Relax. This isn't a blog post about the decline of values in America. I'm talking about writing stories and where to start.
I've had a lot of false starts these past few months, stories that didn't go anywhere or that declined to start at all. So I took a look at the stories that DID work, the ones that got close to publication, the ones the Wordslingers seemed to like best. I tried to remember writing them, how it felt, how it flowed. My best stories were actually kind of effortless, at least the writing of them.
I realized that all of the stories had one thing in common: I'd started with the character,for all of them. I think that's the problem with the latest short story I tried to write last week: I had the write story but the wrong main character telling it.* So, now that I have this clear in my mind, I want to share a good way to write a story.
Now, as with all revelations and advice, this is what works for me. All of you may have other methods and techniques that work for you. But there's enough of you out there who write like I do, to make this worthwhile.
First, start with the character. You might have already gotten the spark of a scene: a beginning, an opening, a twist or hook. Fine, hang onto that, but picture who the main character is. Do you see them in your head? Until you do, don't start writing. Spend time, in your head or jotting notes, exploring who the character is. You don't have to do a detailed Q&A, you don't need their life's story, but you have to have an idea of who they are, what their personality is like, what their character is like (here I am actually talking about their moral worldview).
Next, think about the conflict. What does this character want? What stands in their way. This may lead, quite naturally, to your antagonist. Leash up your main character and think about his enemy. Your antagonist can be a person (ususally is) or it can be the weather, fate (careful with this one) or some other natural force. Again, take a moment and mentally explore this antagonist. What do they want? How does that bring them into conflict with the main character. How can they make life hard for your main character.
Now, back to that first spark, the idea or hook that gave you the story idea. It's time to fill out the world, give your character a place to stand. Where are you? When are you? What does the setting look like, smell like, feel like?
Hold all that in your head. See the scene, picture it. Now take your main character off the leash. Put him in the scene, watch it take place. Now write down what you're seeing.
If you can, think about the opening, the hook, the first line or the first paragraph. How can you make it irresistable, cool, scary, interesting? Now think about the ending, if you haven't already. How does it end? Can you echo your opening with your ending?
I know this sounds simple, too simple maybe, but it works. Every time I do this, things happen, magic things. Scenes play out, often in ways I didn't expect or script. Needs, motivations change. New characters hop in to help or hinder the main character. But if I know the main character, if he or she is real, then everything else feels real, too.
Try it, you'll like it.
*I'm pretty excited about this, now that I know 'who' needs to tell the story. It should fix the sprawl problem, too.