How to start a story – questions and answers

Useful tips on how to start a story.
Useful tips on how to start a story.

One way to start a story quickly is to know your characters.

In his chapter titled, Developing your Character – Defining Trait, in The Dramatic Writer’s Companion, Will Dunne explains that one way to do this is to interrogate your characters off the bat. Sit your characters down in your mind’s eye and ask them a series of telling questions.

Ask the character: What makes you truly angry? Then follow it up with: Can you trace this anger to a past incident, perhaps in your childhood?

Continue with: What do you fear the most? Can you think of when you first felt it?

Balance it with a more positive emotion: Who/what do you love deeply and irresistibly? What would you do to have that love returned, or, if an object, acquired?

“Start a story by interrogating your characters as a first step. Ask the character(s) questions related to strong emotions. Use the answers you receive to fashion characters and story beats.”

Having gotten answers to these questions ask yourself: How do these emotions manifest in a dominant trait in the character? Does the trait originate from a physical ‘wound’—such as a limp or a speech defect? A sociological wound arising from a character having being demeaned or ridiculed because of her poverty or social standing? A psychological wound stemming from child-abuse or the like?

Lastly, try to project the dominant trait onto the story’s outer journey—the plot. Is the persuit of the goal the character’s attempt to heal the wound?

This process might not seem like much, but in truth, it forms the basis of good story preparation. Give it a try.


A quick way to start a story is to interrogate your characters in a way that reveals three key emotions—anger, fear, and love.

Follow this link to my YouTube video on improving your minor scenes!

2 thoughts on “How to start a story – questions and answers

  1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

    Thanks Dylan! Agreed…thinking a lot about how to make the teaching more organic these days.
    And don’t forget to keep dropping those comments on YouTube. It helps build the channel!

  2. Dylan

    Hi Stavros

    Great advice about how to better understand your characters. This seems like an organic method to figure out who characters are in terms of their motivations and wounds.

    The weekly videos are also very informative and the presentation of the ideas makes them enjoyable to watch.


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