How to Write a Story



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As someone with a lot of ideas who almost never gets around to fleshing them out, I was hoping to hear some opinions from others.

What is the best way to start a story? That is to say, how should one plan a story? What should come first? The theme? The characters? The ending? The inciting incident? The lesson? The setting?

What's better to leave up until you get there? What can't be put off?

Or at the end of the day, is it just the discipline to sit down and flesh ideas into words that leads to good story planning? :confused:

How do you guys do it? For any writing, really, original or fanfiction. I'm excited to see how everyone else does it! :redface:
 

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I don't know. I start with the story, really. Like, the idea that gets it going. Like "I want to write a story about this". I don't really worry about the theme or lesson or anything like that. That typically comes out naturally as you're writing the first draft. I often don't try to pin down the characters too much before writing as I like the characters to sort of be discovered and formed as I write. I find if I pin them down too much and define them too much before starting it ends up limiting me and making it hard to start because everything is being compared against an already existing idea.

Honestly, I think the most important thing to remember is that you don't (and shouldn't) do it all in one go. Let your first draft be messy and imperfect. The biggest part of writing a good story is actually in the rewriting. The first draft is you telling yourself the story. Later drafts are taking out whatever isn't the story, or doesn't contribute to it. Refining it. Adding things here and there, cutting others, etc. The important thing is not to aim for perfection in your first go or you'll just disappoint and stress yourself out. The first draft is all about discovery.

Start with what makes you most excited about the story, and go from there.
 
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A single idea can get you from start to finish? I always end up bouncing around lots of ideas and overarching things, but no ideas really small enough or concrete enough to be a storyline itself, so I dunno how one can go forward writing with just an idea.
 

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A single idea can get you from start to finish? I always end up bouncing around lots of ideas and overarching things, but no ideas really small enough or concrete enough to be a storyline itself, so I dunno how one can go forward writing with just an idea.
Well I suppose it depends on the length of the story you're going for? Like if this is for a short story instead of a novel, you'd obviously need different things. But I'm also talking about the central idea, the idea of the base of the story. For example from my own stuff, for my bioshock fannovel the main idea that got me started was just "I want to write a story focusing on the civilians of Rapture, two boys from different social classes, one who believes in Rapture's philosophies and one who doesn't and how that changes and affects their relationship". That was the basic idea, the foundation of sorts for that story, the thing that got me excited to start. Now from that, more ideas branched off, adding more texture to the story, the boys got detailed more and fleshed out more and that changed the central story idea. You know, now they have names, they have personalities, there are additional dynamics to their struggles and relationship. But at its core, the story is still that first main idea.

Another story of mine started with the idea "What if the stars started disappearing from the sky? How would that affect people and impact their connections with other people?" which then became a story focused on two people during that event and you see how it affects them.

Another was, "What if I retold the story of the Little Mermaid but set in modern day and focusing on the prince character". Etc.

Another, "A story about a girl who kisses another girl at a party and is now having to address what it might mean for her".

You just need that main central idea for the story that gets you excited and then it will expand and grow as you write.
 

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Much like Audo, I usually have a single idea for a story that branches off. Almost everything I've written came from a single idea that expanded into something much greater. "I'll take these two old characters of mine and have them go through silly adventures." "I want to reboot my old fan fiction but make it an original piece instead using characters I've created through the years." "I fucking love Douglas Adams' work and want to make something similar to that." "What if there was a hungry spider-person that couldn't catch food and a human helped it?" Random thoughts like these can turn into some pretty cool things if you let them. I have a bad motivation problem though and end up letting a lot of ideas pass me by that could have turned into their own neat stories.
 
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I'm so impressed with you two~ You seem so much more creative than me.

While I'm not the most creative person around, though, I do have ideas. So I guess I wanna know what you do after you get the original idea, as in the formation of the story from that.
 

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You just start writing, really? Come up with the basics of what you need (characters, setting, etc) and then start writing and exploring the idea.
 
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Hm... I guess it's pretty much second nature for you. I don't think linearly though, so I jump around too much to write something start to finish.

Which of the basics (characters, setting, etc) come to you first?
 

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I don't know they all kind of come together at the same time?

I mean, going back to the bioshock fannovel example the main idea was:

"I want to write a story focusing on the civilians of Rapture, two boys from different social classes, one who believes in Rapture's philosophies and one who doesn't and how that changes and affects their relationship"

So before I could even start writing I needed to figure out a bit more about who the boys were and what made one of them believe in the philosophies and what made the other not believe in them and how this might manifest in their personalities, right, since that's core the plot.

