The other day, my sister and I went out to celebrate the graduation of a dear friend. The bar, a speakeasy in Atlanta, has a lot of fantastical elements that made me think about the construction of a story. This list is specific to my own ritual of storytelling, but I hope it resonates with you. Feel free to share how you write stories, I’d love to know 🙂
1. For me, it starts with the setting. The entrance to this bar is a bright red British telephone booth. To one side is a brick wall. To the other, a smoked glass door bearing the innocuous name of Acme Antiques. How does your story make you feel? Is it an invitation to your reader?
2. Once there, what’s the atmosphere? Is it bright-lit and saturated in amber hues? Is it foreboding and gaunt?
3. Who are your characters? Do you know their backstory? One of my critique partners once recommended taking a character quiz. I’ve always struggled with characterization. I want to stay true to each character’s story and sometimes when there’s a link missing between two plot points, it’s hard not to make your characters act a certain way just to hurry along the plot and get to the next super awesome point. Don’t be lazy! Think about them! It will make the difference between a character who seems fully wrought and a character whose brain seems conveniently decapitated.
For further reference…
Exhibit A) Character who seems to languish. Seems complex! What happened to make the character languish so? Could it be that she had an unfortunate run-in with the bottom of the table and stubbed an exposed pinky toe? Could it be that she fainted because Henry Cavill materialized out of thin air and proposed marriage? Or could it be that she is simply tired and her unsuspecting sister makes a comfy pillow…
Exhibit B) Character who is decapitated because her foolish writer gave up, resorted to pushing along the plot for no apparent reason and thus made everything seem unrealistic. Which leads to the most gruesome question of all: WHERE IS THIS CHARACTER’S HEAD?!
3. Once you’ve got the plot, atmosphere and characters fully formed, everything else is a matter of flow and language and linking. I always know I’ve hit the end of a good draft when I think about whether or not my revisions deserves a drink. But that always leads to two very separate questions. Do I deserve the drink as a celebratory libation? Or do I need the drink to drown out the sorrow of this miserable, stinking, sodden pile of words?