Writing, in theory, seems easy. All you need is an interesting concept, an entertaining voice, and……that’s about it.
For the past 8 years, I’ve had a story brewing in my head. I would spend hours on end daydreaming and playing the story as a movie in my head while I stared into space. That would probably explain my consistently-slightly-below-average GPA in high school as well as in college. While my classmates were taking notes and actually learning, I was busy watching “The Wardwell Records” unfold in my head.
What started off as mediocre Charmed evolved into a full-fledged fantasy world that no longer resembles the source material…which is a good thing. It played out as episodes that didn’t have much of a consistent tone or an overarching plot. It was pure entertainment that lacked depth, well-rounded characters, and the basic components of a narrative. However, the day I decided that I would eventually publish the story, I had to retcon my entire process; it simply wouldn’t make sense for anyone who isn’t me.
How do you take a kinda-cool-idea from a concept to an actual story that would appeal to other people?
1. Start with a SYNOPSIS|This little blurb is not going to be the final synopsis that will be used to entice potential readers. It’s the core message that will drive your entire writing process. While you may have not locked down all the details of your story yet, a preliminary synopsis will help you stay focused and allow you to build out an entire world.
“After the mysterious deaths of over 53 children across the country, the FBI’s joint task force is stumped. While the authorities have declared them as suicides caused by severe depression and negligence, S.S.A Matteo is not convinced. He sets out on a mission to find the true culprit, which leads him to releasing Washington D.C.’s most notorious criminal; A.J Wardwell.”
2. Do your RESEARCH| Understanding where your book will fit in is crucial. Start by answering these questions-
a. What genre or sub-genre is best suited for your book?
b. What are the common tropes associated with this genre?
c. Which other books/authors are currently thriving within the genre? Browsing through GoodReads would give you a better understanding of the market. By reading through the reviews, you’ll gain an insight into what makes these books good or bad; common mistakes, favorable themes/writing style, etc… Just to be clear, I don’t condone plagiarizing. This exercise is solely for the sake of helping you flesh out your story and avoiding pitfalls.
d. What makes your story different? In today’s world, it is almost impossible to come up with a concept that is 100% unique(sorry to burst your bubble). At one point, my story revolved around an FBI agent who happens to be a witch. I was thrilled to have come up with an awesome-never-before-explored concept…until I came across “The Federal Witch” on GoodReads. Just because someone else did it first, that doesn’t mean you have to bow out and scrap your story all-together. What matters is who did it better. Learn from the other author’s mistakes and stick to your guns. A similar concept does not mean that the stories will be identical. The way you write your characters, your plot, and even your writing style will make all the difference.
3. Know your THEME(S)|Are you tackling a social issue within your fantasy novel? Are you highhandedly taking down the patriarchy? Are you making a subtle comment about the state of religious extremism? Knowing what themes will arise within your story is important. “<strong>Harry Potter” </strong>has been used as an analogy for power politics, discrimination, and slavery. While it is merely the story of a boy who uses his wand to wand-fight with a nose-less wizard, larger themes became evident throughout the 7-book run. These themes can be a silent hum in the background or a loud screech that takes center-stage. A theme is what drives your plot forward, motivates your protagonist, and adds layers to supporting characters. A story that doesn’t have any defined underlying themes is a flop. These themes don’t have to be overtly political or social, they can be simple concepts that revolve around friendship or family.
4. Explore your PROTAGONIST |Mapping out everything there is to know about your protagonist can go a long way. Understanding what makes them tick is what will drive your story. Instead of figuring them out as the story unfolds, you as the author, should already know all of these details upfront. This will allow you to avoid retconning, which often results in weakening the overall plot. A good example of this is the introduction of Paige Matthew into the universe in Season 4 after the departure of Shannen Doherty. The writers didn’t know what they wanted Paige to be, resulting in her character flip-flopping between episodes and seasons. She starts off being intrigued by magic in one episode to wanting to live a normal magic-free life in another and then back to wanting to use magic for everything without any rhyme or reason for 4 seasons.
Where your character stands on different topics/issues needs to be defined in advance, as it impacts the way in which they react to situations that unfold throughout the story. That being said, your character is allowed to change stance and evolve throughout the narrative. However, there needs to be a reason for the change; an event that impacts them on a deep level causing them to transform.
This also applies to their relationships to other characters. You can’t portray your protagonist as someone who loathes their parent, and then have them getting along with them in the next chapter.
In order to have all of these aspects mapped out ahead of time, feel fee to use this handy Character Sheet Template:
STAY TUNED FOR MORE “STORYTELLING 101” POSTS!