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Thinking Through Your Story

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Welcome to Week T of Authors' Tips A - Z of Writing. 

If this is the first time you are visiting this series, here's a quick recap. 

Authors share their tips on writing fiction and each week we talk about various aspects of writing. This week, I discuss a very vital part of the writing process: The Thinking Through Stage. What comes before you have written a single word of your manuscript. 

Read on... and don't forget to share your thoughts in the comment box. 


How do you get your ideas? What comes first? The characters or the plot or the theme? This question is perhaps on every aspiring writer's mind and is among the most discussed topic on writing discussion forums.Well, the quick answer to that is, there is no structured way of getting ideas. Rarely, does a story idea hit you on the head with a neatly defined beginning, middle and end, a plotline, theme and fully developed characters. No, that doesn't happen! And if someone tells you it has happened to them, well, he/she is pulling a fast one! 😅

The fun -- and also most annoying -- part of writing is the pre-writing process. Fun because you have a clean slate. Annoying because you are only being given glimpses of the story. And that too in a higgledy piggledy fashion. I call this the Thinking Through Your Story Process.

You may have a wonderful idea that excites you and you are eager to get to your computer and start bashing it out. Wait! Don't do that.

Let the Idea Breathe. Every story idea needs some breathing space. That one little germ of an idea could be anything - a piece of a plotline, a scene between two unknown (yet) characters, a specific or broad theme that you feel you could take further (examples: dilemma of an assassin who has lost his killing mojo or how racism takes a toll on people). Yes, do think about how it can be progressed but don't start writing yet.

Plot/Character Progression. If you have the nub of a plotline or a vague idea of how the story will end or begin, you can start jotting down these points in one or two lines, never more than that, so that you don't lose the thought. If your idea has come to you in the form of a character, make notes about  the person/s, again notes in a couple of lines. A few broad strokes is all you need at this stage.

Building the Theme. If  you have a vague idea about the theme of your story, you are on more solid ground. Any story needs a theme that will play out -- provide your story and characters with differing points of view and hence conflict. Even a simple boy meets girl story can work only if there is a theme. If you don't know the theme yet, you can reach out to your still developing characters for help. Why is a character a certain way? What's his/her backstory or family background? How has that shaped the person that he/she is. This mental workout will help you find a theme that resonates with the characters.

Growing your Story. Before long you will find that the germ of an idea has transformed into a living, breathing organism. The Thinking Through Process is already giving you ideas for scenes, snippets of dialogue, turning points, key plot points and more. Keep notes (shorter and more precise, the better) till you have a rough idea about the beginning, middle and end. And now you're ready to work out an outline.

Taking it Slowly. If this feels a little 'too much' or overwhelming, relax. Give it a break. Don't think about your story for a couple of days. Do something totally different before you get back to it. Chances are that you'd have found a few new angles to your story. How do you know that the Thinking Through Process is done? Well, the process continues all through the writing of your story. But once you have a beginning, middle and end (or a rough idea of what these will be), you're  now ready to move on to outlining the scenes or if you prefer straight on to writing your first draft.

Keeping track of your Story. Keeping a document or a beat sheet of scenes (described in as few words as possible) will help you to keep track of your story. Add/delete scenes as your story shifts and changes. This sheet will help you to keep in mind the original development of the story and the theme/plot/characters that you were so fascinated with. If you lose your way in the middle, looking at this sheet will help you find your way back.

But most importantly, enjoy the process! Happy Writing!


Do check out T posts in this series by these authors: 

Devika Fernando writes about Titles

Sudesna Ghosh gives the low down on Time Management

Preethi Venugopala discusses Themes in Fiction Writing





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