1. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    How do I start a story?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by waitingforzion, Dec 31, 2014.

    I want to write a short story but I cannot seem to get started. As I read in a book, the first thing I need to do is choose a conflict, setting, and characters. The conflict is expressed as a statement of what the main character wants and what stands in his way. For some reason I cannot think of the conflict. The only things I know about life are getting up, going to work, coming home, etc. I don't seem to know enough to select a plot from my knowledge. What are some ways that I can come up with a story idea. All I need to do is make a character and give him something to do, and something to oppose him. But how do I come up with that idea? My imagination muscles are extremely weak from lack of use. Can anyone help me?

    Also, in addition to answering the above, can anyone suggest a good book on methods to architect stories, methods that will give me some systematic way of plotting it out? I read somewhere about using "What if" questions, and going back and forth through a chain of them.
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nobody can work your 'imagination muscles' for you. We could give you a ton of ideas and you'd be no further ahead because you still have to figure out what to do with them - ie, actually write the story.
     
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  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why do you want to write?

    That's a genuine question - most people I know who write do so because they have a million ideas inside them fighting to get onto the page. You're coming at this with... no ideas, it sounds like? No character, no plot... do you have a setting?

    What idea is making you want to start writing? Once you have that, you can build on it. But if you don't have any ideas? Seriously, don't bother. Go play a video game or something. Way less frustrating!
     
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  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    ,As shadowwalker said, the only person who can exercise your imagination is yourself. Us giving you ideas won't really help much because it'd be our imagination at work not yours.

    If anything else, just refer to the seven basic plots: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Basic_Plots#The_Seven_Basic_Plots

    There are an infinite amount of stories you can draw from these seven basic plots. Have at it!

    BayView also raised an interesting point. Do you have a setting? A character? Not everything has to be as grand and epic as The Lord of the Rings. It can be something as simple as: Joe, tired and cold, went to get coffee from the machine, but he finds a homeless beggar freezing his/her butt off on a park bench nearby. He only has enough money for one cup...

    See? Setting (a park in the middle of winter), characters (Joe and the beggar), and a conflict (Joe must decide who needs the coffee more, him or the beggar)

    There are three types of conflicts. The one I just described is Man vs. Self in which Joe must fight his own urges and make the correct decision You can play with it by having Joe see an abandoned coffee cup inside a store window and debate whether or not he should steal it so they both get coffee. The other two are Man Vs. Man in which Joe is, say, attacked by someone who wants his money and they both have a scuffle and Man Vs. Nature where Joe must fight against a blizzard. You can mix-mash this at your will if you wish.
     
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  5. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me, coming up with that original idea used to be hard because I didn't know if the idea would naturally lead to a good story. I had so many ideas that I couldn't settle on one; it felt paralyzing to not know which one to choose because I wanted to choose the "best" one. Now, I see that there is no "best" singular idea; a good story comes from good implementation of the idea (whatever it is) much more so than the original idea itself.

    I'm not sure if this is your problem, or if you really don't have any ideas. As BayView said, you need to ask yourself why you want to write. For coming up with ideas, I've found that books, movies, video games, journal articles, and news stories have created a lot of ideas for me. Also, I recommended the following in another thread if you want another way:

     
  6. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I came here to say this. Having something to write about comes before the desire to write about it, not the other way around.

    Ideas are reactions. If you want an idea, then expose yourself to things you will react to. Read lots of books and watch lots of movies and TV shows. Be very critical of them. Always be on the lookout for things you would do differently. Personally, I never had any interest in creating fiction until I noticed some interesting themes in some fiction and I discovered my own desire to explore those themes in my own way.

    Some of my favorite ideas came to me when I was sitting in the movie theater, watching movies that were somewhere between bad and decent, and thinking about how much better they could have been.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
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  7. Amanda_Geisler
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    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I agree with all everybody is say in the above posts, we can't do it for you.

    A little information from me though. Every writer I know describes the characters as if there a living, breathing person, they have strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, own unique qualities and beliefs, etc. With the novels I am writing now my characters live in my mind, I'm just writing what they are doing.

    My parents call me crazy because I listen to the voices in my head, but my writing circle all understand. Those voices in your head are your imagination and sometimes they might just tell you a story. Sometimes they just won't talk.

    If you're having trouble writing a story, write random things, a character profile, history/myths/legends, real/fake town, etc. Just to get those creative juices flowing. Writing a story can usually be a slow process, especially when you're first starting out. But once you get one idea, you will get one hundred more and you won't know where to turn.

