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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