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Friday, 14 October 2011

On Developing a Story


Today I am going to explain how I write a story. Often I get only one idea, or a first few lines. Other times I am hit by a complete story, although it might be ragged and thin and full of holes. The plot might be only half there, so lots of stuff missing.

Getting down what I know is the first thing. It doesn’t matter if I write or type, but getting it all out of my head and on paper or screen is what comes first. It’s like emptying into a canister. I slop it all into one container, the good the bad and the ugly. I don’t take time to think whether one part is crap or a line of dialogue is stupid. I don’t even take time to worry about quotation marks or question marks. All of that can come later.

After all of this has been dumped out of my head, I might leave it alone for a bit, maybe for as long as I need to. Trying to force more out or wring more out of my mind is useless. Remember, this is my way and the only way that it works for me. I might move on to something else and just let that little canister of words simmer for as long as it takes. I know that sooner or later I’m going to be hit with another visit from as yet unknown characters.

So here I am going on with my life, maybe working on another novel, editing another novel or creating a short story. Maybe I am cooking dinner or baking a pie. (Now the latter idea would be a bit unusual but not out of the question.) Anyway, when the next gush of words comes, I am ready. I will stop practically anything to mull over these words and add them to my collection in the canister asap. Neither wind, nor rain, nor sleet, nor snow will stop me.

If enough info comes raining through my head and is now safely caught in my canister, I will move on to the next step, an outline. During this procedure I often ask myself questions. What if? Where do they live? What was their childhood like? What do they look like? What do they like to do? What were their childhood dreams? Where did they go wrong? These are all common human transactions of time, and all important things I should know in order to forward the development of any story line.

When I become satisfied with my outline, I move on to Chapter Outlines. Chapter One: Ann saw that she was getting no where with her big hubby, Jim, so she decides to try a new approach. Jim is impressed with her hang gliding techniques, but not as impressed as he is with Shirley’s amazing bedside techniques. Ann might be losing her husband and what about that handsome hang gliding instructor that just won’t stop trying to impress her? You get the picture. I move on to Chapter two, three, four…until I have exhausted my outline.

Still I am not satisfied, so into the canister it goes again to simmer some more. During the next while, I might be hit with a few lines of dialogue from an angry, Ann which are tossed about by Jim in his self defense mode. This might start me on Chapter One. I need the opening lines, the first few ideas that will ask the questions: What is going on here? Why is a perfectly happy marriage falling apart? Everyone knows it isn’t Shirley causing the trouble, it started long before Shirley entered the picture. I have to ask myself then answer the questions I know readers will be curious about. I have to make it worthwhile for a reader to even want to read the first few lines. If I can do that, then I am on my way.

Sometimes it all comes rushing out once the dialogue begins. I might type for hours until I am exhausted both physically and mentally. I might get so tired of Jim and Ann and Shirley and their predicaments and outside troubles that it takes all my strength to shut down the cover of my laptop. Then I sleep, or if it is early I totally go away from the story. I don’t want to see it anymore. I don’t want to edit or make any corrections, because I know that a lot of it is going out the window anyway.

So as I wrestle on in my mind with the maybe and maybe not, I am away from the story, I am not looking at, but I am still feeling it in my sub-conscious. I might be in the middle of another story or I might be eating dinner. I might be watching a movie that triggers an idea, or reading a book. It wouldn’t be the first time that I have put a very good book down to go back to the canister and throw my new ideas in there. It might just be a few lines from some author straight from the book, and I will type them down so I can look at them later. Or I might not even bother with those lines as fodder. I might already know my own lines and what this trigger means to me and my book. Ideas are everywhere, but it is the author, the writer who sees the advantage of most of them and how to use those ideas in their work.

Okay, I’ve finally worked out all the chapters and came to a satisfying ending. I am happy, sometimes I cry over the ending. Sometimes I am excited over a part of the story. When I am I realize that this emotion is something I want to pass on to readers. Heck if I can break down over a certain word or few lines a character has utter in an emotional part of a story that I have written, composed, read over time and again, if I can break down time and again at that very same stop without even trying, then there has to be some emotion there that will get passed on to a reader. This is what I hope for anyway, for writing is no fun unless it can be shared.

The next part is something I won’t elaborate on much…the editing. This is just plain work, sometimes a bit of drudgery that must be done. It’s like taking an old car and putting in new parts and refinishing the body. It’s like taking a mischievous puppy and training him to become a super lovely dog. It’s taking anything from start to finish. Then you get to send it out into the big, cruel world. You cringe when you read a bad review, someone did not really like your story someone didn’t get the point, bla bla bla. Then your chest puffs out and you smile when you read that 5-star which simply says, I loved your book. It’s all in a day’s work, or many days, but in the end it’s like having a baby; you forget the pain and enjoy the pleasure.

How do you write? Do you jump in and type Chapter One then go full steam ahead, or do you do an outline first? A synopsis? Do you correct each mistake as you go along? There are so many ways to write a story, most authors have their own unique way, and sometimes it all comes down to whether you have outgoing or shy characters, who want to share a lot or a little from the beginning. Please share your comments and your methods, and Happy Writing and Reading everyone!

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