    I have about twenty or so books that I want to write, I set the scene of the idea by writing the first chapter and take any notes that I have, then I go back to the current project. The flood gates of your imagination won't be able to hold the amount of ideas you get, and you'll be waking up in the middle of the night grabbing your notebook and writing down yet another story idea.

    And then six years later you'll be wondering if you really are crazy.

    Hope at least some of this waffle was useful to you or anybody else who happens to read it.
     
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  8. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    I know that many people claim they want to be writers, but only want to be called writers. That's not me. I actually want to write. But I seem to have some mental blocks that are getting in the way. A story idea is nothing but a character, a setting and a conflict, possibly with one or many other characters. It's as simple as imagining one and giving him something to do. But in my mind, perhaps unconsciously I have a multitude of adventures to give him, knowing the elements of the world, but I cannot bring them into consciousness. A great writer has in mind a multitude of actions, but struggles to pick just one. My brain must store all the same things, otherwise it could not dream, but due to some cognitive problem, I cannot access the different actions.

    It's just like someone who has millions of words in his vocabulary, but is unable to think of a single one. He knows them, but they are not in consciousness, and he cannot access them. Obviously anyone who has watched SpongeBob Square Pants should be able to come up with a story. It is pretty clear that interesting things can happen in a fast food joint, (although this one is under waster), with a bunch of characters doing nothing adventurous. But if one is cognitively limited, whether by birth, or by medication, or by lack of exercise, they will not be able to. The solution, then, is to overcome this mental block, or perhaps apply so much effort to coming up with ideas, that after a while they come naturally.

    I still need help.
     
  9. Amanda_Geisler
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    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I actually don't agree with you @waitingforzion and I believe that many people on here will agree with me that a story idea is more than just giving a character a problem to overcome. Sure, it may start out that way, but if you spend enough time writing your character then it will come to life in your mind and become a part of you. You're character will have their own thoughts and feelings and as I mentioned in my previous post, likes/dislikes, etc. And almost all of the time the have some kind of imprint of your personality, usually in your protagonists.

    Sure at the end of the day, to everyone else it may just be a story, but to the author it usually so much more then that. At least it is more then that for me. But even then, people make mental connections with books all the time, the story comes to life and it becomes something more then a plot line.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suspect that there's some perfectionism going on. You don't need to have whole story planned in order to start writing. You can just write--little vignettes, scenes, dialogue, whatever, with no particular purpose in mind. Eventually you'll need to create a completed work, but there are many elements of writing that you can practice without having a complete plot in your mind.
     
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  11. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Can I make a story out of this?

    I woke up on a bench in the train station after having fallen asleep at an orchestra, and a cheese burger was floating above my head, protruding from a beam that shone from a luminous disc, hovering miles in the air, and covering most of the sky. I reached for the cheese burger, and as my hand slowly wrapped around it, my body was lifted up, straightened, and sucked away at rapid speed.

    I know it doesn't make any sense but I just wanted to write something. It's better to write something than nothing at this point.

    Also, I did not even imagine this correctly, because I wrote that the cheese burger was protruding from a beam, but I guess that doesn't make sense.
     
  12. Annalise_Azevedo
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    Annalise_Azevedo Member

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    Many of us struggle with that problem. For me, I'm starting my third and I'm having difficulty with sparking up ideas because its the first time writing it. However, what gets me writing is the scenes I imagine for the future.

    For example - I wanted one of my characters to fall into a dark place and attacks their brother or something in like middle of the book. I won't write it - because that's my drive to keep me going. Once I reach to that spot, I feel like I can keep going until the end. I'm a planner - otherwise my head literally explodes.

    It's a weird way, but for me it's quite effective.
     
  13. Amanda_Geisler
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    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

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    @waitingforzion With the snippet you have written my mind is already come up with ideas of how to continue, but thats because write now I am in a creative streak. There would be days when that piece won't spark a single thing in my mind, but I am in the climatic part of my own novel and it makes it easier for me to access my imagination.

    I shouldn't tell you any of the ideas because then they would be my ideas and not yours. If I find I am having trouble it is usually because I have phrased something wrong. It could just be that my imagination doesn't know how to continue. But that can go away with; food, sleep, research, etc.

    I am starting to think that you are trying to force yourself into a writing style that doesn't suit your own creative needs. Work out your needs and start catering for them, don't always do what you are told by those information books, they don't usually leave much room for spontaneity, which is something I need when I am writing. Think about this, are you doing and believing what some book tells you or is this view what you truly believe what it means to write a book/poem/short story/etc.
     
