Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, July 11, 2014

What You Need Before Writing a Story

Whether you’re a pantser or plotter, every story needs a few key ingredients to ensure it has a solid structure and base appeal. It helps to gather these ingredients before writing.

Some of you, the pantsers out there, may argue that planning beforehand ruins writing or limits you. As a pantser myself, I understand the fear of restricting the subconscious and the knowledge that lots of planning can feel like a waste of time the instant the muse insists on derailing, which tends to happen a lot. But even I have come to understand that, as writers, we need to set a few foundational stones before we let our muses fully loose.

These things will help you ensure a more solid story, whether you enjoy plotting or not:

  1. A protagonist: Who is the story about.
  2. The protagonist’s goal or objective: What does he want and why does he want it. His trying to achieve this goal forms the backbone of your story.
  3. An antagonist: This can be a character or an element like a hurricane or loneliness, but there must be something opposing your protagonist.
  4. Conflict: What is keeping your protagonist from achieving his objective? This comes from the antagonist, but other things can get in the way too. Remember, conflict is what drives a story, so make sure that there is a main conflict from which all the rest of the story and other smaller conflicts can hang.
  5. An inciting incident: What is that interesting point that kicks the story off. Remember, this doesn’t need to include backstory and explanation. All it needs, and thus what your story’s beginning needs, is that event that starts your protagonist on quest to overcome the conflict you’ve decided on.
  6. A midpoint: What thing will change at about the middle of the story? This is a major shift. You don’t have to know what it will be in a lot of detail, but having at least a vague concept helps.
  7. A climax: Like the midpoint, you don’t have to know how the story will resolve in great detail, but you should have some concept of how your protagonist and antagonist will ultimately resolve the conflict.
  8. Permission to write whatever makes your story zing with passion, humor, fear, or whatever other emotion you wish: Remember, all you have to do is get a fully story draft down. If you let your walls down and those driving emotions in, you’ll have a more gripping draft. This isn’t the time for perfection. It’s the time to get a story’s true essence on the page.
  9. Other major plot points: It’s often helpful to come up with a few more major turning points in the plot. Then you can play connect the dots with your story. The dots can be far apart, but at least, you’ll have a distant point to aim for. It helps when avoiding needless detours.

There are, of course, more detailed descriptions of how to deliver a solid, impactful story, but these are you most basic. If you struggle to get stories on paper, try figuring these things out. You may surprise yourself. If everything in you rebels at the idea of deciding on anything before writing, you still might try this method once. You also might surprise yourself, or at the least, you’ll come away with a better understanding of who you are as a writer.

Be sure to swing back by on Monday for the next chapter of The Last Unicorn  by Peter S. Beagle and how we can learn storytelling from the masters.

Happy writing!

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