Monthly Archives: February 2014

Mini-Series Part 2: Setting Development

The sky allowed only a few rays to break through, casting a glow on the pavement ahead. The road stretched on for what seemed like forever, disappearing over the hills to unknown lands. The car’s radio was playing the typical things, pop music, country, and whatever else she felt like listening to. All she knew was that her hometown sucked and she needed a new place to go.

Welcome to part two of four of my mini-series for creating stories! Tonight I’m going to talk about setting and how you can include the characters you made from the advice I gave last time into your new setting.

Okay, so you have your character and you know him/her inside and out. Great! Now where do you place them?

There’s many different settings you can place a character, whether it be in the realm of fantasy or reality is up to you, though. If you plan on writing a story of fiction, placing them in the realm of reality – a familiar place – is something to think about because writing from experience is actually something that I have often read about as advice when writing a story.

If you decide to write in a realm of fantasy, be sure to keep in mind the climate, the culture, the flora and fauna that belong to that world, and more. Think about your favorite sci-fi movie or novel and how the directors and producers (and the rest) made the world come to life. You obviously don’t have to include every single little detail in your own story, but writing down everything in a separate log will help you to remember just what is included in the world you’re creating.

If you create from reality, be sure to also know the same types of things that you would have to know for a fantasy world – culture, food, flora and fauna, etc. For a beginner, you might want to consider writing in reality because it might be easier to write from what you know.

When creating a setting, there are a few things to consider:

  • Keep it within a small range. Unless you’re writing a story about pirates (which you should do research on, if you are), try to keep the location of your story down between one to three areas. You don’t want to over-complicate things by making your character go from Boston to Cairo, Egypt to Manhattan all within the same chapter – unless it’s relevant.
  • Write down everything. You’re going to want to write down everything you can think of about the setting you’re placing your character, from their home to their room to their car (if they have one) to the outside world. Do they have a magazine collection? What does their car look like, smell like? Has he/she ever been to the other side of the state? Write it down!
  • Show what your setting looks like, don’t tell us what it looks like. Instead of saying that there was a “red house with white shutters and a white porch,” show us what it looks like, for example, “The house was dull from years of rain and whether, the red paint chipping away onto the clean porch.” It’s okay to not tell us the color of every little thing that’s in the setting – give us what we need, but show us, don’t tell us.
  • How does the character act in this setting? Take your main character and place them in the setting you’re thinking of. Do they fit in? How do they feel when they’re there? Are there a lot of memories for them there? Do they associate some event with the location? Write it down and incorporate it into your story if you like.

Though these are just a few tips, there are always hundreds of thousands of resources you can find out there on the Internet and in libraries and bookstores. But for the sake of my mini-series, try to utilize the tips and start jotting ideas down for your story.

If the characters are the backbone of a story, then the setting is the blood of the story. It provides the story with filler and it gives the character a place to live and grow. Without a setting, all you have is a character, and where can you go with just a character without having some sort of setting?

Take the time to plan out your setting, from sky to grass, from mountain to sea, from house to skyscraper, but sure to include every detail that you can about your setting. Placing your character(s) there and making them feel at home will be its own project, but as long as you mold the setting around your character, they should fit together nicely!

Next time I’ll be talking about the content of the story, a.k.a. the body of the story. I’ll provide some tips on how to start and finish the story, and how to not lose the climax of it.

Optional: Tell me your new setting and how you came to the conclusion for it!

Mini-Series Part 1: Character Development

Characters are the heart and soul of your writing piece. Not only do they take on a life of their own, but they also bring the story’s environment, nature, and more to life. They can make you smile, laugh, cry, rage, and throw your cat across the room. They are powerful and they’re all from your own mind.

In the first part of this four part mini-series, I will be discussing what characters are, how to make them, and why they are so important to your story.

Well, for starters, why are characters so important to your writing? Without characters in a story, there really is no story. It’s just a bunch of happenings and goings-on that are taking place for no reason whatsoever. That’s a boring story, to say the least.

Also, readers want to be able to grasp the concept of what is going on in the surrounding area: why someone is reacting a certain way, what smells weird, and more.

Without characters, you don’t have a story. So, let’s take a look at how to start developing a character:

  • Think of personality. Personality is what makes the character unique and separates the main character from the supporting and background characters. It can make a character a protagonist or an antagonist, and it can also make the reader either cheer for that character in dire situations, or cheer for another who is more tragic or epic in some way. *Warning! Watch our for Mary Sues and Gary Sues! You don’t want a cliche character – those are boring!
  • Physical appearance. Yes, even though your character is just words on a page, they still need to look like a person (or a monster or alien or what have you, depending on the genre you’re writing for)! Try starting out by jotting down simple physical appearance details: eye color, hair color and length, skin color, male or female, etc. Then go back and start filling in smaller details: does he/she have freckles, an elongated nose, a broken wrist, etc.
  • Likes and Dislikes, we all have them. So should your character if you want to make them believable. Give them an insatiable desire for chocolate, or a hatred for the color green. Anything! List them out for your own reference – your reader will be able to discern their likes and dislikes through the story itself.
  • A back story is just the beginning. A character needs to have some sort of back story or history to know who they are, where they came from, who raised them, etc. Make it tragic or make it happy, it’s up to you.

You can use these few simple tips for creating any kind of character, no matter if they’re the hero or the villain, the supporting or background character. Each tip will apply to each character, so take the time to write them out for each character.

Characters are the backbone of your story. They help to create the world around them through their language, their appearance, their likes and dislikes, and more. Without them, you’d be up the creak with no paddle. If you take them away you lose the backbone to your story and it would just fall apart, and that might make it difficult to salvage.

