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Old 01-21-2014, 10:11 PM   #1
Steven Forbes
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B&N Week 161: How Do You Approach Your Stories?


Itís another Tuesday, and that means that Iím still asking questions! [What, you thought Iíd forgotten already? Another question!] Letís just get to the Bolts & Nuts of it, shall we?

This weekís question: How Do You Approach Your Stories?

I find that there are stories everywhere, and most of them I can reconfigure to fit into a universe Iíve created. [A superhero universe, go figure.] But then there are stories that I want to tell that wonít easily fit in that universe. When that happens, I have to go back to the drawing board with my approach to the story.

Iíve said it before, and Iíll say it again: I donít start a story until I know it backwardóthat is, until I know how it ends. If I know how it ends, I can find a beginning, and I donít worry about the middle, because what happens in the middle is just me working toward the end.

I have one story idea that is eluding me. Every time I sit down to think about the characters and the setting and the story itself, it comes out as something different. I have what I believe is a great idea, and I love the backstory [which is the most interesting part to me], but since I donít know how it ends, I canít move forward, and thatís frustrating to me.

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Old 01-22-2014, 01:41 AM   #2
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Some musings...

Excellent article again. I would strongly recommend Stephen King's 'On Writing' as a great reference and entertaining read about the process.

My own experience is similar: figuring out the ending first is very important. There are two things I try as an exercise regarding characters. First, have a really brief character description on a separate page; their background, motivation, fears, hobbies etc. You may not -probably will not- use any or all of that material but it helps a lot in finding their 'voice', how they would talk to someone depending on what happens in the story. Say you have a character who's not afraid of the dark but afraid of rats. They walk into a storm drain with a friend when their flashlights get dim. He isn't shaking -yet- until he hears the sound of water trickling and screeching sounds. Secondly, try writing your story a bit but just for the hell of it 'let go' of the reins. In other words, if you weren't ordering the sequence of events and just let the story go where it would normally go what would happen next? For example, you had a character waiting at a table for someone, a long time, and they've been drinking beers one after the other. Maybe originally you had him getting up and looking up and down the street outside but what he really would want to do next is go take a piss.

I've been working on a biker story called 'Mayfield Eight' in which I wanted the two main characters to start off on a road trip on their motorbikes. Try as I could, it sounded really boring; one meets up with the other, says 'let's go,' and the other says 'uh okay.' So, I tried what they do in sitcoms all the time: 'bait and switch'.* The first character, a kid named Calvin who works in a diner is approached by his sleazy friend Lenny asking him to accompany him on a trip to Mexico, offering him some cash in exchange for acting as a look out along the way in a deal he has to make. Cal asks for more money, and getting a no, slams the door in his face. I went along with his character, he's really suspicious. But I also had a story that ended abruptly.

Just then the phone rings, and it's Lenny from a pay phone giving in to Cal. Lenny is showing to us how desperate he is (also allowing me to shift to a new scene). But the only way that happened was by me 'letting go' of the reins and seeing what would normally happen next.

*watch any sitcom and there's almost always one or more characters planning to do something that you know they never will accomplish in the half hour (a trip to Hawaii, having dinner with the in laws etc., Skipper and Gilligan getting off the Island, etc.)
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