Thursday, August 10, 2017

How do you start a story?



There are many ways to start a story, of course. There are many ways to do all the things you have to do to write good fiction. But my way is I start with a character and situation. I try to make, inherent in that character and situation, a conflict and the kernel of what the story might be about. Then I build my story from there.

Alas, I think it's easy to confuse a cool setting or even an interesting character with a STORY. When one of my students says my story is about ancient Rome and there's this really cool dragon in it and some mythical creatures and I've got this character named Sid. He's funny. You'll really love it.

I think, I want to.

I say, Great. But what's it about?

I just told you.

Not really.

It's about ancient Rome.

You told me about setting and you mentioned character. What's it about?

But--

This can go on for a long time. Sometimes the student gets it and sometimes they don't. A cool setting is not a story. That can be a great part of the story. The setting can be fertile ground for the conflict needed to build story. By itself though, not so much. Not at all, really.

Story is more than setting. It's more than a building a character. It's the movement, the progression of character and plot within a design. It's about making the right choices--which conflicts to focus on for example--because you have a clear sense of character and plot movement. Obviously there are many other aspects of writing that need to work, too--great language, dialogue, voice, as mentioned-setting, etc...but this idea of story and its development is crucial.Whether you're an outliner or discovery writer, working on this sense of progression and design can be crucial to finding your way in your novel.

For me, starting with a character and situation,  and building from it helps me find my way.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

How you begin & How you develop the Beginning--a strategy

•How to begin
Character in a situation…and the situation must have potential for CONFLICT
A boy and a girl from warring families fall in love. (this may have been done once or twice)
A boy’s father dies and he suspects it’s murder—worse that his uncle is involved and maybe his mother.
A policeman owns ten cats and comes home one night and they’re all gone.

A sea captain becomes obsessed with finding and killing a large sea mammal.
THEN TO DEVELOP THE BEGINNINGYOUR MC WANTS SOMETHING BUT SOMETHING GETS IN THE WAY SO THERE IS A STRUGGLE.
NEEDS SOMETHING—DEEPER STRUGGLE
OR ANOTHER WAY TO THINK OF THIS--
MC HAS GOAL/AN OBSTACLE GETS IN THE WAY.
HOWEVER YOU SEE IT—the character’s conflict WITH self, another character, society, natural world, supernatural world, technology drives the story, develops characters, creates progression

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Conflict--an interview

Instructor Q&A: Brian Yansky

“We read fiction to see characters struggle and overcome or fail to overcome the conflict in their stories.”
-Brian Yanksy
Brian Yansky is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Developing Conflict in Fiction” on May 27 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. The class will identify and discuss different kinds of conflict and how to use them in novels and stories. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Brian Yansky
Scribe: First off, why is it important to develop conflict?
Brian Yansky: Conflict is at the heart of all fiction. It develops characters, propels plot, and makes setting relevant. We read fiction to see characters struggle and overcome or fail to overcome the conflict in their stories. From a writer’s POV, creating conflict within your characters and between your main character, other characters, or perhaps society or nature or any number of other possibilities builds narrative. You’ve got to have conflict.
Scribe: Do you find that characters are developed with a specific conflict in mind, or do conflicts form based on the characters?
BY: Both. For me, usually, I start with a character and a situation. The situation has to have the potential for conflict in it. The character wants/needs something, and something gets in the way of her want/need.  This is one way to build a central conflict for the character. However, as the character develops, other conflicts will occur to the writer. It’s a process. The character creates conflicts by her actions in trying to deal with problems and conflicts.
Scribe: Are there any specific tips you rely on to generate conflict within stories?
BY: The big tip is to start with a character in a situation that will create conflict from the inception of the story. But beyond that it depends on the story. A character in conflict with society—  for example, Hunger Games, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird – will find conflict everywhere because they’re struggling against something large and powerful.  Just generally, I look for friction inside a character, between characters, or between a character and setting or a character and plot. Developing this friction will develop conflict, which will develop character and plot. That’s why conflict is so essential. It helps the writer build her story.
Scribe: Have you noticed any trends of less-common conflicts emerging in contemporary fiction?
BY: It should be pretty clear that I think conflict is in just about every story. Whatever the new trend is, it will have conflict and writers will find creative ways to make the conflict different and unique.
A trend that’s been done many different ways is “end of the world” stories. The setting creates immediate conflict in these stories. There’s conflict between survivors and other survivors, or those pesky walking dead or a world consumed by nuclear winter, or aliens, or gods.  One of my favorites in this kind of story in recent years is Station Eleven. If you’re looking for a good “end of the world” story, check that one out.