We have been creating linear stories in a linear way of thinking. From an idea to a tag line, a short synopsis, an outline, a scene list, a long synopsis or a treatment and to a first draft, Without mentioning story-world descriptions or character pages.
I must admit that unlike author Danica Cornell’s blog post that describes her writing process, I’ve taken a slightly different route during the past year which is more circular.
Have you ever seen a building during the first stages of construction? You have your foundations, supporting walls and main columns that create the building’s skeleton. It is the same with human skeleton also, they are all alike.
If you start building your story with outlines and summaries and other framing writing processes you might end up with a building that looks just like any other building.
I’m not saying that to offend anyone or to suggest that this way of writing is wrong. But from my experience when you build your home without thinking about the internal design and decoration, your building will fit just right into conformist suburbia.
If you had your share of drama and storytelling lessons you probably know all about the 3 act structure, the 5 act structure, the 12 sequence structure and the hero’s journey. Those structure work, and they work well. They will help your story flow from positive to negative and from the first call to action into to the climax and the resolution.
But anybody can write a story according to a formula. Might not be a good one but still a story. Most stories, novels and movies in the world are written in the same way. But not all of them are award winning, best selling and hall of fame works of art. So, I ask why?
It’s the attitude, it’s the style, it’s the characters who make the difference, and all of these abstract and intangible elements are the hardest to create because there are no formulas or common structures for them really.
What can you do? I believe that your voice as a writer should fill the character’s voice as well. You must take your world view, your attitude, your style and personality and spread it within each character. Put your different sides and alter egos in different characters.
After you do that, let them speak. Write a passage for every main character that describes his\hers world view, mission, thoughts and any other thing that will bring that character to life in your head to the point you could have a discussion with him\her. This passage doesn’t have to become a part of your actual story but it will help you to get to know your characters a lot more intimately.
When you do this for the main character you can already extract the premise and the story arc. You will know what the character wants, what will he\she will do to get it and how. You will also know what makes this character lovable and different from any other character you’ve read or see, therefore what makes your story lovable and different.
After that you can start outlining and refine the story and characters on the go. Continue to rewrite and refine whenever you find something new about a character.
If you wish to learn more about this writing process check out this screenwriting lecture by Tony Gilroy.