You made it to the end of the How-to series! Today’s topic is how to write a great story. I’m going to cover specific points that are important to flesh out.
Plot: The plot of a story is ultimately the most important… well plot and characters. They ride on the backs of each other. Characters can drive a plot and a plot can create well rounded characters. Now, the plot is your idea, the story line, the GPS, It informs readers about what the story is and what direction it’s going into. Some writers will encourage others to work their way backwards and think of the ending first. Others will say start from the middle. It depends on your thought process, but the way my stories formulate is usually from the characters’ background story. I create a story based on a character’s relationship to another character. In my book “Our Father”, the idea was about a girl who is being stalked by her childhood best and somehow mixed in the mess is her estranged father. I didn’t have a solid plot, just a cool idea. My other story, “Being a Model”, began with an idea about a girl looking for her mother. The plot with her becoming a model was not in my mind initially. Your plot is a road. It needs a beginning, middle, and end. Everything that happens in the story should follow each other to the end. In other words, scenes – as I like to call them- or chapters are stepping stones further into the main plot. It’s not a promising idea to start writing a story without formulating a solid plot and I say this from experience. I get excited and start writing then I end up with plot holes, and things going in the wrong direction. I recently started outlining and it has helped. With an outline, you can write snippets of what need to happen in each chapter. This way, you can have a visual account of your plot, read through it, and see if the story progresses to the end.
Characters: My favorite part about writing! Character development is what keeps readers going. I have read books with a fascinating plot, but not so fascinating characters. It’s a challenging task. You, as the writer, are creating people. Human beings! And they need to be realistic. Writers give them names, birthdays, families, backstories, trials, and triumphs. We create an entire population. A beneficial tool to use is a character interview sheet. There are various versions online. They ask the character’s name, family life, favorite color, food, if they have birthmarks, or what their fear is. These things to help build a well-rounded person. It’s also important to get in tune with your characters, at least the main character. You must delve deep within their mind, feel them as an extension of you.
Writing “Being a Model” is difficult sometimes because I am not in tune with my main character, Mai. It goes in and out. I don’t know who she is sometimes. This can peek through a story. You don’t need to become the characters, you need to understand them . They need to become three-dimensional wait, no- four dimensional. Give them real fears and challenges. Every character included in the story needs to have purpose, an objective. Try not to include random characters. Some characters’ main purpose is to support the main characters and make them more realistic or offer a different view into that person’s life. They could also be that person’s voice of reason. Allow characters to tell the story. Switching from person to person, their voice and experiences should flow out. Ask yourself, “What would this person say in response to that?” “How would they handle grief?” “Does she trust this new person into her life?” This is why writer’s need to be in tune with their characters, so they can answer these questions.
Setting: Okay this may be tricky, but also fun. The setting includes time and place. Is it set in the future, Wisconsin, France, the Medieval period, or the present? I like choosing places I’ve never been to like New York or Madagascar. I use google maps as a tool because they show real streets. You can go down roads and such. Describing the scene sets the tone and provides imagery for the reader. Find locations you want to use in your story and make sure to describe them enough to create a picture. Be careful not to have a sensory overload. If it’s the first time describing a location in the story, you can go into detail. If it’s the second or third time, only focus on changes. For example, describing a character’s home. In the first mention, you may go into detail about the structure, color, window shape, how they organize furniture, or what colors the walls are. But because this will be a frequently used location, there is no need to describe everything again. The vase that was there before is gone. Note that. Maybe the home looks different at night. Note that. Go on google images and find pictures of places that look like what you’re envisioning. Readers will envision their own version, but having some detail helps. If it’s set in another time period, do a lot of research for accurate information. What type of technology did they use? What did the clothing look like? For fantasy stories, setting is important because the writer is formulating an entire world. Drawing a map of your world is beneficial as well.
Major points in plot: I added this part because writing down or highlighting key parts in your plot keeps you focused. These points are things in the story that NEED to happen. I see them as bookmarks. For “Our Father”, I had those major points and all the other scenes were supporting roles to get there. For example, I have a kidnapping scene in “Our Father” which was a major point. For the kidnapping to happen, I had to write other scenes that led up to it and allowed it to happen. A certain character needed to not be at the house, another character had to forgive the main character, things of that nature.
Dialogue: Conversations between characters also drive the plot. It can reveal certain information withheld from readers. This a way for characters to be themselves, you can really hear their voice. Having too much or too little dialogue can divert the reader. Conversations that don’t support the plot are unnecessary. There is an objective in every piece of dialogue. It needs to lead to something, expose someone, uncover information. Two characters having a long discussion about racecars when it has nothing to do with the story is a waste of space. I’ve had to cut pieces of dialogue out because they didn’t offer anything. Here’s an exercise. Try removing a piece of dialogue and see if the story goes well without it. If the story flows, then you know it wasn’t helpful. Sometimes dialogue is there to understand a character more, that’s fine. Making a character more well-rounded still benefits the plot.
Motivation and Inspiration: This may be last, it’s very crucial. You can’t write a great story without the passion to do so. I watched runway videos, photo shoot videos and looked at many fashion photos for “Being a Model”. It inspired me to write Mai’s story and convey the true life of a model. I made a Pinterest board for “16 years ago” for each of my main characters. Prayer and meditation clears your mind and enriches you. Explaining your stories to others gets you excited to keep writing. Find a nice cozy place in your home, at a park, or maybe a coffee shop that will motivate your senses to write. Make a playlist and listen to songs related to your story or unrelated. It does get tough especially when you get writer’s block or feel discouraged about the story. Don’t let discouragement end the journey. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, believe in the story. Believe in the characters and trust the process.
*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
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