Monday, February 25, 2013

How to start a story

Beginning failure

Yesterday, I sat down at my computer and opened a document that already had a short story idea.  I had convinced myself that I would bust it out in a day or two.

Then I sat there, staring at the screen, wondering how in the world to write it.  Keep in mind, I've written 8 short stories, 2 novellas and 7 novels by this point.  Yet I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out how to write this one.  I mean, I knew the plot.  I knew the characters, I knew what was going to happen and everything.  But I didn't know how to write it!

This was very disturbing to me, to say the least.  So I've spent the last day trying to figure out what happened.  Why couldn't I write a story?

It finally came to me that I desired to just dump the entire story onto the page.  I just wanted the words there and magically delicious.  "Poof!" as Vevin (One of my characters) would say.

However, writing doesn't work that way.  It's like a fine wine that is best sniffed and sipped at first and then rolled across the tongue and savored over time.  I wanted to chug the bottle in one gulp. *sigh*

So I tried to figure out how I was supposed to start the story and then it hit me.

I said, "Ow".

Beginning success

Starting a story isn't really all that easy, but I have a method that's worked for me in everything else I've written.  However, I never realized before that that's what I was doing.  What is it you ask?  . . . Or perhaps you don't ask? . . .  Hmmm . . . I'll take a chance that you are asking.

I get to know my first character.  When I start a book, nothing else matters but that first character in the scene.  I begin by telling where they are and how they feel about where they are.  I find out if there's danger or a person to talk to.  I find out what the weather is like and how my character feels about it.  I find out why the character is there.

Nothing else matters, not the story, not the plots, not the ending; nothing.

Once I know who my character is and have a basic understanding of them, then I begin developing the story.  It really doesn't matter if I have an outline or an ending, because the character I've created may choose not to follow that path.  If I try to force the character along it, then I find myself losing interest in the story.

My characters are the most important aspect of my books.  Everything else is secondary. When I say character, it doesn't actually have to be a person or an animal.  In the Dralin Trilogy, the city itself is just as much of a character as the people within it.  It starts with a young couple named Sheela and Frath, but I'm introducing Dralin to the reader just as much as anyone else.

I have a few stories floating around, ready to write.  Now that I realize what my own method is, I'll be sure to remember to slow down at the beginning.  I won't worry about what's supposed to happen next, but instead, I'll get to know the character.  I'll let them tell me their story instead of me trying to tell them.

It's fun to write this way.  I think my characters become more real when I let them have their personality and be who they want to be.  Instead of working, I'm listening to a story and taking a journey.

Author's note:

Writers spend far too much time telling how things must be done to write a book (*cough*StephenKing*cough).  What I've told you here is merely how I write.  Perhaps something similar would work for you, perhaps not.  There are just as many methods of writing as there are writers, I believe.  I talk about my methods largely because this entire process is a journey for me. I often have revelations and like to write them down so I understand myself and can improve in the future.  If it helps others, well, that's just a bonus. :)

All my best,

John H. Carroll


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that post. I like to understand a bit better how writers write.

This is an almost interactive approach. You've created the character so that the character can interact with you to create the story.

John H. Carroll said...

You are very welcome. Thank you for reading. :)

My characters are fun to know. I like experiencing their stories.