How to write your story

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I’ve been trying to write stories for longer than I remember. When I was younger I wrote tons or … pretty lame stuff. Skate board riders with lasers on their boards, for instance. Fan fiction to obscure books no one knows. Seriously, how many people read the Endworld series other than myself?

Now that I’m older, I’d like to think my style and abilities have grown and evolved. I’d like to think when I write a story that it would be worth reading.

So I sit down and start to write. I get past a few chapters before things start falling apart. The characters are shallow and predictable, the plot is too easy to follow with no twists or turns. Everything drops and I lose my motivation to continue.

If you’re like me, you’ve hit this wall yourself.

Let’s Start with Basics

42-19744265I ’m guilty of jumping into a project without the basics. I take an idea and I roll with it. I don’t site down to work on the basics, which are important.

Look at your characters. Build those first. Pick your main ‘hero’, the one the story will revolve the most around. Take out a piece of paper and start writing down features. Hair color, eye color, height, weight – things like these will make that person more real to you and help you later in describing them. Are they right handed or left handed?

You need to take each of your main characters and figure them out. It doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can change things later if you decide that this person needs to change.

Don’t forget your sub-characters you know you’ll have and your main antagonists. Those people who push your heroes and heroines. If you don’t know who they are, then why should they be that big of a deal. Look at Darth Vader. There are three movies to just build up his badness. He was built up. Darth Maul, on the other hand, was in one movie and barely anything for anyone to care about let along be afraid of.

Other things you need to work on his what they believe in. What are they afraid of? What is their ‘Achilles Heel’? All this stuff, while may sound boring, is incredibly important. Find out how to make those characters more lifelike. Characters that you’ll root for or loathe.

That Plot Looks Nice

42-15534131 Getting a strong plot is the key to any story. Unless it’s all character stories with no plots. Then .. I guess a good plot would be pointless.

MOST of us need a plot for a good story. It helps drive the story and why those characters that you spent so much time developing are doing what they’re doing. They won’t travel from point A to point B for no reason at all. Even if they are wandering gypsies there is a reason they go where they go. It drives the plot. Those characters may not know the reason – yet – but there is a reason.

Plot your land. Start with the basics. What is the end game? Fight a big boss, save the girl, find a cure to a virus, catch a criminal … you need to know what the point of the story is, otherwise it’s going to be 300+ pages of fluff that no one, especially an editor, will read. Take that plot and add ideas to it. Build it. Evolve it.

A way to make your story really pop is to add workable, believable sub-plots. These are like little mini-stories that may not be important to the greater good, but really help build up the world your characters are in. Maybe it’s a way to introduce parts of a character’s past – be a device to aid in the greater plot.

Let’s go off the earlier StarWars analogy (Darth Vader vs Darth Maul). In StarWars: Episode 1 we see a Pod Race scene. Is this important to the Nabu’s oppression? No. Is this important to the Dark Side of the Force rising to power? Nope. However this is still an important device to show how Anakin is different from most people. It could have just been said or stated, but it’s the proof in the pudding.

Index yourself.

42-16134101 At this point you should have your characters, sub-characters, plots and sub-plots sketched out. Don’t worry if it’s not that cohesive. It doesn’t matter so much.

Go over to Wal-Mart (or any other general store) and grab a pack of 3x5 index cards.

Remember back in school when they made you do out lines for papers? This is similar – only it’s more open and easier.

Take your index cards, along with your plot lines. Write down on an index card a plot line. An event. Whatever you can think of.

Once you get as many of your plots and events down (even things like “Character A meets Character H”) start arranging them in order that makes the most sense to you. Some people lay them out on a table or floor and start pushed them around the way you like. Take out plots that feel forced or just don’t match the others. Don’t throw them away. You never know when you may need them.

This is like the bones of your creature. With out this, you have nothing to build off.

I got this idea from Robert Rodriguez’s book ‘Rebel Without a Crew’. Great book for people who want to write – and not just for film. Very inspiring.

Synopisize™ .

SJ001063 Yes, that’s a made up word.  I made it up.

However, what I want you to do now is this: take all that information you have and start writing. Not full fledged books, no no. We’re not there yet. Take your index cards, plot sheets and character sheets and start writing out a synopsis of each chapter in turn. A few paragraphs, nothing too descriptive. How it starts, who’s involved, what’s happening.

The idea is to get the flow really hammered out. It will give you a really good base to work of and hopefully make your story feel like more than just an idea in your head or a dream in your heart. If the index cards are the bones of your be ast, this is like the muscles and tendons that make it move. With out these, your creature won’t be able to move or progress.

Don’t spend a ton of time on these. The idea is to flash out the idea for your book as fast as you can. I personally just like those 5.5 x 8 yellow tablets. I write a page for each chapter. When the index cards for plots and events right next to me it goes really fast. You should be able to hammer out most of your book in a weekend this way.

Bust a Move

42-16389507 Now, you have your index, character sheets and synopsis done. You’re feeling pretty confident in your ways. This is the time you’ve been waiting for. Time to take your story to the nth degree.

First, read over your whole synopsis again. Yeah, this may take an hour or so, but it’s more than worth it. You’ll get back into the story and you’ll have your head on straight for where you want to go.

If anything feels out of place in the synopsis, don’t worry. This isn’t even a rough draft! This is your ideas set in motion.

Now, get comfortable. Find a quiet place that is clutter free, open your favorite word processor (OpenOffice is a perfect suite that’s free). Start typing.

Don’t be surprised if you start losing focus soon after you start. Just because you did the other steps doesn’t mean this is still going to be simple. All that preemptive work is to get you to this point. If you start losing motivation, re-read your synopsis for the chapter you’re working on. Or several chapters. Get up and walk around for a few moments, do some jumping jacks, talk out your next move.

Just don’t give up. If you’ve gotten to this part of the writing you can finish. You’ve come this far. DON’T QUIT NOW!

Time Lines Suck

42-15483407 So, the question will eventually be asked: How long will this all take?

The answer will surprise you. I have no idea. Seriously, it all depends on how much time you’re willing to spend on your story. The more time and effort you spend, the faster it will go.

Really, if you sit down two or three hours a day and dedicate that time, there is no way that in a month or two you could have a book done. Maybe not edited and everything like the ‘big dawgs’ do it, but ready to send it.

BUT WAIT! Don’t jump over to the mail box and send in your document that you had freshly printed at Kinko’s! Are you really read for that leap? Did you do some marketing first to get a buzz?

Next article I write for writing will be about ways to get a buzz about your manuscript. So stay tuned and write, write, write!

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