1. Asteios
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    Asteios New Member

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    How do you start?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Asteios, Feb 8, 2014.

    Well, this is my first post here and I really just want to get some feedback on my current problem. I'm a relatively new writer--hell, I've pretty well never written anything in my life. I don't have much skill as I've never even attempted to nurture that ability, all I have is an idea.

    I have an idea that is driving me insane because I can't write it down and have no clue how. I've started several attempts that ultimately fail after a few thousand words because I'm not satisfied with the quality. How do I wade through my beginning failures to get to a point where I'm enjoying myself? I've tried starting a different story in an attempt to just get some words and practice under my belt, but I can't seem to come up with anything completely separate as I always pull it back into my main story by accident.

    I'm beginning to think my idea is too large and expansive to attempt as a first story, but I can't get away from it. I see scenes in my head and try to write them down but fall infinitely short of what I see. This causes me to get frustrated and quit trying for a few weeks only to get drawn back in--it's a vicious cycle.

    The worst part is that I can't seem to develop any characters that fit into my story. Being as anti-social as I am, I don't even have any personal experiences to draw from. I see the massive world I've created but can't seem to fill it with characters and minor events to populate the centuries I've thought through. At this point it feels like I've written a history book in my consciousness and am unable to make it a reality.

    I guess my question to you all is how do you suggest overcoming an altogether lack of skill to reach a point where I can write my idea? How do you get the motivation to sit down and write, looking past your failings as you wade through your story? Personally, how do you go about creating your characters when all you have so far is a setting?
     
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  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Lower your expectations. Just write something down. It won't be Shakespeare, but it will be a start. It will be the foundation of a first draft that will probably make you wince. That's a good thing, because you will then revise the hell out of it until you;re torn between frustration and a half-hearyed satisfaction. You'll set it aside, then haul it out later. You'll wince again, not because the writing has gotten worse since you set it aside, but becaus your understanding of what makes writing good or bad has grown.

    It's a long process. That might make you surrender and take up something easier instead, like defusing bombs in a darkened room. On the other hand, you might find yourself hooked.

    But it all has to start with a sentence, one that probably won't make it into the final draft in any recognizable form. So don't stress over it. That first sentence is the easy part. Then deal with the next hurdle of adding to it without chucking it all into the dustbin.
     
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  3. Passero
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    Passero Member

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    Something I've learned so far is that being a writer is not just working on your super duper idea that might be better than Lord of the rings.
    Being a writer is all about consistency. You need to write every day. Write about stuff that is in your head, things you observe, description of characters, just anything you can think of.
    This way, if you have inspiration for what might be a masterpiece, you are used to writing.

    I'm also a new writer and have an idea that I want to work on. I parked this idea while I work on making writing a habit. That's the only way to get the most of your ideas.
     
  4. JetBlackGT
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    JetBlackGT Contributing Member

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    Just write it down. Write the story in all of its glorious horribleness. Get the words down on the page and then when you go back, you can polish some of what you wrote and delete some and add what you need and you will begin to see a nugget of something starting to form. You might get to the point where you see that as a nugget of manure. Or the beginning of a pearl. If you are a reader, you will have a feel for how the story should sound. Where the words are not right and how they should sound.

    You will switch from being a writer to being a reader.

    Write it, let it sit for a few weeks then re-read it. Yes it will been help but you can totally get that. Get it down first.
     
  5. violinguy
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    violinguy Member

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    I have found that when I have a good story idea, I just write it the @#$%!@ down no matter what the writing is like. If I have to, I'll write something like "the guy was on his way to work and found a dead body. then he did..." There is nothing good about that, but the idea is there and the writing can then be worked around it. If you don't write it down, some of the details that are in your head might disappear and there's nothing worse than knowing you had a cool story with a couple of cool details only to have forgotten them.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Can you base your characters on anyone in your family? The teachers you've had? That guy who bags your groceries at the supermarket? There are plenty of people around. You don't even need to know much about them. All you have to do is imagine what their lives are like and go from there.
     
