You know have a rough gem in your hands, a near-concrete idea for a complete story. You have names, places, events scribbled down on the insides of a cigarette pack, torn napkins or maybe meticulously catalogued on an electronic device. But what now?
Imagine your story as a floating city, built atop a body of water. Maybe not even a city as much as a village made up of a few important structures that float independently, but held together by a series of dangling bridges.
Each building in this village is absolutely essential to the survival of the collective. The moment that circulation between structures becomes difficult or impossible, your audience will be forced to jump over the side swim to their next destination, and you may lose them in the process.
Like the key areas of your story, not only must these individual structures be properly defined and fleshed-out, but they must connect to each other in a fluid, coherent way. It is not enough to know how your protagonist will confront the dangers or challenges ahead of them; ask yourself if their progression from one event to the next is clear and whether this journey feeds the overall story.
Example: Amanda is a fighter pilot, one of the few women who has achieved entry into an otherwise male-dominated profession. Her journey will be difficult because she must overcome not only the rigors of piloting jet fighters at high velocities, but the many invisible barriers that a male-centric system may impose on her career. In the end Amanda will be tasked with completing a dangerous mission alongside a team of men whose cooperation and acceptance of her is uncertain.
Observe the clean lines of this 21st century “Top Gun story”. Navigating from one structure to the next is easy, fluid, while still leaving ample opportunity to explore and detail each movement to heart’s desire. The path is accessible from several directions as well, granting the storyteller the ability to approach the plot from a number of perspectives (maybe Amanda’s story happens entirely from a plane mechanic’s POV).
This kind of bridge-building is not the only way to create a nervous system for your story, but it is an exercise that may yield incredible clarity and allow you to get passed that initial malaise. That frustration of knowing that you have a story worth telling, but no clean way of connecting the dots and understanding how one event leads to the next.
Many filmmakers use blocking systems to help with this. The idea is that you draw squares on a piece of paper and decide on the number of key events. Make sure to leave spaces between these boxes as this is where today’s focus will be. Work on creating a system as you would in a city-building simulator to allow fluid circulation between your boxes. Without circulation there is the very real danger of atrophy, decay, and worse of all, the audience’s indifference.
Get to it.