  14. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    I appreciate you not giving me your ideas. I don't want to take others' ideas.

    I have read books on writing stories and in one of the books it talks about six-core competencies, one of which is concept. The concept is like a what if question that seeds the whole story. The author said you should have a concept in mind when you write your story. The idea is attractive to me because I would like to have complete control over my story. But maybe as you are saying, that is not the best way.
     
  15. Amanda_Geisler
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    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

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    It really does depend on you. I tried all of that stuff, all of us do at some point in the first few years of writing, it may work fantastically for you or it can bottle up your creativity so much that it stifles you.
    I can't have my story set in stone. Sometimes I'm writing and I have no idea how it's going to end, I may have main events in mind but really I just take the story as it comes. If you can't access your creativity try allowing yourself to be a little more spontaneous, I tried to plan my stories but I just never stuck to it so what was the point in wasting my time writing something I'm not going to use.
     
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  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would strongly suggest you toss those how-to books for a while and just write. Gibberish, garbage, masterpieces - doesn't matter. You need to write. All these writing books are just muddying the waters, making you worry about what you "should" do instead of just doing it.

    Just tell a story. That's all it takes to get started.
     
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @waitingforzion - Do you make up stories in your head? I'd spend lots of time doing that, if I were you. Before you go to sleep at night, when you wake up in the morning, spend some time thinking up stories. Imagine them as strongly as you can—get them running like a movie in your head. Get used to living with these scenes and people for a while before you start to write.

    From childhood, I always had an ongoing story in my head. I would build on them, sometimes for years. I didn't write at all (except teenage fanfic when I was a teenager) until I was in my late 40s and got hold of a wordprocessor—my breakthrough moment. But it was a relief to finally get a story written down.

    When I was young I constantly made up stories and told them out loud to my younger sister. She used to pester me to death (bless her little cotton socks) to elaborate on them. So I got in the habit of making up stories LONG before I ever started writing. Once I started to actually write, I just dove in and started. I started by writing pertinent scenes from my current 'head story.' I wrote them as they came to me, completely out of chronological order, then worked them together with more scenes, and more and more. I just kept going till I'd finished.

    I am a voracious reader and have a BA in English, so my grammar/spelling groundwork was in place before I started actually writing—but I finished my entire first draft BEFORE I ever picked up a how-to book. That's when I learned about the right and wrong way to tell a story, and made big changes to my first draft in the process. My final edit (which I've just finished bears) little resemblance to that overblown first effort! But at least I got my story 'down' first time, without worrying about whether I was doing it right or not.

    The joy of creation without boundaries was immense. I remember sitting at my computer and thinking: this is MY story, I can do ANYTHING I want. I made a conscious decision to write honestly, not to shrink from writing stuff that might upset other people, and to develop a story that would please ME. I told myself that nobody else had to see it, unless I wanted them to. And I just wrote. The whole thing. It was a tremendous feeling.

    I wrote every day, and really resented anything that took away from my writing time. Writing every day is not something you have to do, but it's what I did then. I wrote every day because I wanted to; I never forced myself. Instead, I had to force myself to leave the computer and go to work, and stuff like that. I was 'in the zone,' for sure.

    Would I have been able to do this if I'd not made up stories in my head for years? I don't know.

    I compare your dilemma with people who decide they want to play the guitar, but don't know what kind of music they want to play. They just want to play the guitar. I have a friend who teaches guitar, and he said these are the most awkward students he has. They will sit and diligently practice chord progressions, etc, until they are perfect at it, but they don't have a clue what kind of music to play. It becomes very difficult to teach them anything after that.

    He said he'd much prefer a student to blast into his studio and tell him 'teach me to play guitar like Eric Clapton.' While it's going to take a while for that student to reach those heights, at least there's a direction and a passion to work with.

    My friend had a pupil many years ago who announced—at the age of 13—that he was going to form a band, and the band's name was going to be "The Pregnant Nuns." My friend thought that was hilarious, as did I. However, that kid has since gone on to front a world-famous touring indie band that has critically-acclaimed albums under its belt as well as contracts for movie and TV soundtrack recordings. No, they are not The Pregnant Nuns ...but that kid got his start with that vision.

    It's the vision of your story that drives you forward. Without that story in your head, writing is just a warm-up exercise with words.
     
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  18. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Why? Why do you want complete control? Don't you think that stifles imagination and free flow of thought?