So take the time to write out your character’s, well, everything! You should know your characters inside and out before you get going anywhere with them. Yes, sometimes it works out before you get to really know your character, but unless you start with the basics you aren’t going to have a clue as to where your story is going and it might turn into a mess.

Of course characters are just one of the many important factors in creating a story. Next time I’ll be discussing setting development and how to place those characters you just created into a setting. Stay tuned!

Optional: Leave comments about characters you have created or are creating and how you went about creating them!

Creating a Story 101

Creating a story is like creating a baby: you have to love the idea before pursuing it.

Okay, well that sounded like an odd example, but it’s true! If you don’t love your plot or idea for a story, then what’s the point in even writing it?

If your objective is to reach out to an audience of high school girls, write a book about teen love or paranormal romance (are vampires still in?). If you’re writing to an audience of students in college, then make it sound more formal, but relatable. If you’re writing for a broad scope of sci-fi/fantasy fanatics, include awesome details about your setting so the person can imagine themselves walking inside of that world.

Whoever your audience is, creating the first words to a story can be hard. I, myself, find the hardest part of writing a story, whether it be flash fiction or a full out novel, it is always the middle of the story that’s the hardest. Beginning it is easy – continuing with it is hard.

I’m going to give a few tips as to what I think are helpful ways to creating a story. These have worked for me in the past, but they don’t always work for everyone.

  1. Start with the title. I know, sounds crazy, right? Most people add the title last to their piece of work, but I’ve found it to be the leading cause to starting the first sentence of my story.
  2. Start by writing, “Once upon a time…” Yeah, yeah, it’s corny, but it’s a good segue into starting a story. You don’t necessarily have to keep it once you’ve got your gears turning, but it can help in the process.
  3. Start with the end. It can feel weird to start with the end of your story, but if you know where your story is eventually going to end up you can then plot and think about what you want to happen that leads up to that moment.

Those are just a few simple tips to get you going. I’m sure you can think of, and find, many more ways to start a story, but I figure that this will at least help get the juices flowing and the gears turning.

Now I want you to actually write the beginning (or end) of your story. Go on, do it right now. I want this to be an interactive experience, so start writing by using one of my three tips above. If you find that you’ve gotten stuck, don’t worry, just stop and come back to this once you’re done.

Okay, you’ve got some things written up? Great!

Now that you have the beginning (or end) of your story, look at what you’ve written. Read over it and see if there’s anything you want to change or add just to the piece you have.

Sometimes the easy part is writing the beginning, but figuring out if you have an idea that’s viable or that’s entertaining and will keep the reader on the edge of their seat is the really hard part. Don’t worry so much about whether or not someone else is going to like it right now – do you like it? If you don’t like it, then there’s no point in writing it.

Now that you have the beginning of your story, think more in depth about what you’re writing. Maybe even before you begin a story you want to make an outline of who your characters are, the setting, the time period, the main plot, the climax, etc. There are different methods that work for everyone.

Think about your characters for a second. Who are they? Are they you? Are they your best friend from elementary school? Are they the bullies from your neighborhood? Or are they even your pet? Whoever they are, you have to come up with a personality for them. Don’t make them into average Mary and Gary Sues. No, you want them to be different and creative! Here’s a few tips to think about how you can think about your characters as you’re writing them:

  1. Create their own separate folder with all personality and appearance traits and ideas. Not only will this help to organize your thoughts, but seeing them in front of you will help you to realize whether or not your character is too ordinary and overused, or if you think you’ve found a keeper.
  2. Don’t make too many characters at once; just stick with the main character and maybe one¬†supporting character for now. You’ve only just begun, so don’t throw in all ten characters (or more or less) at once at the very beginning. You need to get a feel for the character who’s going to be your main hero/heroine in the story before you add in the supporting cast.
  3. Think about how they would react, feel, think, etc in the environment you’re placing them in. If you’re going to have a young cyborg adult living in the Amazon Jungle with no real reason as to why he/she is there, then you might want to either rethink your character or your setting.
  4. Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and make the main character a little “messed up” in the head or have a super traumatic (or lack thereof) backstory. Or even make your main character the villain and make some awesome twists throughout. Don’t be afraid to take big leaps that may be “out of the norm” for a lot of popular story ideas today.

Characters are the heart and meat of your story, so think carefully when creating them.

If you haven’t done so already (especially since I made you write the beginning of your story), create some characters. But first, just start with one main character. Is it male or female? What is his/her sexual orientation? What does he/she believe? What kind of education does this person (is it a person?) have? Who can he/she trust? Did he/she have a tragic backstory or did he/she lived a charmed life? Is he/she tall and lean or short and pudgy? Is he/she the villain or the hero/heroine? Write down your main characters from appearance to the inner workings of their mind (and if you can’t figure it all out, don’t worry, your characters usually come to life on the page on their own without your knowing).

Now that you’ve got your main character figured out, do the same for your first supporting character.

When you’ve got all of that figured out, try thinking about your plot and your setting. These are entirely up to you and you can base them on either real life situations or you can make them totally out of this world. Try your hand at both and maybe you’ll find that you like one over the other, or that you want to somehow combine the two. Either way, think about what you’ve read in the past and what has struck you as really cool or really fascinating.

Story writing has a lot of elements to it, and though I’ve barely scratched the surface, I’m sure that if you start writing and are able to work through getting to know your characters, your setting, and more, that you will find yourself successfully writing a masterpiece (in your eyes or in the eyes of a publisher). Get to work and start writing your story!