Recently, I was chatting with a friend, a talented writer, who was having trouble getting a new short story off the ground. “My new story is very pretty,” she said, “but not going anywhere. I have characters, a setting, and some leads but they stump me.”
My friend had seeds, ideas that sparked her imagination, but was having trouble figuring out how to grow them into a story.
Notice I say grow, because I think of stories as organic, living beings. They need time to gestate before they can be born.
At times, all fiction writers face this dilemma. Here are three approaches that might help you get past the problem.
1. The Analytic Approach
Begin by remembering the elements of storytelling, as elucidated by Jerry Cleaver in his book Immediate Fiction, which we discussed in this earlier post.
Using this model, sit down at the keyboard and ask yourself:
- What does my protagonist want?
- What are the obstacles?
- What actions will they take to overcome these obstacles?
- What will be the result/resolution?
Keep asking and typing your answers until the muse circuit kicks in and starts to show you the story.
2. The Backwards Approach
A similar technique is to start with the ending. If you already know what conclusion you want, great. If not, start by asking how you want the story to end.
Picture the ending (resolution) in your mind. Then keep asking yourself,” How did we get here?” “What happened before this to get us here?” “What happened before that?”
Rinse and repeat until the story comes clean.
3. The Character Interview Approach
This method works best if you have some of the story pieces but are not sure about the characters. Remember that character goals and conflicts drive most stories, so you need to have a clear vision of who your protagonist is and what they want. You also need to know this stuff for the other important characters.
Treat it as an interview. Imagine your main character sitting across the table from you.
Now ask how you can help them. What is their problem or trouble? What do they need? What’s stopping them from getting what they need?
Once you have some answers, you can also turn this into a group session. Bring in one or two other important characters and lead a discussion. Focus on how the new characters relate to the protagonist and whether they are supporting or hindering the goals.
What do you think?
What do you think about these three techniques?
If you are a writer or aspiring writer, what methods do you use to grow your stories?