This is the fourth of an ongoing series of blogs detailing how I go about my writing process. This is here to help those people who are trying to find advice on how to get started themselves or for experienced writers looking for fresh ideas. My process may not work for everyone and I encourage every writer to find the process that works best for them, whatever that may be.
So far we have taken your little idea and have expanded it into a full-blown paragraph that gives you a glimpse of what your story will be about. From here on out, we will start expanded and refining your idea until you reach a point that your are comfortable with beginning the actual writing of your story. First we will expand upon your single paragraph and then we will begin working on the characters for your story.
Step 3: Where One Becomes Many
Our single paragraph contains the heart of our story, but it is very limited in details right now. Only the major events of your story are covered so you know what the general direction of your story is. From here, we want to expand each sentence into its own paragraph to detail out each major event. Don’t go into crazy detail here as you are still just writing a single paragraph. What you generally want to shoot for would be a how that event begins, what happens during the event, and how that event concludes with some details along the way. Generally, this should come out to about a page or so of structure for your story and you will begin to see the inner workings of your story, the little bits of awesomeness that makes great stories great.
So you know have a good solid set of notes to work off of. From here you can take a couple of different routes depending on your need or desire for more detail. If you prefer lots of detail (like me), you could go a step further and expand your paragraphs once more so each beginning, middle, and end of your events gets its own paragraph that details how it plays out. Going this far will start to really flesh out your details and will probably require a lot of foresight into how you want your story to go. This might be too much detail for some people and I get that. Stop where you are comfortable and then beginning writing.
Step 4: Caterpillars to Butterflies
This point in the design process is also where your characters will start to appear. They may just be names right now with a general concepts, but that is ok, they will get their treatment in just a moment. Unless your writing about inanimate objects, your characters are the center piece of your story and so they deserve as much love as your plot, if not more so. However, we can’t necessarily handle character development in the same way as we just handled your plot. Characters support and drive your story and so the focus of their development should be different in order to flesh out the appropriate parts.
The type of story that you are writing will largely dictate what sort of background information you need for your characters. We will focus on creating some simple background information for your characters first. I use a series of questions to help define the basics of my character and where they come from. This will then allow me to understand and develop their goals and motivations as it relates to your story.
- What is your character called?
- List your characters parents and any siblings that they have
- Where is character from (geographically)?
- How old is your character?
- What does your character look like?
- What kind of childhood did they have?
- What does your character do for a living?
- Who else is in your character’s life?
From here you now have a basic outline for your character. We have a general idea of who they are and how they started out prior to our story. We then want to focus on how our character relates to our story:
- A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline
- The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
- The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
- The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
- The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?
- A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline
Alright, we now have a full blown character write up. Of course, if you don’t have enough information after these questions, you can always go through and expand each question further by using the three W’s. Why? Why? Why? By asking why to the original question, you are forced to create a reason (and therefore back story) for the answer. The second why adds further detail and insight, and the third why generally gets you to the deepest root reason for the original answer that you gave. It is a good and easy way to generate detail in a logical and organic way.