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  1.  (9757.1)
    I've a question for all you writery types...

    What do you do when you have a (hopefully) good idea for a story, but have no idea of how to start writing it?

    I've had a cool plot in my head for the best part of a year now, only i've never tried to write anything other than music and i've no idea what format to try and get it out of my head into. whether comic/screenplay/book/5 part made for tv series. etc. etc.

    how do you know what style works best for you? and how on earth would i start trying to get this story out of my head?
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeApr 12th 2011 edited
    Well, this is just how I work, and it's by no means the only way, and probably not even the right way, BUT:

    I start out with a plot arc, with the full knowledge that I will diverge from it and won't even consider it past about page 20. However, it is a very nice, less intimidating, way to get to know your story.

    What you do: Get a great big piece of paper or cardboard, and a marker. Draw a big arc that slowly ascends, peaks, and then rapidly descends - this is your rising action, climax, and falling action. Then, draw about twenty dots, plus one at the beginning and one a the climax, and write down what you think should happen at those points.

    Now, you'll come up with much more organic (and fun) things to do with the story during the actual process of composition, and this is NOT an ironclad schedule or blueprint. Think of this as the gesture drawing or color study before you do the painting - the finished result will look different, and it's supposed to.

    Also: Start a story in the most interesting possible way. Have the bride run away from the altar, have the explorer get captured by savage natives, have the detective cornered in an alley by Eddie the Matchstick and his thugs. Whatever led up to that point can be revealed later, but make sure the first thing you write will be FUN to write. Start yourself off with some momentum.

    Also Also: Set a goal for yourself each day of writing. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, suggests a thousand words a day for the beginner. That's not a bad idea. I say start with a page a day - let's say you write one page a day, for a year, a the end of that year, you've got a good-sized but not intimidating novel. And anybody can write a page a day - trust me, once you really get going, the trick will be knowing when to STOP.

    Son of Also: Know when to stop. Don't write until you don't know what happens next - this will be super discouraging the next time you sit down to write, because you won't know how to pick the story back up. Never stop writing and the end of a chapter. If you can bring yourself to, stop in the middle of a paragraph, so that if nothing else, the next time you sit down to write, all you've got to do to get back into the swing of things is finish that paragraph. I'd suggest stopping in the middle of a sentence, but I'm entirely incapable of doing that myself :p

    Also and Laurel and Hardy meet the Wolfman: DON'T SHOW IT TO ANYBODY. Nobody. Not even your significant other, not even your friends who think it's supercool that you're writing a story, not even your parents so you can show them you're not just a talentless screw-up. Until the first draft is finished, ANY outside influence on the story is BAD influence. Even if everybody likes it - this can actually be the WORST kind of influence, because you get cocky, and lose the essential nugget of fear of failure that, along with the insanely optimistic hope of success, drives almost all creative efforts.

    Also Part V: The Reckoning: Don't worry about style. Don't worry about what your story means. Don't worry about if it's been done before (it has - whatever it is, trust me, someone has done it before. AND THAT'S OKAY), or if it's been done better before. Just have fun getting to know your characters, watching them get into and out of trouble, share in their suffering and their triumph alike. In short, you must absolutely refuse to give a shit about what anyone but you thinks of your story - you're the writer, but you're also the first reader, and if YOU don't like it, you can't expect anyone else to. So, if you wouldn't like it (even if someone you really like and respect would), then it shouldn't go into the story.
  2.  (9757.3)
    Take everything said about writing with a massive pinch of salt because all anyone can offer over the Internet is a series of strategies without any deep guidance. That said this post called Want/Get/Do by our host offers some constructive hints. There's this video with William Gibson talking as well:

