by Lillian Csernica on January 29, 2018
Lots of people are writing these days. Lots of people have stories to tell, whether fictional or autobiographical or somewhere in between. Sometimes the story is so clear and strong it almost writes itself.
Then there are the many other times when writers have to figure out what to do with their ideas, characters, plot twists, etc. What is the BEST way to tell the story? Outline first, or just dive in? Build the plot, or hang out with the characters?
There is plenty of advice out there on what to do and how to do it. It all boils down to these three approaches.
The way the writer wants to tell it.
When I first wrote The Heart of a Diamond (Literal Illusion, Digital Fiction Publishing), I told it from the POV of Princess Tavia. At the time I thought she was the character who had the most to lose. As the story progressed, I discovered the hero really did have a lot more to lose. So I rewrote the entire story from Prince Khestri’s POV. Same events. Most of the same dialogue. The ending turned out to be the same Big Picture event with the adjustment of some key details. It’s a much better story with richer magical elements, greater tension, and a more effective climax.
Classic story structure.
These days many writers identify themselves as being plotters or pantsers. Always being one to defy easy categorization, I’m what they call a “plantser.” I will rough out some general notes about the part of the story I either know the most about, feel most strongly about, or both. Then I’ll plunge in. I confess I am a big fan of classic story structure, mapped out most clearly in Campbell’s Journey of the Hero. If you haven’t read The Hero With A Thousand Faces, rush right out and get yourself a copy.
How the main characters changes in the course of trying to achieve the story goal is the essence of the story and its meaning. It’s been my experience that following the tenets of classic story structure ensures high stakes, rising action, and the suspense that makes a good story worth reading.
The way the story itself wants to be told.
Most writers have at least one anecdote about how one or more characters took off in another direction, dragging the story into unsuspected twists and turns. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Other times it can be terribly confusing. This is where all the advice about having an “Anything goes!” attitude toward the first draft makes life easier. No limits. Play around. Listen to your characters talking to you and talking to each other. We might know what we want to say, but the story may be bigger than that small piece of meaning.
Just the other day I pulled an old short story out of my files. I had sold it and even made some money from it. Still intrigued by the central idea, I started to tinker with it. One thing led to another, the characters mutated on me, and now it looks like the original story turned itself inside out and the three main characters all changed gender and nationality and the stakes are a whole lot higher. Wow!