    You may have some brilliant ideas, then suppress them because they don't fit your control pattern. Life isn't like that. Characters will become formulaic, robotic, mindless. They'll do what you want, not what would come naturally. Any work you produce will be proscriptive and not prescriptive.

    Why do you think it's a good idea to have control at the expense of imagination? Forget plot, outlines, beginnings, middles and ends. Forget anything technical. Forget concepts.

    Who told you this? IF this blanket statement is true, which I doubt, trying to apply it to yourself, as if you must try and write like a great writer, just isn't going to work.

    I want to learn to drive. This is how Lewis Hamilton drives his F1. That's the way I must go. No.

    I want to learn to cook, but not start with poached eggs. Marco Pierre White will get me Michelin stars in short order. It's the only way to go. No.

    I want to learn to defend myself. I'll go in at black belt 5th dan to start. No.

    I'm honestly thinking that all the help and advice you're getting here just isn't sinking in - yet. You're over-thinking everything. Relax, let go, and scribble. Before the skyscraper, start with sandcastles. Play. Don't plant Eden - make mud pies. Certainly have goals - you're an adult - but recognise your limitations. If not, you'll only crucify yourself because of unreasonable ideals.

    Let go - and just write.

    Have at it.
     
  19. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Peruse TVTropes. Start thinking of your favorite works of fiction in terms of the tropes they implement. Find out what your favorite tropes are. Play with them.

    I cannot emphasize this enough: your imagination is your way of reacting to what you witness. If you want to inspire your own imagination, then you cannot do much better than simply to witness a lot of stories and to think about them abstractly. TVTropes is a fun, even addictive way to start thinking abstractly about stories without getting bogged down in the English-class type of analysis that requires you to shift your focus from "what do I like and dislike about this story" to "what did the author mean by this".
     
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  20. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Don't worry about what the author said, Zion. Even our mentors, with the best of intentions, can guide us the wrong way. What worked for that author might not work for you or me. Alton Brown is a great TV chef, but what might work for him might not work for others, and he would probably want beginner chefs to find their own unique 'stamp', not be Alton Brown v2.0.

    Trust me, I've spend the past ten years being a control freak about my stories just as you are now. Result? Ten years of anxiety, ten years of not having anything written. Who knows how many first drafts I could've completed had I just stuck to it no matter how horrifyingly bad it was?

    Don't worry about it not making sense for now, that's the point. Just get the idea down on a paper. Get something down.
     
  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think you've misunderstood the author. A concept can be a very nebulous thing. It is the core idea that seeds the story, but it doesn't lead to iron-clad control over the story. It just gives the story a place to start, to nucleate, and a reason to be. As in the other threads you have posted for discussion as of late, here again, we float back to the idea of purpose. You want "prose rich with poetic meaning and cadence." Ok. I showed you an author who I feel has that. Delany didn't just sit down to his very first page of work and suddenly his pen erupted in gilded unicorns and eternally burning cities of intrigue and lust. His early stories are quite conventional. The seed of who he would become later as a writer was evident, but it was just a tiny thing compared to the literary juggernaut he became. He built on the success of attainable goals and continued to reach higher. He is now the Director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Temple University in Philadelphia. He has won countless awards from within the world of science fiction and also from the world of literary fiction for the same science fiction books. The world of literary fiction usually laughs at science fiction with high disdain, yet he is tremendously respected and regarded. But... there was a time he couldn't get half his books published or even looked at because they were regarded as pornographic and blatantly, graphically homosexual. He is who he is today because of the journey he withstood as a writer. No one can expect to slip into his shoes just by slipping into his shoes. It's masochistic. You must start at the beginning, just as he did, and build on what you can achieve now.
     
  22. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    For me the summarization of your words is the ability and power to piss sb off by your writing--even though you don't want to enrage anybody. The fact that haters gonna hate. To harbor an idea against all odds, that's the secret behind it. Not for others to read my story but for the story to see the face of the earth.
    Though readership responses are a wonderful thing, I can tell.
     
  23. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Just passing and want to throw my two cents in. When I first arrived here I was very unsure, very self conscious. I'd only written a few ham-fisted attempts. Most how-to books I couldn't ingest, and I needed a lot of hand holding to start me off down my path.

    Aside from problems with grammar, and an imagination that didn't want to fire-up, I found it very hard to understand the concepts that were being described to me. Essentially all I had was was a couple of rough character concepts, situational concepts, and the will to learn. My progress has also been hampered, by frequent breaks in concentration due to suffering from mental illness.

