Friday, February 1, 2013

Getting a Story Out of an Idea

If you're like me, then a million ideas for stories you'd like to write one day are apt to fly into your brain in the course of a single hour. Most likely, they get in there when you're knee-deep in another project,  or otherwise engaged in something else. But how do you pull those ideas into reality when you're so busy engaging the real world? And how can you get on the fast-track with writing a story when you may not be a writer by nature?

I'm an artist, so when I find the time to sit down on a story I really want to tell, one of the first things I usually do is character sketches. Very serious, here: I literally sketch out the characters of the tale. The second thing I do is read. It might sound obvious or it might not: reading a story which is told in a way that you yourself want to tell a story, will simply help you to write better.

People sometimes ask if doing any reading is necessary before they set out to become a fiction writer. This question has always confused me for one fundamental reason: How is it one knows they want to write when they do not engage in reading -- the end result of writing? It's akin to wanting to become a chef without ever having tasted food! Reading is the key to good writing, and whether you are a writer, an artist, or a welder by profession, reading is a must if you want to learn how to write better. Simple as that.

Now, I'm a big reader so finding a book that interests me is no problem. If you're not, you might try to see if there's a movie or something more familiar which you really like, based on a book that you can read. I wouldn't say you can get away with just watching the movie here, either -- there is no substitute for reading when you're learning to write. Simple as that.

So what else can you do to stir the writing muse from her slumber? Myself, not being the best writer off the bat, employed some of these tips which I pulled from books on how to write more effectively and through simple trial and error. And rest-assured, I'll get into more detail with each as this blog progesses. Some quick tips for writers include:

  • Work backwards through your story - If you're going to tell a tale, you simply must have a beginning and an ending. If you figure out how the thing will end first and work your way backwards to the beginning, you will likely have an easier time of it.

  • Plot out what you want to do in advance with snippets of info to expand on - Most of my stories start out as rough "sketches" of what I want to have happen. They begin as very broad lists of things to cover ("Character A is conflicted about staying at home or going on an adventure") and end up more detailed or fully written as I plot. Using this method, I can "carve away" at an epic tale more efficiently than I could, sitting down and writing it all out in one go.

  • Write from the hip and edit later - I tend to be long-winded when I write, and often get frustrated when I can't find the exact words right away. Often it is best for me to write out everything as I first see it in my head and come back to it later to filter out the unnecessary parts. Speaking of that...

  • Cut the parts that don't showcase characterization or move the story - If you leave all of the fluff in there, your audience will get bored.

  • Read books about writing - Another one that sounds obvious. Some I recommend are Simple and Direct by Jacques Barzun and On Writing by Stephen King.

  • Read a fiction book before you start writing - For the same reasons I said above.

Showcasing ways to write better is one of my favorite things to write about. I guarantee that anyone can be a writer, even if it doesn't come naturally to them at first. Expect many more posts on this subject in the near future.

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