Series 1: Getting started

Post 1: Getting started on your story

Welcome to the first of my many series. This one, appropriately enough is all about getting started on your story. These will usually go like so: A short descriptor of what it’s about and how it will help on the first day, and, after that, longer, more detailed posts. So let us begin:

Writing is a very open-ended process, and it’s ultimately up to you to find a way to create your story. It can also be an extremely daunting task, especially if you don’t even know how to begin, or what to write. In this series I’m going outline some ways of getting started and, hopefully, getting a whole story or five written.

Also, thinking about it, the way this is arranged, I could run into one of two problems: One, I could run out of things to write about before the end of October, meaning I’ll have to find some way to carry myself until November, for NaNoWriMo (a competition of sorts where you have to write a 50,000 novel in a moth), or, more annoyingly, I could have too much material and have to delay the start of my blogging about my NaNoWriMo experience, and the things I learn until I get that out-of-the-way. We shall see what happens.


Post 2: Finding your inspiration

And this is where I go nuts with describing in great detail one aspect of the whatever the series is about. Some of these maybe so long that they will be split into multiple posts. The first post is all about finding your inspiration.

Finding an inspiration for your story is tough, but it is probably the most important part of any work you write. Probably the best advice for getting an idea is also the simplest: Write what you love to read, or play, or watch, or listen to. The reason for this should be obvious, as, if you already love, say, science fiction, it’s a lot easier to  actually write a science fiction story than it is to write a western (though it might also be fun to blend two distinct genres you like together, and nothing says you can’t).

Of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t plagiarize other people’s work, so, obviously you should take the time to come up with your own idea. This can also be a challenge, however, as story ideas aren’t always readily available. One thing you can do is take tropes (more on tropes in another series) from various media you enjoy and put your own personal twist on them, while tying them into a larger narrative.

For an example of what I’m talking about, let’s take a couple of good examples from works I enjoy: Take the Macguyveresque badass that is Michael Westen from Burn Notice, transplant him to a fantasy setting, where gods get their power through prayer (Okami) and are divided into a non-interfering group and one that loves to mess with people (The Elder Scrolls), and give him a merry band of screwed up friends that will stand by him through thick and thin  (Dragon Age II, Burn Notice), and you already have your setting and your protagonist(s). Now you just need a story.

Tomorrow: Deciding on your plot, the basic form.

In other news, after I posted yesterday I learned that I was rejected by Google Adsense, for lack of content.  I’ll reapply thursday, now that I have a privacy policy up, and more content.

Also, if you couldn’t get in yesterday, I, er, broke the theme, so now we have a new theme


 Post 3: Deciding on your plot

Deciding on your plot can be a really challenging part of writing a story, but what it ultimately boils down to is someone (or multiple someones, as the case may be) wants something, someone or something is keeping them from getting that something, and you’re describing the process of how they get, or don’t get, that something. Maybe they’re after something like vengeance, or the ultimate power to save, destroy, or conquer the world/universe. (Why would anyone want to destroy the universe anyway?) Anyway, your job is to describe how your characters pull it off. Of course this does depend on the characters and the setting, so you may want to create those once you have a bare-bones plot down, or, alternatively, create the plot first and let that decide how the characters are, in a basic sense, to be fleshed out over time (creating characters will be described in the next series).

Going on the earlier idea, maybe my Michael Westen stand in (let’s call him Chuck, for convenience sake) has met his evil equal, and said evil equal wants to harness the power of the interference happy gods to, oh, I don’t know, take over the world (cliche, I know, but bear with me). Chuck, of course, is going to have to stop him. The exact method Chuck will use to stop the evil bastard depends on the writer, the geography of the setting (for example, it’s going to be very different if the world is flat and rural than if it was mountainous or urban), and the characters themselves.

Tomorrow, I help you start writing your work, by giving you ideas on how to begin your story.


Post 4: Writing the beginning of your story

The beginning of your story is extremely important, as that’s what you’re going to use to hook your reader. I personally prefer an opening that drops you into the setting, then lets it slowly unfold around you (this is used in Brave New World, for example), rather than giving a short description and history of the setting, simply because it’s more fun for me that way, and it’s easier to integrate new ideas. However, a short explanation of the universe, or noting something that drives the plot, like increasing tensions within the kingdom do have their advantages, as well, such as giving an explanation for what’s driving the story from the get go. Find what works for you, and don’t force a square peg into a round hole, just because others think it’s better to do so. This is your project, after all.

As to what your beginning should have, ideally it should create the initial characterization for the main character, and any other characters that have reason to be there, and maybe his/her motivation. If the event(s) that sets the plot in motion hasn’t happened yet, then the motivation is less important (though, such event(s) should happen very early into the story, anyway, lest you annoy your reader).

Of course, you don’t necessarily have to start at the beginning of the story. If you have a clear idea of how you want your story to end, but your idea on how to start is less clear, you could always write your ending first, and see about writing your beginning later, as well.

Side news: I heard about Steve Jobs’ death yesterday evening, and, honestly, though the only Apple product I’ve ever owned is a copy of iTunes, I really don’t know how to respond to this news. Death is such an odd thing, indeed.


Post 5: Sticking with your narrative

Obviously, you may want some way to keep the focus of your story on your narrative, and figure out what comes next in the story. Some people like keeping extensive notes to help them stay within a strict narrative, or keep tabs on where they think the plot should go next. Others, such as myself, prefer to wing it all the way and make everything consistent later. Both have their pros and cons, obviously. The strict narrative idea makes the whole process easier, but if you choose to stick with it to the end, you won’t be able to use any great ideas you had later. The seat of your pants style, while more fun in the short-term, in my opinion, is more annoying in the long-term, especially if your characters’ personalities shift down the line (especially if they shift multiple times. Trust me, I know), but it does allow for more creativity, and new ideas that simply improve the story overall. What is best is ultimately up to you, however.

Thinking about it, the best approach, if you can use any approach you want with equal efficiency, is probably somewhere in the middle. Keep certain areas strict while leaving others flexible (and now I see why I shouldn’t write posts on my netbook. Can’t see the whole post at a glance. Oh well, live and learn). Still, this will involve some rewriting, because, as you’re writing, your writing style will probably shift as you find your voice, and get used to using it.

Tomorrow I start on the next series, which is all about characters. And there will be a lot to say about that. In fact, it’ll probably be the first one requiring multiple posts for single subjects. Definitely a good reason to stick around and see what I can come up with.


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