Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Constructing a Story Part 2: Builiding a Story

Charlotte Firbank-King

You have the glimmer of a story—basically the head and spine of your skeleton.

Make a list:

What genre is it?

Main protagonists—hero and heroine. How they look, their likes and dislikes, their flaws and strengths.

Main villain or villains—their looks, fetishes, etc.

Avoid back flashes as much as possible. Rather, write a prologue or weave the back flashes into the story through dialogue, but keep it BRIEF.

Don’t start the story with in-depth descriptions of the characters—make them natural through observation from a character or dialogue—again, brevity is the key word.

Every story has a problem that needs to be solved or there wouldn’t be a story.

We’ve had blogs on how to open a story—the first paragraph must capture the reader immediately—hook them.

Set the scene—give it atmosphere and ground the reader. Tell them where they are—the moon, Outer Mongolia, Bangladesh, or the Arctic. As you write, see, smell, taste and feel every single scene.

Present the problem or series of problems. Perhaps the hero finds a body. Now, we have a homicide or accident. He reports it to the heroine, who needs to solve it. This is where you need to be quite clear about “whodunnit,” but not the reader.

As you build the story, keep track of who is where and what they are doing at any given time. Make a list:

1) Joe finds body in car

2) Mary from NYPD is called to investigate

1 & 2: the problem to be solved 

3) Joe contaminates crime scene by hugging body

4) Mary furious with Joe

3 & 4: we have conflict between protagonists

Question that needs an answer:

Why did Joe hug the body?

Answer—the victim is his wife

Now Joe is a suspect

Enter Marc, the brother 

Joe accuses brother of having an affair with wife

Forensic expert discovers victim was pregnant

The baby’s DNA is not a match to Marc or Joe

This adds to the conflict and mystery.

All the while, you build atmosphere and tension—see and smell the car and surroundings where the victim is found—then the police station and the morgue. Show us Joe and Marc’s anger as they play a blame game—show us Mary’s frustration.

Make your reader fall in love with, empathize with, get frustrated by, or hate characters by fleshing out their appearance, traits, and personalities. But in small bites—DON’T do it all at once. You have the power as a writer to make readers feel what you want them to feel. Embroider on your characters as you go. Bring out their faults and strengths slowly. They must grow or deteriorate in a believable way.

Slowly, you build the story to a flowing climax. The character list will probably be added to, but watch the names. Don’t call one Joe and another Josephine. More tension as Mary gets to the truth—whatever you decide that might be. Keep the tension and atmosphere going. Watch the beginning and ends of chapters. Those were dealt with in one of our previous blogs.

Never start a story with cameos of each character’s traits, looks, likes and dislikes—that will just bore the reader—weave it into the story.

Don’t have too many unanswered questions, mysteries. Give the reader occasional clues without giving the game away. You can even lead the reader on a false trail to make the ending a shock, but that means keeping a tight rein on the plot.

Then start tying up loose ends as you work towards an ending.

Things to avoid:

Constant flash backs

A convoluted plot that becomes so confusing that you don’t even know what is going on. Keep it simple yet seemingly complex. Things have to run in a chronological order and be realistic.

Don’t create scenarios or coincidences just to make things work.

Show, don’t tell—see IFW tips.

Watch the point of view at all times and avoid head hopping—see IFW tips on POV.

Keep internal dialogue to a minimum, and don’t use too much internal or vocal dialogue as a vehicle to impart information.

Above all, the story must flow. Hook in the opening paragraph—the problem/mystery that needs an answer—build to a climax whilst resolving—then the final act where all is revealed. If the story has a sequel, then it ends on a cliff-hanger. 

In conclusion:

Research is vital. If you aren’t a forensic, gun, or knife expert—research it. Know nothing about cars or carriages? Depending on the era—research it. Even absolute fantasy needs research.

If your mystery/murder is historical, research even the manner of speech—but don’t go over the top with how they speak, especially when using the vernacular; you will just irritate the reader. Certain words weren’t in use a hundred years ago—check them first—the Merriam Webster dictionary is great for this.
Then edit, edit, edit, and edit even more.

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