Like anything, a story is born with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, out of which
something beautiful develops. Everyone has a different approach to the actual process of getting down to it and putting ink to paper (or binary code for words onto binary code for blank page), but that is hardly the true beginning of writing a good story. The story is born in our minds, of course.
William Faulkner wrote that “The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” Whether you agree or not, it certainly means that not EVERYTHING is worth writing about, unless it involves some greater meaning or a glimpse into the essence of being human. On the other hand, we are all limited to our own world of experience, does that mean that the housewife in the suburbs has nothing to say? or that the 9 to fiver from downtown with the house full of dying houseplants should refrain from sharing his thoughts? No, just so long as there’s a point.
A story is born in our head out of some observation. This observation might be very striking and bring a wave of (sometimes) melancholy contemplation. This is where the whole essence of being human comes from. A singular even mundane event might bring our proverbial housewife to ponder the concept of fate and free will (like her kid running amok in the supermarket and catching herself regretting starting a family) or the 9 to fiver might get stuck in traffic on his way back home and ponder the complacency of the modern day workforce in comparison with the American revolutionaries. These observations, but more so those thought, will make our proverbial Everyman and Everywoman want to share their experiences.
Now it’s time to get out the paper or laptop. But I wouldn’t recommend getting right into it, take it step by step!
- Take notes. There’s little more frustrating than having had a monuments idea when you set out and losing it between page 10 and 67 (Numbers are random, you might have had better luck keeping track of your brilliance). This can also help you separate reality from fiction. You might have gotten inspiration from reality, but we, as writers, are literally in the business of fiction, so don’t make fiction more realistic, more the fiction better.
- Build your characters in advance, at least the main ones. Like the beloved analogy pop-culture has found in Poochie the Dog for unwelcome half-@ssed characters inserted as an afterthought, any such character introduced too late in the narrative that starts to steal the show is going to leave a sour taste in the reader’s mouth. Don’t confuse this with inserting an important character in a later chapter, sometimes a love interest or something similar does come in halfway through the novel, but it needs to be planned to look seamless and more believable.
- You’re not married to your first sentence/paragraph. I sometimes start a story with nothing but the first sentence that sounds really cool in my head. But as the story takes shape, I might find that that first sentence gives the wrong kind of vibe for the rest of the story. Even if your first line/paragraph are really great and amazing and clever, they might not best serve you as an opening. Consider moving them somewhere where they will have a better effect on the reader. But this of course, are thoughts for the editing process, my real point here is don’t sweat it if you’re unhappy with your opening, go back to it later. You’re the writer, and you have the right to change anything.
- At least broadly, define what it is you are doing. This might sound odd, but I found that setting goals is important, despite myself not knowing exactly what will happen with my writing as I am writing it (I am a little sporadic sometimes.) I just mean that you should know (again, broadly) how the story ends and what is its point, you should know if it’s science fiction or contemporary fantasy, you should know if your audience are between 15 and 20, or 50 to 70. Don’t try to dig yourself into a ditch at the very onset of your writing, it will crystallize into something more concrete as you go along, but at least have some sort of notion how that concrete is going to settle.
- Don’t start flooding your pages with motifs. This happens especially to those who are avid readers or have some theoretical background in literature. They’ve read all the greats and heard the praise on their use of stark motifs, ergo, they think motifs should be lavishly flaunted like some literary bling. It comes from a desire to seem clever and show off one’s knowledge of literature (this also goes for intertextuality), but sometimes, less is more. The greats are praised for the sparse and poignant use of motifs that are rife with meaning for the story and for the time those stories were written in, if you flood your stories with too many clever ideas, you just seem amateurish. That is why it is best to think about those devices at the beginning to help guide your reader to better see anything under your writing’s surface.
Those are the first things I do/think about when I set off to write something new, I hope it would help anyone out there to get better results in their writing.