Creating a New Story

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. Most of us say we get them from everywhere: newspapers, TV, real events, family dynamics, travel, and so on. Some story ideas seem to come full-blown. Others need to be pulled out of our imaginations. The same is true of characters. Some characters simply are. Oh, the writer may need to modify or dig deeper, but the basic personality/characteristics/strengths and weaknesses are there. We know this person as if she/he were a family member. They live with us (in our heads) and talk to us. And the more time we spend with these characters, the better we know them.

I love it when a character comes to me like that. Mary Harrington, in A Killer Past, was like that. I saw her and understood her, and as I wrote that book, I got to know her better and better. P.J. Benson, in my “Crow” books wasn’t quite as clear to me, but she could be a sister.

Many writers love writing series because they do know their characters so well. To stop writing about one of those characters is like abandoning a good friend. It may be a challenge to keep coming up with new situations to put these characters in, but once the plot line is decided, the writer knows it will be an opportunity to spend time with (and develop) the character.

A writer, however, who writes stand-alone stories must come up with a new set of characters for each book. In one way, this is fun. It’s like meeting new people and going new places. Who will be the protagonist? Who will be the antagonist? Why will these two be in conflict? (Because yes, a story needs conflict.)  Who will be their friends, mentors, allies, and enemies.

There are dozens of questions the writer must answer before starting a story. At what point should the story start is an important one. (In Media Res is recommended — in the middle of things.) Will it be told in the present tense (which seems to be popular now) or past? First person or third? Multiple points-of-view or just one? And if multiple, how many?

The time period, both the year and the time of the year, may be important. The setting. What genre? Will this be a story that follows traditional patterns or one that stretches boundaries?

I often meet people who say, “One of these days I’m going to write a book.” Sadly, some of those people have great stories to tell, but never do get them written. They have various reasons why, but I’m sure one reason is they discover it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Oh, we can all put words on paper, and some people put words together in beautiful ways, but actually reaching that goal of having a story that holds the interest of others is work.

If you have written (completed) a short story, novel, or book, pat yourself on the back. If you’re writing your first book, accept that it may not be easy, but know that writing “The End” is worth the struggle. And having people tell you your story kept them up all night because they couldn’t put it down is wonderful.

I’m starting something new, so I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite “How-to” books.

A really good one is On Writing by Stephen King
And I always pick up an idea from Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
For character development I go to Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon
For plot, it’s Plot by Ansen Dibell
and How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein
along with Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress
A favorite of mine is Bird by Bird  by Anne Lamott
And for grammar, punctuation, and other advice, it’s The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Lately I’ve heard about the snowflake method and I’m going to give it a try. Here’s an article about that.
The Snowflake Method

UPDATE: I recently discovered a great blog on writing a new story. Take a look at:

What book(s) would you recommend?




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12 Responses to Creating a New Story

  1. Cindy Nord says:

    Another fabulous blog post, Maris…And the only writing manual/book I use to craft my bestselling characters is: “Techniques of the Selling Writer” (copyright, 1965) by Dwight V. Swain…or rather, Lord Swain, as I respectfully call this brilliant guru of writing guidance.

    Warmest Regards,

    ~ Cindy

  2. Great post, Maris. Such helpful information. I’m intrigued by the Snowflake idea. Lots of good suggestions for books on the craft of writing. I need to reread some of mine.

  3. Melissa Keir says:

    Wonderful. My nephew asked me about the snowflake method and then explained it to me. I thought it was interesting but I’m a fly by the seat of my pants writer so I let the characters tell me the story.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I always think I can plot out a story, but like you, Melissa, I seem to end up going wherever the characters take me. Nevertheless, I do like coming up with major turning points. They give me direction.

  4. Sharon Ervin says:

    Sitting in a critique group at a B&N in Dallas, I glanced up to see a familiar, handsome man browsing. He looked a little heavier than I remembered, but otherwise, was exactly the same. I could NOT think of his name. He looked at me, but showed no recognition. Then, I realized. He was not a person I knew. He was the main character in my novel, COUNTERFEIT COWBOy, published in 2005. Sometimes a writer wanders into the Twilight Zone. Weird!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Sharon, last January I was at Disney World riding one of the shuttles to one of the parks. A woman and her husband and two children boarded and I simply stared at her. She was my P.J. Benson. Right height, right curly brown hair and right eye color. I wanted to take her picture, but then I talked myself out of it. I wasn’t sure how she would react or how I would explain she was in 3 of my books. LOL

  5. Bev says:

    I’m so proud of you, my friend!

  6. This is one of those questions that I have a love/hate relationship with, Maris. When I’m actively writing, it’s easy to say where ideas come from. When not, I often wonder myself 🙁

    Great post.
    Good luck and God’s blessings

    • Maris Soule says:

      I like your love/hate relationship comment. There are some times when I have so many ideas, I’m not sure which one(s) to concentrate. That’s a love/hate situation. And thank you for taking the time to comment. I do love that.