How do you start the writing process? Do you develop your characters and backstory first before growing the plot, or visa versa? Or does the pantser in you choose a genre and strike off immediately, finding your characters and story as you go along?
There is probably no single answer to that question. So much depends upon the personality and style of the writer. I can tell you what my approach is, though.
I fall somewhere between being a pantser and plotter. Some structural pre-planning of the story is needed, especially for screenplays, to guide my writing, but I don’t want to suffocate any spontaneous creativity that might occur when I’m half-way up the mountain.
I start by knowing which genre I want to write in. Drama? Science fiction? The mood, characters and plot will differ greatly based upon genre.
I then think about the protagonist and his goal. What problem does he have to solve in order to save himself, his loved ones, the world? Crucially, I think about an impediment or reluctance stemming from some past wound or secret that the character harbours. This plants the seed deeper into the soil and allows me to grow my story in a more rooted and viable way.
Before you start writing ask yourself, “What is my protagonist’s weakness or wound? How does this weakness make him suited, or unsuited, for the task ahead?
In The nostalgia of Time Travel, Benjamin Vlahos needs to solve a intractable mathematical problem in order to achieve his goal—undo a past event that cost his wife her life. But his nostalgia and a deeply suppressed secret about his past gets in the way of achieving that very goal.
Luke Skywalker has a terrible secret that he himself is unaware of. He is the son of Darth Vader, the very man who threatens the Rebellion. Luke’s pedigree explains his facility with the Force, but it also makes him vulnerable to the dark side. The tension between the goal and an inherent weakness is a great generator of any story.
Start writing by exploiting your protagonist’s weakness or vulnerability. You’ll not only create twists and turns in your plot, you will also allow your characters to act in a more unique and authentic way, adding to their credibility and hence to the overall success of your stories.
Thanks Gerhard. Remember though, the article is about how to kickstart the actual down-in-the-weeds process.
I remember having a discussion with a young writer who was able to get her story published. She mentioned that the most important relationship in her writing career is with her publisher. The publisher knows what people want to read and more importantly knows what will sell. Even critically acclaimed writer Jeffery Archer is constantly forced to rewrite entire books thanks to his publisher’s contribution.
One method of writing which is not very particle unless you are a full time professional writer is group writing. A carefully selected group of people get together to discuss and analysis chapters and characters and the author ( depending on his pride) will make decisions accordingly . Surrounding yourself with knowledgeable individuals with constructive criticism will help you as a writer to discover your own story. Before George Lucas finalized his script for Star Wars he first went to Joseph Campbell to help define his characters.
In short : Writing is not a solo mission . Your story will only be as successful as those you choose to surround yourself with.