Creating Stories

Every writer has their own methods and tools for creating stories. Here are some of my favorites.

Where to get ideas

A notebook and pen are essential tools. I capture ideas from all over, jot them down, and later type them (because my hand writing is near illegible).

I gather ideas from fairy tales, myths, life incidents, conversations, dreams, and games (see Creativity Games).

Children are full of quotes and comments that bring richness to stories.

“I’m covering his ears and I can still hear him.”

– toddler comment about crying baby brother.

I keep notebooks with character sketches of real people. For example, a college classmate:

Scottish, plays the bagpipes, large man, pierced ear. He said he wouldn’t want his daughter, if he ever had one, to bring home someone like himself. Traveled the world (102 countries). Ordered pizza in Moscow in the middle of a coup. It was delivered past tanks.

See Characters in Real Life for another example.


Plotting a story

I fill out the following details before writing a story.

1. A one line sentence that boils down the very essence/core plot of your book. (This can be difficult! Take some time to think about it!)

2. A (short) paragraph that elaborates on the one line description. Don’t go overboard, just point out a few of the high points that you’re excited about.

3. Logline template (fill in the bold words with story elements)

On the verge of a stasis = death moment, a flawed hero breaks into 2; but when the midpoint happens, they must learn the theme stated before the all is lost.

Save the cat! Writes a novel, by Jessica Brody.

4. Hero defined: Flaw, goal, need. Often the flaw and the goal are at odds with each other. Every main character needs to grow and change through the story.

5. Universal lessons. Every book has some underlying theme that relates to us as humans. It never needs to be stated directly, but it influences the whole flow of the story. Some universal lessons are: forgiveness, love, acceptance, faith, fear, trust, survival, selflessness, responsibility, redemption.

6. Fill out the Goals and Conflict table for each character.

NameFlaw and lesson needed learnedGoal/want actively pursuing. What stops goal?Catalyst that gets the character moving.How goal changes because of conflict

7. Foundation Beats (basic road signs of any story)

  • Catalyst:
  • Break into 2:
  • Midpoint:
  • All is Lost:
  • Break into 3:

8. Beats (This is where my story often veers away from the outline–but it gives me a good basis). See Save the cat! Writes a novel, by Jessica Brody, for a clear explanation of beats.


Research

Character research: Some characters come fully formed in my head, others I discover line by line. Some tools to get to know a character better.

  • Interview them. Write questions and then write the answers as you think they would answer.
  • Take a personality test and answer it like you think your character would respond.
  • Write them in various scenes and with various other personalities types and see how they act.

World Building:

  • Research names. I like to pull names from nationalities that are similar to my story world. In The King Trials I chose Arabic names for the Kishkarish, Scandinavian names for Lansimetsa, and Egyptian names for the Carani. When I can, I also pick names with meaning that align with the character. In Fourth Sister I created names for each of the seven sisters that combines both the Japanese number corresponding to their birth order and their main personality.
  • Research culture. In a specific culture–What is acceptable and what is taboo? What is expected of women, children, men? How do people resolve conflict?
  • Research geography. What kind of animals live in a specific climate? What kind of ecosystems? What is unique to that type of climate and land?
  • Research politics and history. I love the quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana. History and politics are complex, and studying them helps me add depth and intricacy to my stories.
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