Elizabeth: Back to Basics – A New Story

Stories Yet To Be WrittenOkay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been hanging out with new stories.

I know what you’re thinking: “The Traitor is not finished. You’re supposed to be working on the revisions so you can send it out into the world. There are agents waiting!”

You’re right. You’re right. But there are other, new, enticing stories just clamoring for my attention. When I’m in the shower, while I’m driving to work, as I’m cleaning up dead ants – there they are. When I’m in bed, attempting to get to sleep, my brain says “Hey, watch this scene for story xxx. Isn’t it great?” or “Hey, what do you think of this fun bit of dialog?”  Story ideas I had years ago are randomly popping up in Technicolor with surround sound. A little disconcerting, but I’m not complaining.

Working on The Traitor pales by comparison to all of these bright, shiny new ideas, but I know this way madness and an unending string of partially told stories lies.

What’s writer to do?

New stories waiting to be told

New stories waiting to be told

Naturally the answer involved a trip to the stationery store and the purchase of a new journal and some Post-It file tabs (never mind that pile of existing blank journals in the drawer – it needed to be the right journal). I divided it into sections using the file tabs. As I got ideas for scenes or character names or anything vaguely related to the story over the past few weeks, I noted it down. So far I have six separate stories partially populated.

The journal goes everywhere with me, either in my briefcase or purse. This weekend it was with me as I painted walls at my mom’s house and as I watched my college football team steamroll the opposition. Both times I pulled it out to jot down an idea before I forgot it.  (Seriously, that’s worth the $6.99 right there.)

As I mentioned in last week’s post, one of these stories is really shaping up. The random ideas I’ve captured have translated into a fairly complete story outline. The first two acts are pretty solid, the third is getting there, and I know how it all ends. All of which brings me to the actual point of this post (yes, I really do have one).

How do you start a new story?

For The Traitor I had a vague concept, based on a fragment of a news story I had seen years before. No conflict, no idea what was going to happen in the story, not even an antagonist – just two characters going nowhere and not doing much along the way. Fortunately the McDaniel program helped with that and I left with conflict, goals (positive not negative), antagonists, and a (reasonably) clear idea of where the story was headed and why. I didn’t know the whole story though until the draft was finally done. Having no idea where the story was going up front meant that the whole writing process was one of discovery (as well as write, re-write, write, re-write). To say it was frustrating would be an understatement.

For this new story, I’m using a new approach and trying to block out the acts and the path of the story before I even think about writing. I’m deciding what needs to happen when and how all the pieces should fit together. For now that means my journal has lots of arrows pointing here and there as I try to organize my random bits of information, but it also means as I get new ideas, I’m able to see how they fit and how they move the story along. In the long run, I don’t know if this will make my writing process and smoother or faster, but for now, it’s a lot of fun. I think it will also make it easier for me to get back into this story when it’s time to start the actual writing.

Once The Traitor is done, of course. The grass may be greener on this shiny-new-story side of the fence, but agents await.

So, what’s your process for starting a new story and does it depend on the story? Do you jump right in and start to write, figuring where you’re going along the way or do you like to have a little structure in place first?

11 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Back to Basics – A New Story

  1. With everything I’ve ever written, when I started, I knew only the beginning and the end—nothing in the middle. I’d always thought that outlining would be good, but I’ve never been able to do it—the story just changes too much as I write the characters and I learn more about them. After McD, I decided that I’m going to try to at least figure out turning points, because that would give me something to aim for as I progress. I don’t know. We’ll see!

    • Kay – keep us posted on how the turning-points plan works for you.

      I’m hoping the time I’m spending planning ahead on this new story will help me learn enough about my characters that I’ll be able to keep them from going off on a tangent. Time will tell, I guess.

  2. Chuck Wendig wrote a post a while back about the seductive lure of the shiny new story. He called it a more profane version of something like ‘sleeping with a new story behind the woodshed while the current one wanders round the garden, calling your name’. Sounds as though you’re doing a great job of getting the ideas down but resisting the blandishments of the new. And six separate stories? Wow.

    I would love to have a structure in place before I start, and I keep trying to work that way because I think I should. So far it hasn’t worked for me at all. I have the main characters, and the conflict, and the ending, and everything else comes out of the characters and the story. I’m going to keep trying to add a little more structure to my process though, because it would (should) be so much easier that way. I look forward to hearing how the more structured approach works for you.

    • I’m very structured in real-life, so I always thought I’d be structured in writing too, but up until now that hasn’t been the case. I think partly it’s because I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. I had to get some learning/ practicing in first before finding the process for me. I’ll let you know how things go once I get past the initial “getting-to-know-you” phase with the new story.

  3. I have many friend who are pantsers whose stories come out well-structured at the end of it all, so I really don’t think structuring (plotting, outlining, etc.) is for everyone. However, it is for me. I structure and re-structure, plot and re-plot, outline and re-outline. For me, it’s a way I get into the nooks and crannies of the story and start understanding the characters before I start writing, although the outlines do become quite annotated as bits of dialogue and scene blocking that creep into my brain get captured there, too.

    To do all that tracking, pre-planning, and plotting, I’m an Evernote and Excel kind of girl. With an Evernote app on my phone, which tends to go with me everywhere, I always have access to my virtual notebook. And then there are the whiteboard character maps, and the app I really need to get that will allow me to take high-res, clear pictures of the whiteboards, which can then be loaded into Evernote…No, I don’t have a problem. Why do you ask?

    • Nancy, I’m an Excel kind of girl as well too. That just seems to be the way my mind works best, probably because I use it so much in my day-job. I recently loaded Evernote on my phone, on the suggestion of a friend, but I have not started using it yet. Sounds like it is working out really well for you. I’ll have to give it a test drive and see how it works for me.

  4. I’m really good at abandoning stories. I tell myself that it’s better to write lots, and learn from stuff, than to sit down and polish crap. The story I worked on for class was my first NaNo, and it really is a stereotypical sort of urban fantasy with just a few differences. Differences that I don’t even bother to capitalize on. I was busy learning how to put a story together, and so I neglected a lot of aspects of character.

    Every story I’ve written so far has taught me something, though. I don’t feel like a quitter. I don’t know if the current WIP is going to be The One I Finish, but I do have a good feeling about it. We’ll see.

    • Michaeline – that’s great that you continue to learn something from every story. It’s not always about the destination, sometimes the journey is the best part. Good luck with the current WIP, however it ends up.

  5. Pingback: Justine: New Story Squee! | Eight Ladies Writing

  6. Pingback: Elizabeth: Back to Basics – The Characters | Eight Ladies Writing

  7. Pingback: Elizabeth: What Are You Waiting For? | Eight Ladies Writing

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