    That was a while back now. Please listen to these folks and take on board what they have to say. Although it's been hard going, my novel is shaping up nicely, if a little slowly, and my confidence is growing with every good choice I make. I wrote my small scenes, and somewhere along the line a story and plot elements started to insinuate themselves. Weird thing, it actually isn't the story I set out to tell.

    Once I let go of my preconceptions my imagination took flight. I would never have come up with my story as it is now by thinking about it alone. It was the actual writing, getting critiqued, critiquing, and constantly trying out ideas for size that got me to where I am now. I still have a long way to go, but for the first time, I don't feel I need to run to more experienced members and have them make my decisions for me. That is a joy I'm simply not prepared to share any more until my first draft is complete. (And then I'm more than happy to have it ripped to bits so I can learn some more, because by that point, my perspective will have changed yet again.)

    Every post of yours I read makes me feel kinda sad. You want to write but you seem to be so concerned with it reading a certain way, that I can't help but feel you are completely stifling any innate creativity you have. As has been suggested, I agree that you should put the books away and just write and see where it takes you. Maybe in time you'll start seeing your strengths, and worry less about the things you consider your failings. If I'd paid too much attention to those, I'd have given up a long time ago. Now I know what my writing has going for it, I intend to exploit it to the very fullest. The only way to know, is to write.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
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  24. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Haven't read everyone's reply. I have a hard time recommending most how to books because, for me, their advice can be more personal revelation than actual overall useful advice. One sentence can speak to me more than the whole. Doesn't mean it will speak to anyone else. I actually find literary studies, books on how to spark your creativity, like Writing Down the Bones, more helpful. They're less about formulizing more about unleashing your imagination, or seeing how cohesive each component of the story is and letting you get excited about it rather than treating them like separate parts. Things like setting, description, and themes.

    I start a short story by sitting down and daydreaming an idea. Sometimes the ideas come to me when I take notice of something. The other day I was in a McDonalds washroom - music blaring over the speakers. Wondering how many times I had heard that same damn song that day and came up with an idea for a story. I waited till I got home and started it.
    I don't sweat beginnings for short stories ( and some of mine can be rough, but, no biggie, that's what drafts are for ) - mainly I want the reader to get an impression of the character or the situation they're in. A writer is kinda like a magician - he wants to draw your focus to a certain point.

    I pick a point I want the reader to notice. Whether it's a robot comparing himself to humans by explaining what he's not rather than what he is, or I show a child being lowered into a walled garden and fighting every inch of the way, or in my recent story I have a man explain that he's the last man on earth ( a lie ) but not really because he finds the rest of the survivors all lunatics or a$$holes. It's the truth to him. In each beginning, I'm trying to let the reader learn something about my characters.

    But every writer is different some writers are more interested in setting the stage. Or building an atmosphere or throwing you into the action. The trick is not to overthink it. First lines don't have to be incredible. Get away from the pressure of trying to pull off a 'hook'. Just keep it simple.

    As for conflict - think of a problem first for your mc lets say she's a high school student, a vampire, in a new school and she knows she's got to keep her identity secret. Part of that is not getting involved with humans. Now add in some conflict. She falls in love with a hunky human. But that conflict's a little dull so we'll amp it up - the human boy is a vampire slayer.
    Problem is a situation, conflict is related to the problem but it provokes the character to make choices. And each one, even no action, provokes a consequence.
     
    obsidian_cicatrix and jannert like this.
  25. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    THIS.

    @waitingforzion, you say you've been reading how-to-write books, but you're blocked. Clearly, the lessons in those books are not helping you; rather, they are hindering you. So forget them! They are in your way. Just write. At some point in the future, you may reflect on some of those lessons and find their relevance to your work, but right now they are roadblocks preventing you from writing.

    As for ideas? They're a dime a dozen. Look into your own life - I'm sure there's a million stories there. Write about your first date. Write about the day you bought your first car. Write about the day you brought your first report card home and showed it to your father. Write about how you lost a bet on your favorite sports team. Write about the day you had to have your dog put down because she was sick. And so on and so on.

    Because it doesn't matter what your idea is. What matters is how you feel about it. What matters is the emotional energy you bring to it - the meaning it has for you. If it has meaning for you, you can make it meaningful to the reader, and that's communication. It's what you want to achieve.

    I know you want to write beautiful prose. I do, too - it's probably the main reason I write. But don't put the cart before the horse. Realize that there are millions of stories all around you. They are not intrinsically bad or good; their quality is infused into them by what you bring to them - what they mean to you. Don't feel that you have to find a great story. Just find any story at all - what you do with it will make it great.
     

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