Building a Story

Yay! You came up with an awesome idea for a story! It’s been swirling around in your brain for months, growing in size and complexity, and it’s getting more and more insistent in its pleadings to be released onto the page. You finally comply and begin the process but find yourself frozen in front of the screen/paper. What happened? And, just as important, what can be done to jump-start the journey from brain to book?

As much as I may want to get into the thick of things, I start with a simple outline and a plot clock (a rough map of the story’s journey) – you may have a different mechanism that suits your writing style. When your characters make the leap from brain to page, they need to come to life and have somewhere to land.

Build Character Bodies

Those floating fragments need to be joined together and fleshed out. Let’s say your main character’s name is Todd. What does he look like? How old is he? Any unusual traits (physical or personality) that set him apart from the others? These details help the reader see your characters as real people they can relate to and/or associate with. Some snippets may not warrant more than a brief mention in your story, but every little bit becomes a part of who they are in the world you are creating.

Give each of your characters a listing on your outline/landing spot, and fill in their physical appearance, character traits, etc. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did when you get to chapter three and can’t remember the color of Todd’s eyes! By the way, Todd loves black licorice! See what I did there?

Build a World

Once your characters have taken form, they need a place to live (at least where the reader first encounters them). If Todd is in school, what is he studying? If he’s in the working world, what is his job? Is his job related to something that is happening in the story? He may travel to other places, so you’ll need to establish what those locations look/feel/smell like before you send him there. Add another entry spot on your outline/framework for that next destination.

The world needs to be real to you, your characters, and your reader. I do my research and establish the basic story setting. I determine and furnish their living quarters and decide where they are going to live. What’s the climate like? How does Todd get around (bus, train, etc.)? He can’t live on licorice alone… does he cook or rely on takeaway?

Maps are a great resource to establish neighborhoods, bus/train routes, and where Todd’s favorite restaurant is. If the story needs it, I might use established places (like hospitals, etc.) and insert my own grocery stores, restaurants, etc. to keep the location from being a carbon copy and creating any legal issues.

I add facts/tidbits to my story outline as the story progresses and I learn more about the characters and their story. I may not use all that I gather, but it’s there in case I want or need it.

Everyone has their own way of writing, and this approach may not work for you or be your style of story-building. You may use sticky notes, special software, or some other method of getting your characters from brain to book. The most important thing is that they make the journey, find their way onto the page, and come to rest in the hands of readers.

Image credit: Pixabay


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