Story Starters

“Bad decisions make good stories.” – Author Unknown

“Let’s recreate the dinosaurs.” Bad decision, great story – “Jurassic Park.”

Walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night during a zombie apocalypse is a dumb idea. Scary story – “The Walking Dead.”

Disgruntled employee steals money from her employer and spends the night at the Bates Motel. Two wrong decisions, terrifying story – “Psycho.”

Man marries a beautiful and fascinating woman he just met. That wrong decision resulted in the deaths of several people. Great psychological drama – “Leave Her to Heaven.”

While having his portrait painted, a hedonistic aristocrat fears losing his flawless looks. He curses the painting and pledges his soul if the painting would take on the ravages of growing older. Reprehensible decision, a great moral tale – “The Portrait of Dorian Gray.”

A wealthy widowed nobleman, father of one beloved daughter, marries a self-centered widow, mother of two mean daughters. Unwise decision, classic fairy tale – “Cinderella.”

Not knowing there are two bodies buried under his front lawn, a mild mannered man kills an abusive acquaintance. He hides the body out back at the end of his property. Terrible decision, great thriller – “Three Graves Full” by Jamie Mason.

A vain spoiled Catholic widow gives birth to a horribly disfigured baby and refuses to nurture him. Evil decision, riveting story of the child’s intellect and survival skills – “Phantom” by Susan Kay. This tale is the powerful prequel to the well-known “Phantom of the Opera.”

Brilliant scientist invents and tests a teleportation device using himself as the subject. Dangerous decision, horrifying story – “The Fly.”

George Langelaan wrote a short story of the same title which was first published in Playboy magazine in June, 1957. Little did he know his story would spawn several movie versions of that terrifying tale.

Read any well-written story or watch any successful movie to find the bad decision that made a great story. Remember the movies where there is danger behind the door the protagonist is about to open. “Don’t open the door!” you were tempted to shout. If the protagonist listened to you, there wouldn’t be a story. Let the idiot open the door. Allow the beautiful woman to choose the wrong lover. Dare the naïve teenager to meet a stranger at the park. That’s where the good stories start.

What bad decisions will your characters make that would create an intriguing thriller, a heartbreaking mystery, or a happily-ever-after romance?


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    • Karen Kittrell on November 19, 2015 at 10:25 am
    • Reply

    Book Lover, Your post challenged me to consider the opposite choice of each action. Would the result have been any better? A few years ago, one of my teenagers shared a youtube video “How to Survive A Horror Movie!” which echos the theme of your post. Bad Decisions. If you choose to watch, start at 2:15 minutes in to enjoy all the tips.

      • Anonymous on January 21, 2016 at 10:10 pm
      • Reply

      “How to Survive a Horror Movie” is a delightful youtube video. The students should be congratulated on their creativity.

    • Kelly Bixby on November 18, 2015 at 11:22 am
    • Reply

    Book Lover, I love how you describe the premises to these popular stories! If you haven’t seen the GEICO commercial, “It’s What You Do…if you’re in a horror movie,” you should look it up. It’s a spoof that perfectly complements your article. Both are very entertaining.

      • Book Lover on November 21, 2015 at 1:58 pm
      • Reply

      Kelly, I’ve seen the GEICO commercial. I laugh every single time it plays.

    • Sue Remisiewicz on November 8, 2015 at 6:13 pm
    • Reply

    You give great examples! I will certainly have to open up my mind to letting my characters make bad decisions.

      • Book Lover on November 10, 2015 at 9:31 pm
      • Reply

      That’s great, Sue. We just have to remember that we, as intelligent writers, are too smart to make any bad decisions . . . hopefully anyway. 🙂

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