Like most thing in life everyone has their own way to do things and writing is no different. Some writers work from what I call the “plot triangle”. They start plotting their stories with that plot triangle we all had to learn about in school with the words “exposition, rising action, climax, falling action resolution”, and then they build characters to fit in. That style of writing can be a good way to organize and visualize your ideas, but for me it never really worked as a starting point.
Other writers start from the end and build back towards the beginning. For me, this approach ever led to anything other than a headache. It may work for you, but for me whenever I tried to write like that I always ended up with stale characters and predictable dialogue because I already knew exactly how everything was going to turn out. The style that works for me usually starts with the characters. I sit down and just start writing out my idea. I don’t usually pay much attention to grammar or even punctuation, I just try to get a decent picture of who the characters are, what their mental states might be, and how they talk.
For me characters are one, if not the most, important part of any writing. Some will argue with me on that but think about it: Say you’re watching a movie, the plot has intrigue, action and maybe even a bit romance but all of the characters are boring and predictable clichés. Chances are that you’re not going to get interested in that movie. I think that’s a mistake a lot of film writers are making nowadays. They are spending millions of dollars for big name actors and masses of special effects, but they are neglecting the characters and the story. If you can’t build characters your readers care about, chances are they won’t care about anything that happens to them. Getting your readers interested in following the plot depends on getting them at least slightly invested in the characters.
Another great tip for writing good stories is be weary that whole “write what you know” philosophy. In order to keep your writing interesting you can’t just keep writing characters based on yourself and the people in your life. You and your life and relevant to you and the people who know you. The outside world and your readers don’t know you and if you continuously come up with characters based on things around you, your audience might get bored. When you first start writing it’s easier to stick with what you know but, the thing is, a lot of the times, if you really want to be a great writer you have to get out of your comfort zone and write what you don’t know.
Exercise of the Day
Exercise of the day: Writer’s Tennis
For this exercise you need at least one other person. You are going to start out and write a paragraph or two about anything and then pass it on to your partner. Your partner then writes their own paragraph or two continuing the story. Keep passing it back and forth (email works great for this) until you have a story. Use the information the other person wrote in their paragraphs to move the story along. This one can have some really fun and whacky results!
That’s it from me for the day! Have fun with the exercise and if you have any problems be sure to comment and I’ll see if I can help! Ta-ta for now!
One of the biggest questions any writer faces is “where do my ideas come from?”, or “how to I come up with original ideas?” Well there’s not really an answer to the first question, but as for original ideas let me offer this little piece of advice DON’T WORRY ABOUT BEING ORIGINAL! Most writers who’ve been in the business long enough know that whenever they write anything, no matter how groundbreaking they think it might be, someone somewhere in the world at some point in history has probably written something like it if not the exact same thing. My old writing teacher used to tell us that there haven’t been any truly new plots since Greek theatre. If you get too tangled up worrying about how inventive your idea might be you’ll never get anywhere. Look it’s true that there aren’t a lot of plotlines or characters that haven’t already been written, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write them anyway. Even though a certain idea may not be “new” or “revolutionary” but the way you handle it can be.
Take the idea of the dysfunction family, this setup has been done thousands of times over the years from Sophocles’ “Antigone”, Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” and even Maris Puzo’s “The Godfather”, but writers continue to keep things interesting by changing the characters and the worlds they exist in. The dysfunction in your story could be a father with a drug problem, and even if someone else also wrote a story about a father with a drug problem, the stories would still be different because the drug problem is happening to two different people and under different settings. So sure, the stories might have the same starting block but they’d still end up in different places. That’s one of the fun things about writing, how even if you give two writers the exact same starting points chances are they will end up in totally different places.
As writer, your only job is to come up with rich and interesting characters, a story and write. Let the critics argue about whether or not it’s “original”. That being said, I should also mention that there is a difference between getting “inspiration” from another writer and “stealing” from them. When you get inspiration from another writer you’re really just taking a few aspects or notions and reforming them into an entirely new story, when you steal from another writer you simply take what someone else created and attempt to pass it off as your own. That book that came out a few years ago by Seth Grahame-Smith, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” could have been said to have stolen from Jane Austen, but with the fact that the writer was upfront that his book was only meant to parody “Pride and Prejudice”, Grahame-Smith makes it quite clear that he was not attempting to take credit for work which was not his own.
Exercise of the day:
The three word exercise: Write a short scene between two characters in which they are only allowed to say 3 words each per line. This exercise teaches you how to focus your ideas without rambling. An example of this exercise (this isn’t in proper playwriting format, but the blog formatting won’t let me put it the way it’s supposed to be.)
A: You got it?
B: I said so.
A: How much dude?
B: What you got?
A: It’s all here.
B: Not enough money.
A: I’ll get it.
B: Maybe later then.
A: I need it.
B: Too bad bro.
In this short scene, even without stage directions or all that much dialogue, you as the reader can still tell that these two characters are doing business with one another, and there are allusions to the fact that they might be dealing in something illegal like drugs. That’s what this exercise really teaches you to do. It’s helping you to hone in your dialogue.
Ta-ta for now!!!