    All I'd offer as advice is that you've got to just write it. I don't mean write one thousand words a day everyday without stopping until you get good. I'd never suggest that. I suggest that you go and look at some other fiction roughly like your idea for a general indication of how things can be done, then sit down and start writing your own version. Also finish it!
    • CommentTimeApr 12th 2011
    What Ginja said; just write. And if you're not even sure how to write it (like you said - whether comic, screenplay, book, etc.) I would say (again, just an opinion, grain of salt, etc.) you could at least begin getting the idea out of your head just by making notes. You know, at least getting them out onto paper (or computer screen). Once you start that, maybe you'll begin to get a better idea of where to go from there. Just my two cents.
  3.  (9757.5)
    As to what format is the best, only you can know. But you can work at finding out. Does it have lots of exciting visuals that prose just isn't going to convey properly or that your prose isn't strong enough to do right (it's ok if that's true). Then you want something more visual like comics or movies.
    Is a lot of the struggle internal, are we going inside a character's head a lot? If so, then something written is probably more likely to be effective.
    What do you think of when you think of this story?
    Also, how long do you think it is and is it episodic? If you have one big narrative and fewer characters, then a movie or novel is probably the best bet. If it is episodic, then you are probably looking at at comic or TV series.

    As with all writing tips, these are by no means definitive or "the Rules", just some suggestions that might be of some use to you.

    And as other people have said, start your story as far into it already in progress as you can.
    • CommentAuthorRedwynd
    • CommentTimeApr 13th 2011
    In my experience, the best way for me to start is to have two really cool scenes/sequences that I want to write, nestled in an outline of what I want the story to be about. I'll start by writing one of those scenes, mentally placing it on my narrative line, then deciding how to start and end the story. This usually helps me to keep my head in the game and just pound out the words, 'cause what I really want to get to is that second scene, but I know it won't mean anything to anyone except me unless it has all the supporting material. Don't worry about the rest of it (or even that first scene) being "good"; that's what the editing process is for. Get your ideas out on paper (or screen), and work from there.
    • CommentAuthorcardo
    • CommentTimeApr 13th 2011

    This may or may not be helpful, but I saw it after you opened this thread and thought you might find it useful. Good luck with your writing.
    • CommentAuthorrdouek
    • CommentTimeApr 13th 2011
    Agreed that the best way for me to start is to just start writing - even with the understanding that I won't use/will probably trash what I write at first. Just pick your favorite scene and go.

    If you have trouble starting, like staring at the blank page trouble, just start with a paragraph describing the scene. If it's in a bar, start describing the bar. Or start describing one of the characters. Anything, just get the pen moving or the keys clicking.

    Just write it out and don't worry about it being good or making sense, or even sticking to your plot arc - this is just to get you going, revising and rewriting is where you'll turn it into something good.
  4.  (9757.9)
    @Alan Tyson - thank you for a plethora of brilliant ideas! bashing out a plot arc is definitely something that'd help me out, i'm much more of a visual person, having it all laid out will help me work out the timelines etc.

    @Ginja - heers for leading me to the great one's words of wisdom, is interesting to read about his process aswell as how everyone else does it.

    i guess just working at it and seeing what works for me is the best way forward. give it a year or so before my first blockbuster movie is made from my award winning comic based on the popular novels by... yeah
    • CommentTimeApr 13th 2011
    Start writing. That's all.

    If you can only think of one line that a character would say, write that.

    If you can only describe one location, write that.

    Usually that leads to more writing by me. Maybe not in the same session, but getting it on the virtual paper, allows my brain to bubble on other parts.
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeApr 13th 2011 edited
    Two ways of going about it:

    • Start writing

    • Don't write

    The last bit isn't said in a "if you aren't writing, you aren't a writer" ("shit or get off the pot") kind of way, but sometimes it is a big help to dash down an outline of what you are thinking of, any dialogue you have and any resources you have found that could be useful. Then stick it on the back burner for a while. It might be you are missing a vital ingredient or things just aren't ready yet. I have a number of Notepad documents for sketching out random ideas in and other ones for specific stories as they take shape, it might be some of those ideas get recycled into other stories or it could be sitting their waiting for an important piece of the jigsaw to slot into place and then everything just flows from that.

    The best advice I found (at least the one that fitted how I'm doing things) is from Graham Linehan on Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe special about writing. All the others described a terrible, torturous process that sounded like just hacking a big chunk out of our side might be easier and then he came on and it all made sense (he is at 7 minutes 14 seconds in):

    "Its kind of like having a poo" If you don't need to go, then 'eat' some more and when it is time to go then you'll have to go ;)

    However, this might not work for you. I think the important thing is to work out what does and then keep refining it.
  5.  (9757.12)
    I like choose someone as my "victim". Usually my mother or husband because they are very critical and both of them write. And I tell something about the history, with the less expectations possible, the most informal possible. This uses to help a lot turns things more clear. And after this, I open an archive and make notes of my rambles, the general ideas. If you like question and answers, there's a lot of examples of questionnaires to answer about your history that are useful at this point.

