Tuesday, March 17, 2009

So, You Have a Big Idea

That's how it usually starts, anyway. You have an idea, want to make it... something. What? Would it be a better book or movie? Short-story, perhaps? Poem? Right now, what is it? Just an idea, right? What do you want it to be?

These are all questions we ask ourselves at some point in the initial creative process, but let's start with the idea. First, you have to decide what to do with it. Once you've chosen your format or "media" I think it's called, could be wrong there, where to start. Where do you feel like starting? That's the bigger question. Too many people think you have to start at the beginning. Not true. You have something in your head. Say you have the perfect ending. Okay then, write the damned ending first. Sometimes, it's better to know the ending first, to have it down already. That way, it's easier to build a good beginning place. Once you've written whatever niggling idea was in the back of your head, then you build off the idea. Simple, right? Pfft.

If you think so, let's take a look. We'll start with the most basic layout of a story. The Beginning, The Middle, and The End.

Where you begin the actual story (not writing it, but where the tale begins) depends on how your story ends and, of course, what it's about. Three things to remember:

  1. Your opener must be nearly as good as your climax. By that, I mean the very first thing people read must be damn good. It can be as simple a thing as an argument, but it has to be a very good argument. This is your time to shine and make casual browsers actual readers, so give it your best go. You don't have to have a fistfight between big, brawny men to make it good, but it has to be important. Better yet, it has to be the perfect lead-in.
  2. Your beginning has be where your story starts. Anything before this point is irrelevant. (In other words, we don't have to go through the birthing process of Mary's ten kids to show that she has them. Having all of them call her "Mom" is sufficient. If, however, the births are a major part of the story, describe one and implicate the rest as happening before or after, but don't go into it. Repeating counts even here too.) Anything after this point can cause confusion in a reader.
  3. Never make your beginning better than the climax/ending. (A lot of writers end just after the climax.) It's like a knot, in a way. Your beginning is a good lead, the story wraps around, the climax shoots through and loops around, and the end ties it all up nicely.
Now, with that in mind, I'm going to let you in on something. I've forgotten every single one of these "things to remember about your beginning" a time or two. Nothing is set in stone, but they are something to keep in mind. Just as what I'm going to say about the middle is not set in stone, but they are things to remember.

The middle is where you have to keep the attention of your readers. This can be tough because not only do you need to keep their attention with action (not gunfights or swordplay, but normal actions that are interesting for one reason or another), you have to give them information about they characters (they have to care about your heroes and hate your villains, whatever they may be, too), and you have to, listen now because it is important, build toward something. Your middle must be going some where. Doesn't matter where, but it has to move along. So, the things your middle should do are:
  1. Keep the story going. There doesn't have to be a ghost or bad guy around every corner, although I've read books exactly like that (Funny how I never re-read them, but hey), but they have to be doing something. If your character's are doing something mundane and every day, fine, but make them think, talk, something! Give the scene purpose. It has to make sense in the story, it has to be important. If it's not, it doesn't need to be there.
  2. Give information. Let the readers get to know your character's better. I'm not saying the beginning doesn't give information, because it does. The middle is where the most information is found, though. You find out that Mary hates the color red on Chapter 6, rather than Chapter 1, and if we found out in Chapter 1, we don't find out exactly why until Chapter 6. We know she does, but it doesn't tie in until it needs to. That adds to the "building towards something" too.
  3. Build toward your climax and end. This, I think, is most important. There isn't a story without it telling about one specific thing. You are building toward the end. That is why you have chosen to write a story/screenplay/novel in the first place, right? You want your reader to know the circumstances under which this specific event happened. So, tell them about it. Better yet, let your characters tell them about it.
And now we come to where we want to be. The climax and end, right? This is the whole point of the story, where everything makes sense and comes together, where the characters defeat the bad guy (or die, either one), and everyone comes away happy, right?

So, let's look at the climax and end. What purpose do they serve? I already told you. The whole point of the story in the first place. This is where you want to take your readers. Be it the end of the world, a new marriage, going off to college or the discovery of some unknown power within, this is what we've been waiting for. So, what do we need to do here? For starters, we have to tell about what happened and give a why. The why doesn't have to be a good reason, but the character doing this thing (the bad guy aka the antagonist) has to believe wholeheartedly in it. They must think that they are right. If they don't, then you have a bad guy you could possibly save and that's a whole different ballgame. If you want to save bad guys, be a therapist in a federal prison. If you want to tell a story, be on one side. The bad guys are the bad guys and the good guys are the good guys. End of story. The purpose is to defeat the bad guy, kill him, send him to prison, make him no longer a threat. This happens, amazingly, in the climax, near the end. Go figure! Anyway... three things the climax/end must do.
  1. Come to the point of the story. Without this, there's no story anyway.
  2. Tie-in all loose ends in the storyline. Everything has to fit nicely, even in a series, there are still separate stories. Each tale comes to an end before the next begins. They may all be related to a bigger tale, but they can stand alone too.
  3. Be hopeful. This doesn't mean no one can die. You can kill people, but their deaths must serve a purpose. Kill the main character, as long as their death means something to those left behind.
So, there you have it. It may seem basic, but that's really all you need. As long as you have a beginning, a middle, and an end, you have a story. It might not be the next great American novel, but it's yours. Right? It's your big idea. Now, go write it how you want to write it. Start in the middle, start at the end, or at the beginning, hell I don't care. Get that big idea down. For now, though... Peace and love, y'all.


No comments:

Post a Comment