Storytelling has been one of the roots that make humans unique in our world, and still is even in this digital age. It is a tool that everyone has used at some point in their life, whether you are sitting around a campfire with a flashlight, or in a chatroom typing madly away. We tell stories to convey emotions, ideas, to keep alive traditions and practices, to bring together people under a similar blanket where you can relate to one another in a common theme. If you can tell a good story, it will not only be remembered, but it will be felt long after you have told it.
Every story has three parts: the beginning, middle, and end. Within that, there’s a ‘road map’ that a story generally follows – introduction and conflict, the climax, and the resolution. Somewhere along the way, you need to outline the following things for a reader to be, at a base level, engaged with what is going on in your story:
- Who is the protagonist(s)?
- What is the conflict that they are facing? Man V Nature, Man V Man, Man V Self, Man V Society?
- What is the main goal that needs to be reached? Is your protag trying to save the boy in the tower from the dragon, or find that super secret sword at the bottom of a volcano? You don’t need to spell it out right away, but having an idea is a good start.
- Who, or what, stands in the way of your protag? If it is a person/sentient being, what is their motivation to do so? What do they gain/lose if they win/fail?
- What major downfall will occur to hinder the protag? Having your hero wander through the story effortlessly is a plain read, and won’t keep your readers wanting more. Give them something to sink their teeth in.
Layout Your Ideas
You have decided to write a story, so you’ve already got some ideas and moments plotted in your mind – time to get it down somewhere. Whether you use Google Docs, pen and paper, maybe a giant cork board with string to mind map, whatever works best for you, but laying out your ideas before you plainly allows you to draw inspiration for further plot points and development than keeping it all in your head. When I started writing War Wine, I created a Google Doc and just wrote the things that came to mind. Sometimes it was just a word or two, and others it was a full chapter of something I had envisioned happening.
Writing down questions for yourself to answer later is also a good idea. Leave yourself notes to come back to, like how is a relationship developed, which piece of the antagonist’s background ties in with their motives, or why your protag chose one path over another. If it doesn’t make you think, there’s a good chance that your reader will notice it.
Hello, My Name Is Inigo Montoya
Your characters are the soul of the story. Without them, nothing moves and your left reading about a landscape. Create them with the idea that they should be able to maneuver their own way through the plot, and you’re just along for the ride. Your protag’s journey is always a great place to start if you’re not sure what to do. Tell us about their life before the conflict arose; were they florists who enjoyed to paint, and accidentally brought to life giant bees through their canvas? Or maybe they’re a knight who was possessed by a demon that likes to play terrible pranks on people? Whoever they turn out to be, they need a problem to solve, or your narrative is going to be a bit dreary.
If you’re having trouble fleshing out your character, there are a few things you could do to fill their proverbial shoes:
- Find or build yourself a character template, much like this one, created by Kaishos
- If you like walking on the wild side, a generator is always a fun place to get some ideas, like this one or this one
- If you’re looking for some creative names, or places, or really anything you want to add to your new character, I would definitely suggest this generator. One of my personal go-to websites when I’m feeling stuck
Do You See What I See?
Your setting is just as important as the characters you create. You could have the most zesty characters out there, but if your world is 2-dimensional, everything loses its luster quickly. World building is, in my opinion, a larger project than creating a character to put them in, but so very worth it – as long as you don’t overdue it. Some writers, like J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R Martin, put in a king’s ransom worth of details, down to languages and intricacies in cultures and religions. Others, like J.K. Rowling and Michael Scott, have broader strokes, letting the imagination wander a bit more in place of these aspects. Neither is incorrect, and both can be fun to both write and read – it really comes down to preference.
However, don’t fall into the comfort zone if what you’re writing doesn’t fit inside of it. If you’re writing a science fiction with space travel, there’s probably little room for dragons and faeries. On the flip side, there aren’t too many books that have a cyborg traveling with a witch of the wilds. Further to that, don’t pick an environment for your story simply because “it sounded awesome”. You want something that fits the theme of what you’re writing, which will help your reader be more invested in your story.
Alright, Made My Notes! So, Now What?
Now the easy (and not-so-easy) part. Writing. Put the words to the paper, whether that’s literally or figuratively on a computer is up to you. You might see “pantser” and “plotters” talked about a fair amount – these are just different styles of writers. Some writers find it easier to have a structured outline, plot points laid out, and an overall organizational feel to their story, while others prefer to have a general idea of where they want their story to go, and just write until they finish. Still others find themselves in the middle, and flourish there. There’s no right or wrong way to start, as long as it works for you, keeps you motivated, and lets you get your ideas down!
Remember that getting stuck somewhere doesn’t mean your writing or story is bad. Art blocks are just as common for writers as they are in, say, digital artists. Sometimes you need to step back and do something else to recharge your brain, like reading a book from a different genre, watching movies that get the inspiration flowing, or going for a walk outside.