    And about start writing in the more mechanic way, the best way to me s start directly in the middle of a scene. Drop your reader(and yourself) in the middle of things without a lot of prepare, and after that, just go on.

    I think start things is very easy. What kill is finishing them. =P
      CommentAuthorCorey Waits
    • CommentTimeApr 13th 2011 edited
    @Emperor - Your 'Don't Write' advice is very good advice, though I feel that one still needs to be conscious of the fact that one should be writing. Like, if I'm not writing because I've run out of steam am I going to get back on track better by playing xbox, or reading interesting books full of dense ideas (whether fiction or non, related to what I'm writing or not)? If you aren't disciplined then having your story on the backburner can be a good excuse to just waste time.

    So I guess when you're 'eating' be sure that it's full of nutritional value...

    Otherwise, my advice is to write a super detailed outline before you get started. The only long form story I've ever finished that was over 10k words was the first one that I took the time to plan like a motherfucker. I mean I spent literally a year coming up with the plot, the characters, scenes that would make it into the book, scenes that wouldn't make it in, bits of dialog that I loved or that would say a lot about the character. I had a small moleskine notebook full of scribblings, and then I was ready to go.

    This won't always work though - I've started on a new project, and whilst I planned out the world quite well, I didn't spend long enough planning the character arcs, so now I'm at a dead end and need to go back and do some more planning. I find this can almost always be fatal. Once I lose momentum the chances of me going back to that story diminish greatly. BUT when all you have is a whole bunch of ideas to put together then all you have is momentum.

    As others have mentioned, only you will know how you write, so your mileage with my advice will vary.
  6.  (9757.14)
    I would also recommend reading Stephen King On Writing. Very good solid advice. A lot of it has been mentioned here, basically just write. He isn't one for plotting though, preferring to let the story develop, and the characters find their own way. If I remember correctly he likens a story to a fossil where you have part of it exposed, and have to reveal the rest of it. The story is already there, you just have to find it.
    The other piece of advice he gives is using scenarios "What if vampires invade a small New England Town (Salem's Lot) What if a mother and child are trapped by a rabid dog (Cujo) Might not work for everyone, you might not like his stuff, but he's made it work for him.

    My own personal advice is to write something everyday. Doesn't have to be 750 words, although the website is a good way of building the routine into your day, as long as you write something. Flash fiction is good for this as it can help you work through ideas.

    The other approach I've used recently is very specific. I have a particular world in mind, but not the exact story yet. I wanted to see if the concept worked, so I used a fairly standard storyline to explore the characters and mechanics of the world, to check if everything worked (A shakedown run if you like). Submitted it to somewhere and while they rejected it they said the concept was strong and the characters were well developed, so I know I've got something to work with.
  7.  (9757.15)
    I skimmed everyone else, but I want to give you what works for me. Start with an idea. Get your characters sorted out with some sort of character sheet. Have a very open plot that leaves some wiggle room. Character arcs are nice to know, as are relations between the people in your story.

    You don't need any of this, but the bare bones of your story are very, very nice to have at your side. Knowing also that you will discover new ways of telling parts of your story as your brain sifts through itself is important.

    Make sure you know the format for what you are writing. Screen scripts, comic scripts and novels all have different formats.

    Then get in front of your computer and write.

    Simple advice, but that is what works for me.
      CommentAuthorDon Garvey
    • CommentTimeApr 14th 2011 edited
    No disrespect (really) but "just write" is only a good instruction for a person who isn't willing to write. Once you are willing, "just write" amounts to nothing useful, at least to me. It also diminishes "just imagine" or "just think" - though that's as debatable as my first opinion because many, including myself, probably imagine and think as they are writing. I'm assuming the original question was about what comes after "just write"...