So the first thing I did was figure out names for them, I decided on Leland and Danny. I decided Leland would be the central character and he would be the one who didn't believe in Rapture's philosophy. So the question was, well, what would happen to make him not agree with it, especially since he was born and raised in this world. I decided that his family would be working class -- an area of Rapture that was initially very booming and successful as the city was being built, but as more of the city was finished and as the Big Daddies were introduced there was a very sharp decline. This meant that Leland's family would be on the edge of poverty by the time the story starts, with working having dried up and there being no social nets in place. This would give Leland a position where he saw Rapture not as the utopia it claimed to be. To further drive this home I decided Leland would also be overweight and struggle with his sexuality and how he'd feel like an outcast in Rapture for these things would also further compound his growing distrust in the Rapture philosophy. So already I have figured out a lot of the details for his character and his position in the story, just by trying to flesh out what was needed for the story to work (that one of the boys needed to have reasons not to believe in Rapture).

Then I moved onto the other character, Danny. I figured he would come from a well-off and wealthy family in Rapture. One that would not be affected by the declining working sector. This would lead to his worldview never really being challenged. He believes in the Rapture culture because it agrees with him, because he has immense privilege in that system and thus isn't required to face the negatives of it. I figure, due to this, he'd also be more cocky and self-assured in nature. He would exude confidence and believe that he can have and achieve anything he wants because "this is Rapture".

So already you can see how this would create a sort of conflict between the two characters. Now that I have the building blocks of the story figured out, with decent ideas of who these characters are and how they would play off each other, I am ready to write. Since the conflict comes from who the characters are it develops naturally. Since I had already decided that Leland struggles with his sexuality, it wasn't hard to decide that the next logical progression for his character was that he had feelings for Danny, which adds additional tension to their relationship. And given Danny's attitude and personality, he would be driven to push Leland into action (the first chapter is about Danny trying to push Leland into losing his virginity at a local club, an event which turns disastrous and propels all the characters forward).

See how I did that? You just take your central idea and begin working out what needs to be known in order to get it to a place where you can write it.
 

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This is how I planned my current story out when I started it:

I began with my central idea for it: "What if my favorite anime character was the keyblade master" and once I knew that's what I wanted to write about I needed to know "Well why do I want to write about this?" Personally I think pinning down exactly what makes you want to write about your idea is important, what about it makes you excited? For my story the answer was easy, it would be a fun character study and a way to give her the spotlight since in her home canon she's a supporting character.

This of course lead to "Well if she's the keyblade master then what's Sora doing?" so I had to decide what I was doing with him, which split off into what's going on with Riku and Kairi and so on and so forth. "Is it a retelling of the original game?" Well we've all seen that before, so why not pick different disney worlds? Things flowed from one point to another and before I knew it I had a real plan. When planning something like that I ask myself questions that will need answering so I know where I'm going with an idea thread. If I can't answer the question I file it away for later in hopes that something will come to me.

So to answer your original question, for me, I need the basic idea of what I want the story to be about and then I decide what characters will be in the story and what their roles will be and it comes together from there.

To be honest knowing how you want your story to end is important too because then you'll know what your working for, how all of the story arcs that you'll make tie themselves together.


Hopefully that helped you a bit Flower^^
 

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For me, I don't start with ideas of what I want to do, but rather I start with a clear scene that will serve as the most defining moment of the story.

I visualize that scene, and then I get that written out in shorthand or in full. After that, I try to build moments around those scenes until I have enough moments to work from. That is when I start to build the character backgrounds and personalities up from what I've started up on in those moments, and formulate a plot. Moments get throw out or build up upon, new parts are created, but I always stick to the main defining moment I've visualized.
 

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The stories I write all begin as ideas.
If I like the idea enough, I tend to think about it a lot. "Would this make a good story?" or "What kind of place would this character fit in?" So I just bounce things around in my head like that. Think of funny scenarios or dramatic ones, give the character friends, give the plot a twist or two to test its resilience.

The second step is figuring out whether or not I'm dedicated.
As I think about the story a bit, I try to envision it. Bits and pieces of a few scenarios that might happen inside it. I should be able to almost see these things if I'm dedicated to the idea. I WANT to see them. If I'm going to do it I need to stay motivated. Keep it in my thoughts.

After that I think of the endgame.
Where is everyoe going to end up Who care here it starts or how they get there. I want my readers to feel a sense of accomplishment: feel like reading my story was worth their time as it culminates to that final point. Why is this plot happening? Is anyone going to be affected by this in a bad way? A good way? Is it happy, sad, or maybe abstract?

Write.
By this point I'm committed. It may take me ages to finish the thing, but there's no point in meticulously planning it out scene after scene. You'd get bored. Just let the story write itself. When you later return to edit it, you'll see some stupid things: but all in all if you've got the beginning and end. The adventure is something both you AND the reader experience.
 
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You guys are all so impressive! It's amazing to see how many different ways you guys get your ideas to completion and on a page!