  7. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    I don't think your idea is too large and expansive. Consider this summary:

    Captain Ahab is obsessed with a huge whale, which caused the loss of Ahab's leg years before, leaving him to stomp the boards of his ship on a peg leg. Ahab is so crazed by his desire to kill the whale, he is prepared to sacrifice everything -- his ship, the lives of his crew, even his own life -- to find and destroy his nemesis.​

    There, in fewer than 70 words, is the idea of a novel that runs more than 215,000 words. How about this:

    A group of schoolboys are marooned on an island. In trying to cope with their predicament, they reveal the darkness buried in human nature, the evil in every soul that rises to the surface once the bonds of structured society are removed.​

    I doubt that your idea is more complex than Moby Dick or Lord of the Flies. If you can't write down your story idea in 50 to 75 words, it's because you don't yet really have the idea. Once you're able to jot down such a summary, you'll be able to flesh it out. Notice that in your post you refer to your idea but never describe it. Can you? Apparently not yet. Keep at it. But don't try to write 500 words. Try for 50.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    When the first statement above is true, the second is inevitable. You'll probably need to put in hundreds, possibly thousands, of hours, and hundreds of thousands of words, before you really like your writing. And that's OK--it's true of everyone. Some started when they were six, some start at forty or sixty, but you have to put in the hours and the words. There may have been people who were decent writers at their first try, but I doubt that there were many.

    You could write your big idea with the clear knowledge that the quality will not be acceptable, planning to rewrite it when your skill is better. But then you'll need to write something else--a lot of something elses--to get to that point. I think that rewriting and rewriting the same novel over and over is not going to be the best way to develop your skills.

    And that, again, is just fine. Perfectly normal. The beginning of the solution is being willing to produce a great deal of lousy writing, on the road to making it less lousy. How to *get* willing...I'm not sure. I guess I just wanted to reassure you that it's perfectly normal for it to start out lousy.
     
  9. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Let's assume you had an idea for a painting. Would you assume you know everything you need to know to paint one well? Assume you've never used a lathe but want to make some balusters to go with the Stair you planned to design. Would you buy a lathe and have at it? And those stairs? Assume you know nothing about the construction of stairs, not even what a stair horse is. Would you go out and buy some wood and then have at it?

    Just doing it appears to be the technique you're using to produce a story. Yes, I know you came here to ask some questions. But what about the questions you should be asking but lack the knowledge to know you should? As Mark Twain so wisely noted, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”And given your state of knowledge, how will you tell the good advice from the sincerely given advice from someone who hasn't been able to sell their work, and is suggesting that you do the thing that causes their own rejection?

    What I'm getting at is that the reason you can't seem to produce work that you feel is as exciting as it should be imight have a lot to do with the fact that the only writing skills you have are the general, nonfiction skills we learn in our schooling.

    Creating a story can be really satisfying. And there is nothing like the feeling when you finally get to type "the end" on your first novel—or any story for that matter. But to write well you need to have a lot more than a good story idea. Unless you make that reader want to turn to page two they won't, and will never see that great idea. So write, of course. It's fun. But at the same time, dig into the craft of writing fiction for the printed word. Having the right tools makes any job easier. Knowing how to use those tools is even better. And in that the local library's fiction writing department can be of huge help.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know exactly what your issue is, but I've had the same kind of problem myself, way back when. (And even, sometimes, recently. :oops:) Here are two suggestions I've found that might help you break out of the rut:

    1) If you're writing in third person, try it in first person. If you can't write a few pages in first person from your main character's point of view, you probably don't understand your character well enough. Conversely, if you're writing in first person, try third - either limited or omniscient. That lets you use your language, your style, without confining yourself to your character's. Find a point of view that works. Note that you don't have to stick to this point of view; you can change it in later drafts if you want to. All this is for is to get you writing.

