How do great authors develop stunning narratives, break away from tradition and move the form of fiction forward? They take whatever basic idea they’ve got, then move it away from the typical. No matter your starting point—a love story, buddy tale, mystery, quest—you can do like the great innovators do: Bend it. Amp it. Drive it. Strip it.
It’s BADS, baby, it’s BADS.
In the November/December 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest [ADD LINK], you’ll find a complete step-by-step guide to the BADS method in Elizabeth Sims’ feature article “How to Develop Any Idea Into a Great Story.” Here, in this online-exclusive companion piece to that issue, Sims offers up a deconstructed example of the BADS technique in action.
Let’s say you’ve got a tough guy who’s gotten in trouble with the Mob. His name is Pavel. He did something wrong, and the boss had Pavel’s girlfriend killed to bring him back in line. But that strategy backfired, and now Pavel, inflamed with hatred, is considering turning states’ evidence. The bosses get wind of this and one night a hit man follows Pavel home. The hit man breaks in to find only a beautiful (and frightened) woman in the house. No Pavel. Confused, he leaves. Now Pavel, who was home all along indulging in his secret habit of cross-dressing as a sexy woman—complete with wig, falsies, and slinky dress—knows he’s marked for death.
That’s a bend.
Pavel immediately decides to blow town, but first he sets off to drop a suitcase full of guns or drugs or money with his dear old mother on the family homestead. He arrives to find her rotting corpse, as well as that of his aunt, a respected biology professor. Who did this? How can he leave town now? Plus he’s still got this bag of guns/drugs/money to park somewhere safe.
That’s an amp.
At this point you could cut to the bad guys trying to sort out what’s going on, trying to find Pavel.
Pavel goes in search of another family member, but that person has disappeared. Goes to find another. That’s one’s a corpse. Next one’s either missing or dead. What gives? He’s not so important to the organization that they’d wipe out his whole family. Besides, these corpses are pretty ripe. The timing’s wrong.
Now it’s clear that he has bigger problems than he thought.
Oh, wait a minute! His aunt the biologist was working on curing the latest boutique brain disease that results in uncontrollable feelings of murder-suicide. Looks like the virus escaped!
And Pavel, after a seizure followed by the emergence of what appears to be a small foot growing out of his forehead, reads his aunt’s research and realizes he’s coming down with it too. And he realizes it’s communicable.
He decides to turn himself in to the Mob bosses.
That’s a drive.
Once you’ve conceived this story, you can ask how many dead/missing family members you really need. You can ask how many henchmen the Mob boss needs. Say one is the enforcer, one is the jester. Combine both roles into one crazy dude and be done with it.
Summarize dialogue and action that isn’t bone and gristle.
Cut anything that isn’t your absolute best.
That’s a strip.
For more on the BADS technique, pick up your copy of the 2012 November/December issue
of Writer’s Digest or download a copy right here.