Start Writing Fiction: Building A Story
Welcome to the fourth installment of the Start Writing Fiction series. Now we know what fiction is, how to get into the habit of writing, and got a taste of how editing and revising is helpful, we will now learn how to build our world. Creating your story is fun and exciting. But there are times it can become frustrating. One thing you need to remember, DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Early on I mentioned to you about keeping a journal. A private place to write your story ideas and your observations. By looking at your journal, you will see story ideas come from anywhere. From observing people, news, and personal experiences. Inspiration can come from your friends, work, from other authors, television shows, song lyrics, and movies.
Building your journal
Your journal should be full of great ideas and a few stories, thanks to the previous writing prompts from the previous installments in the Start Writing Fiction series. Your journal can act as inspiration when you run into the fearful writer’s block we get from time to time. Your journal should be full of many things, like:
- General notes
- Sensory observations (Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell, and Touch)
- People watching
- Expanding vocabulary
- Inspiration from quotes, movies, books, people, music, or television
- Inspiration from images
- Descriptions of characters
- Descriptions of settings
- Research notes on locations and time periods
- Notes on plot lines
Stories must be realistic. To do so, you must do your research. Take the story I am working on, Hell’s Half Acre. My story is a period piece (the 1880’s). I needed to research to make sure I get the clothing, use of language, buildings, and attitude of the era. Even more so, the setting of the town in Illinois needs to “fit in” with the time, this also includes weather conditions.
Helen Benedict wrote, “… when I read a novel set in Berkeley, California, a city I know well. On the U.C. Berkeley campus is a well-known landmark called Sather Gate, which is merely two ornate metal pillars, not a gate at all. But in this novel, the author swung the gate closed and even locked it. I almost threw the book away. I felt the author had violated her contract with me, her reader. She had closed the nonexistent gate either because she was too lazy to check if it could be closed, or because—and this was worse—she chose to ignore reality for the sake of her plot. And that felt like a cheat.”
There are many ways you can conduct your research:
- Internet: Using the internet is the go-to source for many people. Many towns have a Facebook group you can join. Members are thrilled to share their town’s past. Everything you need to find is out there, from government websites to history websites. It may take time, but you will find what you are looking for.
- Library: Yes, there are still brick and mortar buildings out there called libraries, use them. I went to my local library in my hometown and could find myths and legends of the area. The stories I found help fuel my fiction stories.
- Historical Society: Check out your local historical society, or the historical society where your story setting is taking place. They can provide you with the history of the town which will bring your story to life.
- People: Interview people from the area. They may share their expertise with you.
- Travel: Take a trip to the location of your story. Get a feel of the area, picture the layout of your story and walk your way through it, taking notes of any ideas that pop in your creative mind. Take pictures of the area.
- Read: Read books from the area, both fiction and nonfiction. Read books from your genre and see how other authors built their worlds.
What is the plot of your story? What causes your character(s) to do the things they are doing? Why is anything happening in your story?
Example: A man on a train carried a kitten in his red gym bag.
Figuring out the plot
- Why is he on the train?
- Why did he have a kitten?
- Where was he taking the kitten?
- Why was the kitten in the gym bag?
Using your creative mind in answering the above questions can give you a plot. Of course, the man is the only person who knows the real reason for his actions.
One way to get your creative mind wondering around is the “What if” question.
- What if he is stealing the high price kitten and will ransom it?
- What if the man is a mad scientist, and he created a new disease and is using the kitten to pass it on to humans (control population)?
- What if the kitten is an exotic cat, and he is trying to save it from trophy hunters?
- What if the kitten was found on the side of the road, and he is taking it home as a present for his spouse?
Remember earlier about ideas and they can come from anywhere? Well, take lines and images. A line may pop in your head, yes one single line can launch you into a novel or a novel series. Same goes for pictures. An image can pop into your head, and you cannot shake until you get the story out of your head and down on paper.
What matters to you helps identify you as a writer. Write what matters to you. What matters to me are (this is a few, not all):
- Equal rights
- Animal rights
- My health
With my story, Hell’s Half Acre, I created a town who believes in equal rights and freedom of religion. Now, remember it is the 1800’s. The surrounding towns are not too happy with how Acre, Illinois is being run by its residents. Overnight the town is destroyed by supernatural forces. What concerns and ideas am I reflecting?
Your ideas do not have to be “out there” or “extraordinary.” They can be common concerns everyone knows but told in a new way.
Write a Flash-Fiction story (100-300 words) in the comments below dealing with the man on the train with a kitten in his gym bag.