve a problem that appears soon after or even shortly before the story begins. This is true whether the story is fiction or nonfiction, short story or news reporting, novel or history.
But in a broader sense, story is the enfleshing of an idea. You tell a story to convey an idea. That could be a lesson, such as “forgive your enemy and you may find a friend” (a key facet of Anne of Green Gables, for instance) or an approach to life, such as “don’t take everything so seriously” (pretty much all of the Hitchhiker stories Douglas Adams wrote). You may want your story to make your readers laugh, move them to tears, excite fear or wonder, win sympathy for a character or position, lead them to ponder, evoke their memories of times long past or tantalize with possible futures.
The idea that inspires your storytelling will shape the means you choose to tell it: fiction, nonfiction, even prose or poetry. But your choice of how to tell the story will also affect how the story develops. As will your own attitudes, life experiences and preferences in the kinds of stories you enjoy telling.
Inspiring or provocative ideas provide the spark to start your story, but ideas are everywhere. And judging from what happens when 6-8 people in a writing group get the same prompt to write on for 3-5 minutes, no two people go the same direction with a given idea. So don’t spend all your time worrying about protecting your ideas—spend that time and energy perfecting your craft.