Michaeline: How to Start a Story


Old ad for Zaratarain's root beer syrup with a little girl carrying a tray of small glasses

Make it at home! Or make it on a train! Or on a space ship! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Usually for me, I start with a character, and usually, the character brings a setting along naturally. Rachel was a root beer fan on a spaceship. Olivia was a woman looking for a buddy to bundle up with during the coming blizzard, and it was easy to set her in upstate New York. Perz was a paranormal plumber, and my huge mistake with that story was not putting her in a setting with plumbing problems, but rather, in a cave.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been talking about putting a setting first, as a place that will naturally produce a lot of interesting characters. Maybe it’s a wedding – you’ve got confident wedding planners, unhappy bridesmaids, dashing men dressed like 19th century robber barons! (First, second and third parts.)

Or maybe you’ve rented a gentleman in Japan. This isn’t setting so much as it is situational, but you could have an interesting artist who might be entertaining himself by renting himself out, or perhaps you’ve got a Good Boy who was suddenly laid off at age 45, and needed a little gig to tide him over until he can find a better position.

So, these are the building blocks I usually don’t have problems with: a character, and a setting/situation. I’ve got a protagonist – now I need to use the setting/situation to create an antagonist – because it’s very hard to write a story that’s all in one character’s head. It’s so much easier when you have another character to add interest, input and plot complications.

When I first started writing, I would usually start with just one person, write a few pages, and then run out of gas. Nothing was happening!

Later, I would sometimes start with a team – three best friends, for example. However, they’d usually work well together, and I’d run out of steam after a few more pages. It was better than one person, but without conflict, nothing gets done.

A girl with root beer syrup and a glass of root beer.

“All you need,” Rachel said, “Is some water, some yeast, and this little bottle of magic!” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Now, I’m at the stage where Continue reading

Elizabeth: Cold Starts and Fresh Starts

Stories waiting to be told

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is getting that first sentence on the page.  There is nothing quite as demoralizing as staring at a blank screen, fingers poised over the keys, with a mind completely devoid of any creative thought.  Diana Gabaldon refers to her approach to combating this common writing problem as her cold start process, which she discusses here.

This week on the blog we’ve been discussing our own cold start processes.  In their own posts Justine, Nancy, and Jeanne each focused on their cold start processes for existing stories.  Many of their steps, like re-reading what was previously written, making sure to have a story-plan in place before even starting to write (spreadsheets and planers and outlines, oh my!), and working up a scene skeleton (with characters, beats, goals, etc.) echo some of methods I’ve used in the past, with varying degrees of success, depending upon the story in question and the amount of effort I’ve been willing to expend (day jobs can put a real crimp in one’s creative inclinations).

There are, however, two things I’ve consistently found helpful when I’m really focusing on writing. Continue reading

Michaeline: Weird Intersections of Creativity

A young man with curly beard and long curly hair, holding a hoe and surrounded by small people and horses.

“St. Isidore the Laborer” — who knows what he’ll dig up? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

More than anything, this is a post to encourage you to pay attention to the care and feeding of the Girls and Boys in your Basement – the busy little muses who send up your ideas.

I find initial ideas to be easy. I think it’s because I consume so much information – I’m on the internet for at least two hours a day, and I spend a lot of time listening to music. I used to follow a few podcasts (writing, news, pop culture), and I used to read at least two to four books a week. The podcasts got replaced by music (my commute is usually 30 minutes each way, and that’s my main listening time), and the books got replaced by news articles, cultural pieces and YouTube clips of late night news shows. I do miss the books, but my information input is much faster, more timely and I’m able to squeeze odd bits of information-intake into little bits of time I never used before. I’d never pull out a novel while I was waiting in a long check-out line; I knew better. I knew I’d get to a good part, and then be interrupted by Real Life. But with my phone, a short article about forsythia pruning is enough to while away the minutes.

So my Girls in the Basement are fat and happy; absolutely replete with trivia and deep thoughts and societal systems. They send up five or six ideas, and I sort through them, and watch where they bump together. That’s what I mean about weird intersections of creativity – who else would care about why my forsythia bushes are only blooming at the bottom? And the closet of old Agatha Christie books I’ve got stored way in the back of my forebrain is the same stockpile any number of mystery fans have in theirs. But when those two ideas bump together, I get a Continue reading