    I am very process and structure oriented in everything I do, not just writing. Because of this, I tend to start with a very simple outline (but not yet a page break down). In my screenwriting days I learned a very, very useful task was to be completely "on the nose" with this outline (and with the first draft of the script). When I try to be Warren Ellis on an early draft I get vapor lock and fail to have the ability to proceed - I can't think of clever dialog or clever descriptions or clever things to write. Instead of saddling myself with this burden so early on, I just don't focus on it at all - it's not time for that, IMO. I write the "on-the-nose" details.

    This happens
    Then this happens
    Then this happens
    Then this happens

    If I get to a point where I don't know what happens between "then this happens's" I just write "something happens" and move on so as not to destroy momentum. I always find that the specifics of "then this happens" and rearrangement of "happenings" comes out of this process. I get new ideas, new directions, you name it, from this process.

    Then I'll start a page breakdown (or a act breakdown if working on a screenplay). Here will be as specific as I need to be to figure out what is exactly going on. I also start to consider bigger concepts like plot and the individual sections of the story. Am I coming in too early? Am I sticking around too long? After this I pretty much have my page breakdown. During this time I will start to write in snippets of dialog or other things that I think are particularly clever - both so they aren't forgotton and so that I can respond and react to them over time.

    Through all of this - I keep single document "bibles" about characters and locations and stuff so I can record thoughts, ideas, and have a reference point to go back to. I don't wed the story to the bible, but I work to make sure the bible reflects decisions made when writing the story.

    But, to be repetitive, everyone does stuff differently, this is roughly what I do.
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeApr 14th 2011
    Your 'Don't Write' advice is very good advice, though I feel that one still needs to be conscious of the fact that one should be writing. Like, if I'm not writing because I've run out of steam am I going to get back on track better by playing xbox, or reading interesting books full of dense ideas (whether fiction or non, related to what I'm writing or not)? If you aren't disciplined then having your story on the backburner can be a good excuse to just waste time.

    So I guess when you're 'eating' be sure that it's full of nutritional value...

    Oh yes. You also need time to digest - eating too much can give you indigestion, so you need to give everything time to stew. I always find a walk on the beach or some good sleep helps (as things often come together in the moments before sleep, if only I could capture a way of making that happen more often).

    Also it only works if you have a lot of ideas on the go at once so you can have them at different stages of readiness, so there is always something else coming down the pipe. That way the whole system keeps some kind of momentum.
    • CommentAuthorJigsy Q
    • CommentTimeApr 15th 2011
    I think the early stages is when you should let structure guide you. Too much aimless brainstorming can drag the process out or even burn you out on an idea entirely. Brainstorming is good, but you want it to be focused.

    First and foremost establish a general road-map for the story using the standard 3 act structure. Who is the hero, what's the primary conflict, what does it build to, and what is the result? Try to break down what the key moments in the story are (the "beats" if you want to get jargony). Then once you know the general shape of the thing you can start getting more specific and building individual scenes. At this point it helps to create a master list of scenes (or "beat sheet", more jargon) so you have a detailed overview of the story. Being able to see the complete story "from the air" can help you spot problems and make things as tight as possible. It will also help you determine what the themes of the story are. What it's about in a larger sense. Knowing the themes gives your story even more cohesion, because you can tailor certain scenes to reinforce the themes and drop artsy fartsy hints about what you're really saying. I think the hardest part is just knowing when to stop and declare it finished, because you will always feel tempted to tweak or rewrite scenes and maybe even move stuff around.

    As for know which medium to write it for, that's up to you. But since each medium has it's own way of doing things it might help to make that decision before you even start writing.
    • CommentTimeApr 15th 2011
    If you are interested in the writing process, I highly recommend the Writing Excuses podcast.

    The three staple members are Brandon Sanderson (of the Mistborn series and the co-author of the last of the Wheel of Time cycle), Howard Taylor (author and artist of the long running webcomic Schlock Mercenary) and Dan Wells (author of I Am Not A Serial Killer and its sequels).

    It's a great podcast, and I have learned a whole lot from it (though I still need to get off my lazy ass and get some practice in).
  8.  (9757.20)
    Some great advice here, and I don't have that much more to add.

    There's a lot to be said for just letting go and typing. Do not be afraid of an empty page. Type; there's always room once you've finished to go back and change. It's amazing the liberating power of a first sentence.