    2) I read an interview with a famous writer in the Paris Review once. (The writer may have been E. L. Doctorow, but I don't remember.) He was having a ton of trouble getting going on a novel because everything came out looking like crap to him. Finally, he just started writing his story in the style of one of those old Dick and Jane first-grade readers. (Remember those? "See Dick. See Dick throw the ball. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!" That sort of thing.) He just kept going with Dick and Jane until he had a draft. Of course, it wasn't publishable, but he wasn't intending it to be - he could relax because he had subverted any ambitions he had for it. As he put it in the interview, "I finally had something I could revise. Through Dick and Jane I had outflanked art."

    Don't be afraid to try something radical and creative. It's only a first draft, after all. Good luck!
     
  11. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    I haven't read all the comments, and what follows is partly fueled by alcohol. However, I (when sober, also) like to place myself in the story, its atmosphere, and even the characters' own shoes when I get into bed. In essence, I go on an imaginative adventure as the character, or just as an observer, and I walk through the world that I want to create. I sort of let my imagination guide me; kind of like a free-roam of the imagination. We can call it personally guided meditation. (Side note, I got this idea from a great book which most may know from the film Papillon. The book was written by Henri Charriere and it's a biographic novel. At one point when he was in solitary confinement (in French Guyana, no less), undernourished to the point of starvation, and bored out of his mind, he would put a blanket over his head and deprive himself of oxygen, and achieve a sort of hallucinating state where he would go on adventures in his mind to pass the time. I've adopted this system for myself -- minus starvation and oxygen deprivation -- and enjoyed falling asleep to such thoughts. [I am not crazy]
    Often I fall asleep. Sometimes, I'll write it down. Or, failing all those, the next morning I have a vague recollection of what I concocted in my brain the night before. I'm not saying it's fool proof, I'm not saying it'll work how you want it to. What I can guarantee is that you'll sleep well, and I can say with a certain certainty that you will have interesting dreams. Something to consider.
     
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  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Welcome to the forum.

    I'll repeat what's been said. If you have a burning idea in your head that you want to write, write it. Don't worry about the quality. That's what I did.

    Then get some feedback by someone who knows what they are doing. Not always easy, you may have to get some not so helpful feedback before you find the useful stuff.

    Then set about refining your skills.

    From my own experience, for what that's worth, the skill comes along the writing path. You don't need to have the skill first.
     
  13. Mans
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    Mans Contributing Member

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    Put a dish of the fresh cookies on your desk and say yourself, " if you could write ten line of this story, I would give you one of these delicious cookies. If you could write ten other lines I would give you another cooky. If you could write the hundred I would give you the hot coffee with milk in addition to the cookies...Thus, may you can get rid this frozen state.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
  14. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    To OP: How much do you read (fiction)?
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Asteios Hi, and welcome to the forum. I've read over your OP several times. It sounds as if you've developed a large world, going back 'centuries,' but haven't created any characters yet?

    If that's the case ...well, you need characters, don't you? You can always start with yourself. Or somebody you know or admire. Or a film actor, famous person, whatever. Somebody with a personality you can get to grips with.

    If it were me, I'd spend some time (very much as @Foxe suggested) imagining yourself into your world AS this chosen character. Not all writerly activity happens in front of a screen or blank sheet of paper. A lot happens inside the writer's head ...before, during AND after.

    My favourite time for imagining is waking early in the morning. (Foxe's appears to be before going to sleep at night. This works too.) I prefer early morning, because I'm no longer tired, my brain is rested and receptive, nobody is going to start yakking at me or ringing me on the phone or whatever. If you have to go to work or school, try setting your alarm for, say an hour? before your usual getting-up time. Lie in bed and imagine yourself into the world you're creating. What's happening there? How do you feel? What is your role? Are you married? Are you a warrior, a worker, a king, a servant, a mechanic, a scout ...even a hermit? Is there anybody else in this scene with you? What are they doing?

