noun, plural sto·ries.
a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.
What’s in a story? In its very basic form, there is conflict, action, and resolution. From there, an author can take a story in many different directions depending on their own approach. And there are as many different approaches as there are authors. Personally, I use a five-part structure that incorporates these five things, in no particular order: character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme. Things like point of view and symbolism fill in the rest but can be switched out depending on how the initial concept is going.
And there it is. The real topic of today’s post.
It’s kind of like the match that sets the forest on fire. The breeze that pulls the kite into the air.
As some of you may or may not know, I did not come into the world of fiction writing until later in life. In fact, the idea of writing never even crossed my mind. Having said that, creativity seems to be part of my DNA. I was always drawing something. As a child, I remember drawing a fairly detailed layout of our solar system. I was maybe 9 or 10. As adolescence left me, my creativity stayed.
Growing up, my dad was a car guy. He was also blessed with the creative gene and had painted many beautiful vehicles in his life. In earnest, I considered following in his footsteps. In high school, he strongly encouraged me not to because he said it was such of a dirty job. Grimy. Those are probably the only valuable words I ever got out of the man, but that’s for an entirely different blog post.
Anyway, I took his words to heart and looked elsewhere for a career. I thought about photography for a while, but that could be because of my dad’s stash of Playboy’s … all the pretty pictures. I even thought that I might become a world-class artist. In the end, I went with architecture. It allowed me to continue my creativity but also gave me a solid career path. That was in 1989. Fast-forward about 10 years and that’s when I wrote my first short story. I was hooked!
Why do I bring up my past while I’m talking about the process of writing? It’s because I liken it to my profession in architecture. My specialty is single-family residential homes. And with every new project that comes into the office, the homeowner has a few ideas that they want to see in their home. Be it the style of architecture: prairie, contemporary, traditional. They know what they want but they didn’t know how to get there. That’s their initial concept. The bones of the house: the foundation, the framing, the rafters, all of that will be built along the way. But it takes a certain degree of forward thinking to develop what the finished product is going to look like before the first brick is laid. All from that initial concept.
And that’s sort of the approach that I’ve taken with my writing. I envision what I want this final product to be. The completed story. In a nutshell, I have the beginning, the middle, and the end all figured out in my mind. Well, as clear as I can get it before I write the first word. That first brick.
Many times, I’ll just have a general idea of what I want my story to be about. That might be a small memory flash from a dream I had or a news snippet that piqued my interest. I take that idea and brainstorm. Years ago I’d sit with a pad of paper and a pencil and write down line after line of thoughts that supported the initial idea. The more confident I got, the more speed I wanted. I switched over to the keyboard. Then, about three years ago, I discovered dictation. Now, I don’t write with a pencil on paper, I don’t type the keyboard. I grab my Bluetooth headset and pace around the house as I dictate line after line of thoughts. These brainstorming sessions have lasted anywhere from as little as 10 minutes all the way up to four or five hours. At the conclusion, I start a new paragraph and recap my initial concept. It’s usually only about a paragraph long and it is what ultimately becomes my story synopsis.
As there are many authors, there are many processes. I’m sure you’ll hear a dozen different techniques from a dozen different writers. Mine is just one in a vast sea of technique.