Once you know the idea behind your story, it’s time to weave that idea into the plot. And one of the more common methods is to create an outline, either before or after writing a rough draft. Outlines help us see the big picture, see how the individual scenes are themselves part of a larger pattern, and it’s often on that larger scale that the idea emerges as the meaning of the story.
How is it that some stories endure far beyond the lifetime of their author? Shakespeare is a prime example. His plays not only endure, they adapt to modern settings, and yet people still recognize Romeo and Juliet even when it’s called West Side Story because the idea behind it is unchanged. Ideas are the questions the story raises, and the answers it chooses to provide. In Romeo and Juliet the idea centers around two people who wish to be together, but social/cultural forces oppose them, man vs. society.
“No man is an island, whole unto itself.” People are always part of a network of relationships, a community. For most it’s a web of familiar faces, with individual relationships growing or fading, much like the tides of the ocean. Characters can even engage relationships without interacting with the other person, through memory and imagination. Similarly, some characters may personify an animal, object, or force of nature. A character struggling to endure a storm may come to regard that storm as a rival, with a will and personality of its own.