“How do you write a story?” “Where does your inspiration come from?” I’m asked various versions of these questions anytime I tell someone that I’m a writer. Well, where does a writer get the inspiration for a story (whether it be a short story or novel or poem)?
This is how it happens: the writer goes to a quiet place and pleads to the muses…
NOT! Ha! Ha!
The truth lies somewhere in the middle: writing is both magical and ordinary. While we don’t have to make sacrifices to the muses, sometimes inspiration does come spontaneously—but sometimes, it doesn’t. One of the greatest arenas for potential inspiration is in the writer’s own life, the lives of others, or prompts. A great exercise when I’m feeling a little lost in a story is to take a random word and write for five or ten minutes on that word. Whatever comes to mind—no crossing anything out (or backspacing)!
So, how does the story process begin? Normally for me, I have an immediate image of a character and a scene. I have an idea of who the character is and what the situation is, but often I don’t know the particulars, like the main story arc or the character’s back story—those come once I start writing in earnest. See, a story doesn’t always start at the beginning. Sometimes, you start in the middle—or even at the end!
The most important part is to write the initial scene as quickly as you can. Don’t get caught up in the immediate barrage of unknowns. If I’m not sure about a particular detail, say, the main character’s name, then I put that in caps and fill it in later. Or, just write (or type) BLAH BLAH and move on to the part of the scene that you do know! Once I’ve got that initial scene written, then I read through and write all the questions, usually on a big legal pad, that immediately pop up. Questions will vary depending on how detailed the scene and how filled out the character is, but some of the questions may sound like:
-Where is my character going? Why are they here? What brought my character here?
-What does my character ultimately desire? What motivates them? What is unique about my character?
-Who is coming along on this journey? Who are their antagonists? Who/what is the villain?
And…you might not have the answer right away for some of these—that’s okay.
You have a character and context; you’re on the precipice of something big! This is where the story begins.
This is also where my first blog series begins. Characters and Plots(—yes, I capitalized plots on purpose here). For me, the two are inseparable, but for the purpose of this blog series I will be separating them as best I can.
Topics I’d like to discuss:
Flat v Round
Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary characters
Traits (strengths and flaws)
Physical Appearance and Naming
3 Ball Juggling Act
I will tag these posts as I write them, so at the end there can be an easy way to search for whatever it is you are looking for.
I hope you follow along and I welcome suggests for other topics or questions!