    Don't worry about writing anything yet. Just get a scene firmly in your mind. This may take several days, weeks or months to create. See and feel as much as you can.

    Later, when you've got time to write, sit down and see if you can recreate this scene on screen or paper. Don't worry about where it falls in the story timeline or crafting a stonking opening sentence, or anything like that. Just get started. Sometimes it helps if you pretend you're telling this story (or writing it) specifically for somebody you know. It helps to personalise it.

    If you don't have a name for your character(s), just grab one out of the air. It can be changed later on, no bother. Pay PARTICULAR attention to feelings and impressions as you write the scene. Don't tell what these feelings and impressions are. (Fred was sad.) Show us. If your character is angry, what is he DOING? If somebody you love has just died, how do you express your grief? If she's just received a promotion to a position she's always wanted, what does she do to celebrate? If somebody has just ordered you to do something you feel you can't in all conscience do, what will your reaction to these orders be? The person you've been secretly in love with for years suddenly knocks on your door and asks you to marry them—completely out of the blue. What would your reaction be? What would your answer be? Your cupboard is bare, and you have no money to buy any more food. What do you do next? Be as specific as you can.

    I think you might see what I'm getting at here. Immersion in your story's world is what you most need, if you're going to be inspired to write the story. And nobody can do that for you.

    The good news is, from your OP I can see you've certainly got basic writing skills and the ability to communicate. Your problem topic was very lucidly and correctly written. There is no reason you can't put that skill to creative use. And remember ...have fun. If you get into the swing of writing a novel, you'll discover it's the most fun you'll ever have sitting down. Guarantee.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
  16. Asteios
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    Asteios New Member

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    First of all, I have to say you guys (and girls) are amazing. I woke up this morning expecting maybe one or two replies that didn't really help, but instead I got an incredible amount of feedback for a mere 18 hours. The fact that you all basically said the same thing, but in radically different ways, shows that you've all encountered the problem yourselves or can, at least, understand it. I'd always heard that I just need to put words down on paper and I'll get going. However, a part of me had always thought that these people's rambling were starting from an excellent place and only getting better. So, to hear you all talk about writing such basic sentences without the intention of showing it as remotely finished was really helpful. Seeing something like "the guy was on his way to work and found a dead body. then he did..." or Dick and Jane style, simply to get the idea down, reassures me that it doesn't need to be good writing in any sense of the word--that comes later.

    I love the idea of trying to bring my story down to a single sentence--it's something I've never tried to do before. With this, I don't necessarily even need to know how it ends, just what it's about.

    I do try to avoid starvation and oxygen deprivation on a regular basis, but I've always gotten interesting ideas from my dreams. I've started setting my alarm for 4-5 hours before I intend to get up on days I don't need to get up at all and hit snooze over and over. This lets me stay in the dreamy state for a very long time leading to extremely long and detailed dreams. I have dozens of pages of random dreams, some of which I don't even remember writing down. It's one of my best ways of brainstorming, not to mention it being enjoyable. The problem with this is that I can't control it, my mind goes where it sees fit. As much thought as I've put into my overall story, I have yet to sit down and develop a character. I'll try doing what you suggest and take some spare time to do so; who knows what will come of it.

    As basic an idea as it is, I hadn't thought of switching back and forth between first and third person in order to flesh out the story (though not keep it that way).

    To answer Bryan, I read quite a bit, though not as much as I used to now that I'm out of school. I'm afraid of trying to emulate another author in anyway, so I balk at the idea of using it as reference for getting me started. I imagine this is just my head crossing out yet another avenue for my success, so I'm curious as to your thoughts on the matter.

    Since I've received such great advice so far (and hope to get more), I'll bring another question forward. Having the problem I am with my difficulties in developing characters, how do you go about writing a story from several different viewpoints? Is there any viability in writing a single character all the way through both to develop the story and the character at the same time? Or do you think that would end up being confusing and detrimental to the overall process?

    Thanks for your quick responses, you all are genuinely amazing.
     

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