Friday, September 9, 2011

So you want to write a story?-Millard Jones

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So you want to write a story?-© 2011Millard Jones

So you want to write a story? Not sure exactly where to start? Afraid of starting in the wrong place? If you answered yes to one or all of these questions,  this article is for you.

The first thing you need to write your story:
To write your story you need a patch. Yes sir, just like everything else worthwhile, writing requires a patch. And giving you a patch is also an excuse for me to bore you with all sorts of writer slang and generally useful but not thrilling information. Smart idea, huh?

How to earn your writer’s patch:
To earn your full-fledged writer’s patch you must understand these words/phrases. You ‘writers’ out there are just pretenders if you don’t know these.(Just kidding!)

MC-Main Character: This is your little guy that runs around and does exciting/daring/deadly/stupid/embarrassing things throughout your story.
Protagonist: Can be synonymous with main character but is more general. Its overall meaning contains the possibility of a plurality of protagonists.
POV -Point of view: This kicks it back to grammar school. “I walk.”,  Is 1st POV. “He walks.”, Is 3rd POV. I’d mention second but someone might scalp me. Besides, you should have to look something up.
Tense: Opposed to popular opinion they aren’t asking your stress level. “I walk.” Present tense. “I walked” Past tense. Make sense?
WIP-Work in progress:  Your as of yet unfinished too-good-not-to-read-masterpiece.
MS-Manuscript: This is your too-good-not-to-read-masterpiece. :) It may or may NOT be your WIP.
WC-Word Count: This is the word count for your MS or WIP. A word to the wise; if you don’t want your word count to lose hundreds of hours of work in one fell swoop—save often. Believe me. ;-(

Great! Now you can get your writers patch and I can get on with the nitty gritty details. Congratulations!

Now the million dollar formula to writing this masterpiece:
Six key steps for writing your story

So you’ve got an idea cooking in your brain about frogs with opposable thumbs, and  you’re sure that if you can just download your brain to paper, everyone and their cousin will want to read it. The only
hitch in your get along is you aren’t sure that your Mac or PC has software ready for brain downloads.  Here’s where I can help you out.

Step #1 towards writing your too-good-not-to-read-masterpiece:
Read what you want to write

Let’s say you plan on writing a dystopic science fiction novel, but you’ve never read dystopia or science fiction. You my friend, have a problem. Solution: Find dystopia with a science fiction flair and read it. It’s that simple; just read it.

“But wait, I don’t want to write dystopic science fiction, remember?! I want to write about frogs with opposable thumbs.”  

Don’t worry! This precept is true for any genre you plan on writing.  Even if you plan on writing contemporary fiction about a guy that owns a coffee shop and finds he has Spanish gold in his family history, a la  The best of evil : an Aramis Black mystery.  There are always ideas to be gleaned from books in the same genre. Maybe you take a shine to the idea of using real coffee recipes in your fiction and borrow the concept. Or, maybe you find that you didn’t enjoy reading about Spanish gold being found and you decide to replace it in your story with a gold ballpoint pen. The possibilities are endless!

Reading what you write enables: getting fresh views on standard material, driving yourself to better your craft by allowing same genre comparison, and leapfrogging off other’s concepts to greatness of your own. All this is possible by reading in your own genre, how can you afford to not?

Step #2 towards writing your too-good-not-to-read-masterpiece:
Don’t read only one genre

Reading only one genre is equivalent of eating only vanilla ice cream. I won’t try to say that vanilla isn’t good, it is! But what if you tried vanilla AND chocolate? A varied reading palate will give you a definite edge over writers that read only one genre. One of the easiest and, in fact, most enjoyable things you can do when reading other genres for tips on your own, is transposing other genre plots into your own genre. What would a Jedi Starfighter scene look like set in the Stone Age? A knight in shining armor in the 21st century? Even  mixing Amish romances and gunfights! Oh wait, that’s why there is prairie fiction! ;)
Read multiple genres, grow, learn, do it.  

Step #3 towards writing your too-good-not-to-read-masterpiece:
Read books on writing

This is a non-negotiable. If you want to write a good story you have to read books on writing. I’m sorry if you hate reading(wait if you hate reading why are you writing?) but you just have to.  Reading on writing is a goldmine for information on craft, characters, plot, styles, point of view, etc. If it deals with writing, someone has written a book on it, or seventeen thousand. Since you’re just starting to think about crafting a story, you probably aren’t going to pony up for all seventeen thousand books. However, if you buy one book on writing, and you should buy at least one, purchase The Art and Craft of Writing Christian fiction by Jeff Gerke. Before we leave this step, a word to the wise: be careful what you read. Just like there are hosts of good writing books, there are also books that only work well as a booster seat for your 2yo. This invariably is either from content found in examples, or simply from horrible mechanics. Please check reviews first.

