I tend to write a bunch. But one thing that (fatefully) I said the other day, was that I couldn’t write about writing. And now someone has asked me to do just that – and I think I can do it.
Let’s just explain something for starters here. There are two kinds of authors out there: plotters and pantsters. Plotters ‘plot’ out everything that they want to happen before they write it. Pantsters ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ and wing it.
Theoretically, plotting is the smarter way to write. But practically, it leads to stale, choked-up writing in my experience. Pantsting can lead to more of a ‘feel’, but then can need massive editing and lots of work tying in ‘loose ends’.
Ideally, therefore, you’re going to be a mixture of both. You want to be flexible, but have an idea as to where you’re going.
So let’s start with starters. What do you need to start? I’m going to put my hand down and say that you need Two Things to start. They are: 1) an idea, and 2) a ‘feel’.
Now let’s start with the first one: an idea. What counts as ‘an idea’ in the writing world? Well, basically anything that you can shape a story around. It can be either a) character-based or b) plot-based. Now, again, ideally, you’re going to want an idea that’s a bit of both, but I find that authors tend to be either one or the other in their emphasis.
So, a character-based story is all about the ‘who’, the personality of your characters, their development and their emotions. Here is where quirky characters come forth and charm the readers.
A plot-based idea will grab the readers with intrigue, suspense, and mind-bending notions. It’s all about the ‘how’ and ‘what’ behind the story.
Again, ideally, your idea will have a bit of both to it. But really, don’t be shocked if you find yourself placing emphasis on one or the other. That’s really how it goes (in my experience).
Okay, okay, but how much do you really need as far as an idea goes? Here’s the fun truth: That depends entirely on you.
The entire basis for Chaos’ novel series was a dream that was, literally, ‘teenager named Chaos gets picked up off the highway by a trucker’. One sentence, and really, honestly, nothing more. I spun a series I’m still working on from there. That’s because I don’t need much to spin a story off of. That’s just the way I am. Other people, however, may not be like that. They’re going to need a setting, a plot figured out, a character arc, and maybe even more before they even set ink to paper (so to speak).
Now here’s an essential thing to this ‘idea’. It’s got to interest you. The reason I wrote down Chaos’ story was because something about that teenager on the side of the highway intrigued me. It still does, almost a year later, after writing on it almost every day. So this idea has to really, really, interest you in a long-term kind of way.
A good test that I sometimes do, is just to wait on the whole writing out the idea. Wait a few weeks and see if the dream comes back (if it was a dream), if you still care about it, and if you still want to write about it.
If, two weeks later, you’re still captivated and have built up the idea, congrats! You’ve now got an idea. If not, then oh well. It wasn’t an idea for you.
Now, okay, we’ve covered the ‘idea’. What about this mysterious ‘feel’? What’s a ‘feel’?
The ‘feel’ is the tone of the story. It’s the setting and theme and message and style all rolled into one. Will it be narrated by a peppy, sarcastic, cheerleader? Is it grim? Is it patronizing? This ‘feel’ will dictate the metaphorical color that stains your page. If it’s a ‘dark’ story, or if it’s ‘serious’.
Why is this so important? Because it affects literally every word you write. Because it dictates where you start the story, how you start it, and how you tell it.
Consider these few sentences.
- The knife sliced through the apple.
- The knife made its way through the apple.
- The blade, dangerously sharp, cut through the helpless apple’s flesh without remorse.
- Forsooth! The blade, quickeningly sharp and ah, so vile, cut its evil way through the pure fruit, pouring forth sticky juice and raw flesh from within.
Well, not only is each sentence longer than the last, I think we can all agree that they belong to different stories entirely, due to the way they’re written, their ‘feel’.
Now, again, before even starting writing, you want to think about this mystical ‘feel’. You want to know if it’s going to be a funny read, serious, etc.
For me, personally, the ‘feel’ is not a very clinical thing. A more technical person might write out a list of pointers to help them dictate the ‘feel’ of the story, such as ‘no jokes, only sarcasm, little description, lots of dialogue’. But personally, I do no such thing. I really stick to the way the story makes me feel in my head. And perhaps I’m unique in this, but I think of what the story, or the spirits behind the story, want. Do they take this story incredibly seriously? Do they want it to be passionate? Or is it a loose, happy, and silly tale?
For me, the ‘feel’ usually comes with the ‘idea’. It comes with images, song snippets, and emotion. If a story makes me think of dark pine trees, (as Chaos’s did), but also has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, that’s what I’ll try and bring forth.
So, to summarize! You’re going to be plotting or pantsting. You’re going to want an idea, which can be either plot or character-centric, and a ‘feel’ to start with. From there, you’re going to start the ‘writing’ process. That’s another post, however.