Thank you all so much, you're helping me out a TON! I'm taking mental notes to try out your ways with my ideas and see where it gets them~
 

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As someone with a lot of ideas who almost never gets around to fleshing them out, I was hoping to hear some opinions from others.

What is the best way to start a story? That is to say, how should one plan a story? What should come first? The theme? The characters? The ending? The inciting incident? The lesson? The setting?

What's better to leave up until you get there? What can't be put off?

Or at the end of the day, is it just the discipline to sit down and flesh ideas into words that leads to good story planning? :confused:

How do you guys do it? For any writing, really, original or fanfiction. I'm excited to see how everyone else does it! :redface:
Write whatever comes to you, when it comes to you. Get a notebook to write all your ideas, bullet points, things you'd like to have in there, main themes that could change, character quirks, and if you have time: scenes.

They don't need to be in order, necessarily. Just write what you can. Take your time and organize it. It's a lot easier to organize physical writing than it is to sort out thoughts all at once.

Be open to change as well. One character that had one trait could end up more fluid with another, and a different character could work better with that trait. Themes could change, plot climaxes can change.
 
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Write whatever comes to you, when it comes to you. Get a notebook to write all your ideas, bullet points, things you'd like to have in there, main themes that could change, character quirks, and if you have time: scenes.

They don't need to be in order, necessarily. Just write what you can. Take your time and organize it. It's a lot easier to organize physical writing than it is to sort out thoughts all at once.

Be open to change as well. One character that had one trait could end up more fluid with another, and a different character could work better with that trait. Themes could change, plot climaxes can change.
That's what I generally do, but scene I'm so bad at linear thinking, I end up with super long lists of scenes and character profiles and story notes while still lacking a start.
 

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Me, I usually start with a daydream, then just try to outline it then go from there.

Sometimes I just can't get one to jell tho, like with KH. I think it's because I tend to try to fit it into plausible in the world, and right now, it's hard to find anywhere to stick a good story in right now b/c things are such a mess. (I wish our director luck!)

That reminds me, I'll post up one I've had in progress and see if I can motivate myself to finish it. ^^
 

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Really depends on the story.
Most of the time, I need an idea of what should happen. That doesn't even need to be much, just something that gives me the feeling "yay, I'm totally excited to write this!" so I can start off.
Next, I need the characters. I need to know who I'll work with and emphathise with the characters.
After that...it mostly writes "itself" :D
 

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As someone with a lot of ideas who almost never gets around to fleshing them out, I was hoping to hear some opinions from others.

What is the best way to start a story? That is to say, how should one plan a story? What should come first? The theme? The characters? The ending? The inciting incident? The lesson? The setting?

What's better to leave up until you get there? What can't be put off?

Or at the end of the day, is it just the discipline to sit down and flesh ideas into words that leads to good story planning? :confused:

How do you guys do it? For any writing, really, original or fanfiction. I'm excited to see how everyone else does it! :redface:


What is the best way to start a story? That is to say, how should one plan a story? What should come first? The theme? The characters? The ending? The inciting incident? The lesson? The setting?
It's entirely up to how you want to present that story to the audience. While conventional storytelling is very much A -> B, you can always show the end before the beginning, or the story begins in medias res. Ultimately you want the reader to gain something from the story (even Fifty Shades of Grey accomplishes this, to a degree). It doesn't have to be a real lesson or extenuate some big cultural issue - Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man is literally one big exercise in stream of consciousness (and hilarious details).



What's better to leave up until you get there? What can't be put off?
Establish your character(s), and the setting(s). Then develop your beginning thoroughly, but have an idea or bullet-point list regarding the end. Don't set the end of your story in stone - you might grab a good thread or two while writing the middle (and meatiest) part of your story, and it might change the original outcome of the story's end.

Don't put off stuff like keeping notes on certain things - for instance, if you're doing heavy world-building, I'd recommend keeping a list of certain things (if you have fictional currencies, how do they change from lowest to highest; i.e., how many pennies does a dollar make); such as dates and times, names of places, events, etc. You don't want to write something at one point and make a mistake in that manner later on.


Or at the end of the day, is it just the discipline to sit down and flesh ideas into words that leads to good story planning? :confused:
The discipline to sit down and write leads to good story completion; look at Brandon Sanderson's ability to just churn out arguably good books year after year - he's like a machine (his Writing Excuses podcast is highly recommended). It's really up to you how you write; you can set certain times of the day/week/month to just sit down and write whatever comes to mind, or just do it when the idea strikes you.
 
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Most of my worthwhile ideas come from daydreams and dreams, too. Just the ones I'm excited to see end.

@Professor Ven: That's are really specific advice. Thanks so much, it helps a ton! ^o^

Does the same apply for planning a story together with other people?
 
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