The professionals sneer atÂ “manufactured stories”. Except that until you get a few stories under your belt, it’s hard to develop a personal style. If, by following these steps, you churn out a mere “manufactured” story take heart: this is just your starter story.Â Leave theÂ Life-Defining Work of Brilliance for your second attempt.
Here’s how I created my prototype. Once I had a fledging story containing an introduction, climax, and resolution, I stripped away the crap and built a plot: the backbone.
Eliminate the wobbly bits
Identify “your darlings”: the idiosyncrasies and campy kitsch that don’t add to the plot. Cut them out of your storyÂ and paste them into a separate document;Â you may add them back later, when you’re more fully developing the story, or they may serve as inspiration or clues to truths about your characters.
I maintained documents containing such extravagances as romance, bon mots (those cleaver quips you can’t live without), extraneous characters, scenes lacking conflict, and alternate story lines; they were lifesavers (and in the right voice) when IÂ was fresh out of inspiration.
Streamline the moving parts
Minimize the number ofÂ characters. Start with just the key figures. Move extraneous characters to the stockpile. Check your favorite stories and you’ll notice even in stories that seem to have a cast of thousands, weÂ really only hear from four or five characters.
Remove the adverbs
Keep very few; ballpark, one or two per page. (If you’re usingÂ Word, perform aÂ find on “ly” and strip ’em out). There’s something lazy about using adverbs.Â Replace themÂ byÂ showing what you mean (Google “show don’t tell” – you’ll find boatloads of explanations. Find one that speaks to you).
Develop the characters
You’ll need to know all of these aboutÂ your hero (if that poses a problem, you might find this discussion interesting):
- fear: something your hero avoids that can provide a great source of conflict
- frustration: something your hero avoids and is often found in the partner or love interest
- perceived (false) flaw in self: like, “too soft a heart”
- true flaw in self: like, “too soft a head”
- perceived (false) strength: like, physical strength
- true strength: like, genuine humility and ability to apologize
- source of a moral compass
- goal/source of pride
- perceived challenge (usually a threat to goal/source of pride)
- genuine challenge Â (usually a threat to source of a moral compass)
- true love (be creative – it could be a car)
- buddy (be creative – pet, grandma, clone)
Yes, and hair length and color. A clichÃ© so important to readers.
Develop theÂ Setting
Where, what time of year, what year. Country, era, level of cynicism (Washington, DC land of power or scum-caked streets of misery?) Where exactly does your hero reside? (Hint: Google Earth is your friend).
Develop the Plot
List what happens, encounter by encounter,Â throughout the story. I’m talking about what many methodologies refer to as “beats.”
Agreement is boring: stories are about conflict. Find a way for every beat, every encounter,Â toÂ showcase conflict; if it doesn’t,Â remove it.
Identify the challenge
There are two main events in the stock story (watch a TV episode): the first attempt at meeting the challenge, which fails, due to your hero’s attempt to capitalize on a false strength.
Identify the climax
The failure escalates conflict, jeopardizing absolutely everything.Â What is the end ofÂ your hero’s Â world? Death of family? Lost forever in space? Remarried to the spiteful ex? There’s your climax.
- Your heroÂ succeeds byÂ turning a perceived flaw into a strength.
- The climax must wrench and destroy your hero’s world.
Develop the Resolution
Your hero is destroyed – change is never an easy path. Show, don’t tellÂ the recovery.
You should be left with an introduction, mounting tension as conflicts accumulate, a challenge (failure), climax (victory), and a resolution. That’s a prototype.
Now you can decorate it: spice and dress the meat & potatoes; add vases and rugs to your bare-bones room; paint and trim out the car’s chassis; add garland, tinsel, and a skirt to the Christmas/Festivus tree.
Hone your story using other resources to better develop the dialog, show-don’t-tell, and more necessities of the mÃ©tier because this is our point of departure.Â Â Bonne chance, mon ami.