Step #4 towards writing your too-good-not-to-read-masterpiece:
Be an educated writer

Educate yourself about writing by becoming a disciple of writing. I choose not to say student for one very important reason. If you are currently a student you know how studying goes. You study to pass tests, you study not to fail, you study so you aren’t grounded and you want to go to the mall. (Unless you’re one of those odd ducks who study to learn)
Be a disciple not a student. Learn from the masters, soak up knowledge like paper towels and spaghetti. Teach what you’ve learned to others. Be generous with what you know and voracious in your appetite for more.  And always, always, always be open to learn and grow.

Step #5 toward towards writing your too-good-not-to-read-masterpiece:
Remember this is not marriage

Pick a style, but don’t marry it. And don’t handcuff yourself into copying the exact POV and tense your favorite author does, explore! Try varying POVs and tenses(in different WIPs!)--And  if you absolutely despise it and loath every word of your (still) brilliant prose STOP using it. You aren’t bound “for better or worse” to a tense or POV. It’s true, you’re free! You don’t have to beat yourself over the head to work with a tense you hate. Try a new point of view. Try a new tense. Find one you like,  just don’t marry that one either . You can always change your POV or tense. Infidelity of genres doesn’t exist. It doesn’t. Say it with me “It-does-not-exist.” Good, now we understand each other.
This is not a get -out -of -working -hard -to -learn -something -new –card, though. Just because something is brain numbingly hard doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit. Remember that ;)

Step #6 towards writing your too-good-not-to-read-masterpiece:
Take stock of what you have.

If you’re just starting to write a story, or even if you’ve long passed the starting stage but find your story lacking something, stop right now and take stock. I’ve compared writing and a few major necessities for your story as a metaphorical obstacle course. 2

Do you have a plot?
Think of the plot as an obstacle course. It will have easy parts, hard parts, and those stupid plastic climbing structures that always make you fall down. -___-  Without an obstacle course there is nothing for your protagonist/s to do. Characters stand around and talk for pages and pages, or all decide to go out for a burger...twenty seven times! Now, I love doing both of those things but…not reading about them. Unless! You make them an integral part to the plot. Then I’ll even read about people brushing their teeth!  

Do you have a main character or protagonists?
These are the strapping fellows that run through your obstacle course.  I mean, honestly, with no characters, is an obstacle course even an obstacle course? Without characters it’s not an obstacle to anything….Your characters are the ones the course challenges to grow and fight against the obstacles in their paths.  They also will probably receive a few accolades, as well as black eyes while traversing it. The course should also give them a few black eyes, and invariably make them fall off at those stupid plastic climbing structures.

There is a real easy way to keep your readers raving about your characters: make the reader like the characters. No I didn’t say “make the characters always smile and always make them polite and always make them open doors for old ladies”1.  I said “make the reader like the character”.

Do you have any sidekicks?
Sidekicks work as moon boots. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen over in moon boots and hurt myself! But when the chips are down and I need that little extra jump to get me to the top of those stupid plastic climbing structures —the moon boots are indispensable. Every story doesn’t need  moon boots, but some need them like koalas need ears. Does yours?(Story not koala)

Do you have good writing mechanics?
 Writing mechanics are like the air in your obstacle course. Have you ever  tried to dive toward the finish line when they aren’t inflated? No way! Without air you’re going to break a rib—or two. Writing is no different. You can have moon boots, an obstacle course, a strapping fellow, but without air, it’s all for nothing.  Good writing mechanics keep the air in the obstacle course—making a tight an enjoyable story.

Now that you’ve taken stock of your story or soon to be story, you can easily add/cut/splice/season with salt to make it even more too-good-not-to-read.

So you want to write a story? Go for it.

Make the obstacle course, find a character, grab some moon boots, and make sure you have plenty of air to pump it all up; now you are ready to write that story.  Oh, and don’t forget to just write it. Don’t let another day pass. Write your too-good-not-to-read-masterpiece. Break our hearts, stagger us, let your genius shine.

If this article encouraged you to write your story, go ahead and give your credit card ###-###-### in the comments….Or please share it with your friends. Oh, and please comment :) (Recommended by Millard)

1I have nothing against opening doors for old ladies and do attempt to when possible.
2 The image is in no way my own.


Elven Princess said...

**************** <-----
there you go... here's my number. XD jk. Its cool. :)Good job at the article.

Sarah Pennington said...

Awesome post, Millard! Thanks for the tips!

T.D. said...

This was so good, Mil!
MC-Main Character: This is your little guy that runs around and does exciting/daring/deadly/stupid/embarrassing things throughout your story.

Made me smile.

Anyways, this was super helpful, encouraging, (hilarious), and inspiring. Thank you so much!

Precentor said...

Thanks guys, so glad it helped!

Seth Skogerboe said...

From an odd duck: All I could think after the "Read other Genres" section was, "I'm sorry, Obadiah. *BANG*" :-D

Storyteller SilverLoom said...

*gasp* You actually recommended Gerke's awesome book?! Hee hee. Great stuff, man!