This is a topic of the day from my Daily Journal yesterday. I’m considering moving the Daily Journal over here and posting it to my Pro Writers list every day. If you’re reading this, you’re on that list.
Anyway, here’s a topic of the day for you.
Story Starters, Openings and How to Write Fiction
One person asked me in an email yesterday where I get ideas and how I can move from story to story. Apparently because of my flurry of activity recently.
I’m going to answer that in two topics.
First of all, I’ve started only seven new works since May 4 (finished 6). That isn’t a lot. At all. In May, I wrote only two works: a novel and a short story. The short story also became the first chapter of my next novel (so eight works if I counted that twice).
In June, thus far I’ve written one novel and four short stories. Yesterday I started a fifth short story that might be a novel instead. That’s it.
But to story starters —
When I sit down to write a short story, it’s most often on the spur of the moment. So I have to come up with a story starter.
What is a story starter? It’s a character with a problem (doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story) in a setting. Period. That’s it. Seriously.
(But where do I get the characters? The problem? The setting? That will be in “Getting Ideas” in tomorrow’s post.)
From that story starter, I write an opening.
To do that, I sit down at the keyboard and write whatever springs to mind. Then I write the next sentence, write the next sentence and so on.
The length of the opening varies from writer to writer. For DWS the opening is around 300 – 500 words. For me, the opening is usually 500 – 700 words. By then, I know whether the story will work.
If the opening works, I just keep writing the next sentence. I don’t worry about (or think about) sentence structure, spelling, etc. I just write and keep writing.
I never wonder where the story is going or how the character will solve the problem or any of that. I just write the next sentence.
It really is that simple. It works. It’s how Bradbury wrote. It’s how Stephen King writes. It’s how almost every pulp writer who ever lived wrote. And those of you who have been with me for awhile have seen it first hand.
Do I develop the character?
No, other than knowing his or her “type.” Beyond that, like all humans everywhere, the character develops himself (or herself).
I am constantly surprised by the things my characters say and do. And that’s good. If the characters surprise me, they will also surprise the reader.
If I think them out, plan, plot etc. in advance, I’m playing the Almighty Writer on High. I don’t do that because whatever I can “think up” (conscious mind) the reader can think up. Plotting, planning etc. leads to predictable stories, and predictable stories lead to yawning readers.
Do I agonize over the problem?
Again, no. In my stories, the problem in the opening usually is the “big” problem of the story, but not always. In my openings, the character most often makes decisions and moves toward solving the problem.
What about the setting?
In every opening, I try to invoke all five physical senses. That’s what makes the scene come alive in the reader’s mind. I love writing dialogue and I love writing action (especially Sam Peckinpah style slow motion stuff, sparingly) but none of that happens in a vacuum.
If you don’t provide (through the POV character’s senses) a good description of the setting, any action or dialogue is being delivered against a white background. Not good.
Okay, so come up with a character who has a problem. Drop him (or her) into a setting. Sit down at the keyboard and write whatever springs to mind.
And don’t worry about it. You’re just allowing your characters to tell a story. Nothing more earth-shaking than that.
Back soon with “Getting Ideas.” Or you can subscribe to my other blog at HEStanbrough.com and read it when it comes out tonight. (grin)