I’d begin with a character, sometimes inspired by a face or a particular piece of music, then I’d add a background story, and the rest of the story would grow from there. Before I knew it I had a small town somewhere, populated with more characters and a story.
But that’s all it was, a very simple story with a beginning and no end. It had no structure, it just rambled.
Now, rambling on can be fun. It works on RPG creative writing boards, right? And well, that was what I had been doing for years. Basically telling a never ending story one post at a time. You’d never know what was going to happen next, so you really couldn’t manage any real plot points. You couldn’t foreshadow events because you never knew which direction the story would go with each player adding their own take on any given scene.
Once Upon a Time On Shutter Island
This particular tool, the play by post forum, did serve us well when writing Loyalties. It taught us how to think on our feet and how to work in real time.
But that was all well and good until we hit a sticking point. Where did we go next? Had we run out of steam?
No, we were simply lacking clear direction.
I don’t know about you, but I work best when I have a premise for a scene. I could see each scene as a miniature story in itself. The scenes had structure. The story…didn’t.
That was when I read Larry Brooks’ deconstruction of Shutter Island. This deconstruction made such an impact on me. From that point on, I never looked at any movie or book the same way again.
The Gospel of Structure
Out of the many, many writing blogs I’ve read and participated in, Larry’s blog Story Fix is the best. He really, truly speaks to his people (“Peeps” as Christine Kane would say) with a voice that is both warm and strong. True, there may not be anything new under the sun and Larry wasn’t the one to invent story structure, but the way he teaches it shines through and reaches so many budding novelists.
He reached me. And for that, I say thank you, Larry. You have given us the template on which all our stories are built. It’s a structure not unlike a playground. All the bars and swings are there just waiting for the imagination to be added.
This is why when I’m told by a new writer, “I don’t know where to start!” I tell them, yes you do, you just haven’t realized it yet.
It all begins with plotting out those key points. You have a beginning. The introduction is easy, you know where you want to start and how you see the character being presented to the reader. Then forget about the details for now and think of what’s going to cause that first conflict. What event is going to put the stakes on the table? What happens to push the hero into action?
At this point you’re making quick notes to yourself, just jotting down ideas to jog your memory later. Before you know it, you’ve got an outline started. In no time points A, B, C, D and E are all in order. All that’s left is to fill in the spaces between. Just tell the story and don’t worry about being perfect. There will be plenty of time later to polish things up when you start on those rewrites.
If you’re just starting out, go over to Larry’s blog and take a look around. There’s a lot of good information there. Then come back here and tell us what you’ve discovered.
As for us, we’re still too new to be in the running. But next year? Watch out. We plan to give everyone a run for their money.