Every minute has a story to tell. Every hour has thousands of stories to tell. A discarded toy has a tale of its own, a broken glass has something to say, a ring on a woman’s finger, a gun in a case, a drink in a glass, a frown on a person’s forehead sitting across from you…..they all have a story to tell. WE ALL HAVE A STORY TO TELL. A STORY TO WRITE. Written words that can make others think, laugh, cry, moon or swoon. Your written words!
But how do you write a story?
Do you write using lyrical words? Do you use words that could put
Oxford and Webster dictionaries to shame? Do you write the end first for it is very dramatic? Or do you draw out the suspense till the last blood drawing second? Do you write in first person or in third? Questions, question and more questions.
Guess what? You are getting ahead of yourself. Before getting in the nitty gritty of writing or penning a story be sure you have a story. It does not in any way imply that you think it out to the
last word or a complete chapter by chapter breakdown before you start penning the first words. However think out a rough plot with decided protagonists. Know your heroes and villains and maybe even the in-betweens. In that fledgling idea there should be a journey, a character graph, plot progress, simply put - there should be a beginning, middle and an end.
How do you achieve all that I just mentioned above? By taking a mere whisper of a story idea mulling over it, questioning it, rethinking, making notes until you have a book in your head.
If a regimen helps find a quiet half an hour in your day, fetch your laptop or grab a notebook (whatever works for you) and simply stare in space while your imagination runs free. And in all that mental running, ideas will be born; character will take shape and finally find a voice.
And then I’m sure there are some like I am who never have to find that quiet half an hour. My characters and scene ideas stalk me through out the day and are obviously manic insomniacs for they find a way in my dreams too. :)
Anyway getting back to business. Telling a story is easy, writing it to make publication worthy is TOUGH! But tough in no way implies IMPOSSIBLE. It only means writing a tale, especially when no one is holding a gun to your head or twisting your arm, requires the prolonged use of the three P’s. Practice! Patience!
Perseverance! (I will keep changing the order of these three Ps to make a better point.)
There are certain questions that are important to any story and you as a creator/author should know and ask these questions of your
characters, of your plot. These questions and answers will be your reference guide through this epic and very personal journey. However, do not loose sight of one rule. No pressures! Only - perseverance! practice! patience! If Rome wasn’t built in a day why should your book get there sooner? :)
Okay let’s go for the jugular. Every author must have an exhaustive list of questions to ask of himself when a story idea starts taking roots in his/her head. You are probably thinking that what are these imperative questions? Who am I asking them? Why am I asking them? What am I trying to find out with these questions? Where am I going with all that information?
Let’s go a little deeper. The questions an author needs to have answers to are probably the following:
WHO? WHO are your characters in the story? WHO is your target audience for this story? Nowadays when you write a book you no longer write it simply for something as general as readers, you write it for a‘target audience’ or a specific ‘genre’. The very word ‘target’ implies a section - of a certain kind of reader base, decided by age, gender, location, preferences and other factors. Target Audience and Genre are topics I will cover in a separate post.
‘Target audience’ and ‘genre’ will not only help your publisher or agent market your book better it also helps you as an author to make a few decisions, a few very important decisions; about the
language of the book, length of the book and all that might happen and to what degree in your story. The no-brainer example being cuss words. In a book meant for children you will abstain from any kind of colorful language, for a young adult book you can maybe get away by writing ‘sucker’ but not ‘fucker’ and for an adult novel you can go full throttle with all the ‘bleep’, ‘bleep’, ‘bleeps’ in the world (not that you have to). Anyhow getting back to the topic in hand –
questions. We talked about WHO. Now comes the WHY.
WHY? WHY are the characters talking the way they are? WHY is
the protagonist so cold? WHY is the protagonist so driven? WHY is he so angry? Some of the why’s about your characters may not be there in the book but you need to know all the answers to all the why’s to bring authenticity to the story. Authenticity is what makes your readers connect with your character and the story. That connection is an umbilical cord between the author and his target audience. For example, a happy character shown pleasant throughout the first 289 pages of a 300 page book cannot simply start attacking people in the 290th page of the book. You can be sure to sell only five copies of such a book. Three that were bought by your family, fourth by you because you are so excited seeing your name on a book and the fifth by the person frowning sitting across from you (remember the beginning of this post). He is probably frowning and contemplating asking for a refund for a book he just bought and read – your book. :-) And all this because you never shared with your reader the HOW and the WHY. Therefore if your character is going to do something that is going to be the break or make moment of your story kindly ensure that with appropriately placed comments or actions throughout your story you have prepared the reader for that shock. He or she (the reader) will still be blown away by the big reveal but as a compliment to your writing skills. Subtle hints, no billboard signs, no caps locks just subtle clues. Clues which all come together in the end in a neat tight circle. In recent times, Michael Connelly’s few books leave me awed. Research is a big component of achieving authenticity and I will cover that too in a separate post.
WHERE? WHERE are you characters coming from – their emotional, political,religious if any, sexual source code? Where are they going and heading in the story?
WHAT? WHAT are the quirks and eccentrities of your protagnists? What is their height? What are their faces like? What are the characters doing in this scene? What will happen in the next? What will be the end? What drives the characters/story/plots?
HOW? HOW did the story/characters/plot come to this point? How
are you going to start the story? How are you going to end it? How are characters going to escape a trauma or overcome all the odds in the climax?
Kindly remember most of these questions are inter connected. Sometimes a WHY will be related to a HOW or a WHERE.
Here I would like to refer to something I briefly mentioned above - a beginning, a middle and an end. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. However they can be played around with. Sometimes a ‘middle’ can make for a ‘good beginning’. In my debut book Right Fit Wrong Shoe, I purposely blurred the beginning and middle with various flashbacks and then smoothly merged them together in the few chapters before the end. However by clearly marking the past from the present via chapter headings and other such means I attempted to eradicate any confusion for my readers. Given by the number of copies that book sold I would say I clearly did not cofuse the crap out of my target audience. :)
So that little smiley above just brings me to an end of my first post in the ‘You are not born a writer, you become one’ series.
Remember it is not only good, it is imperative to ask questions.
I welcome all your questions and comments. If there is something you seek clarification on let me know and I’ll try and fit it in a relevant topic. Kindly forward this link to any other aspiring authors you might know. My next post, around August 23rd, in this series will tackle issues relevant to any and every author; research, target audience and genre. I will update my facebook groups of ‘Right Fit Wrong Shoe’, ‘Xcess Baggage’, and ‘Wrong Means Right End’ when I post the next article. So until then…be safe, be good and good luck plotting a story!
Just for fun below I have uploaded two pics. I hunted and found my intial notes when I had just conceieved the idea of Right Fit Wrong Shoe. The notes are end result of asking questions and first attempt at plotting a story. I apologize for my bad writing and silly doodles. :))
'Wrong Means Right End' The sequel to the best seller Right Fit Wrong Shoe
will be out in September 2012. Consider yourself 'book'ed!