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New Beginnings – A List of Story Starters

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You ever look over past projects and think, “how did I come up with this”!? That’s what I’ve just been doing, and it got me wondering… what are the story elements I use to kick-start a project?

Let’s explore… 

The Desert of the Mind

Starting a new project can be daunting. Even for a seat of the pants writer like me. It has been a long time since I wrote any shorter fiction, but that isn’t quite so bad. Setting yourself up to write a book though, that’s something else. To have this vast emptiness sitting there, out of which you have to form a complete… something… 

Overlooking the god complex though, what are the things that can help?

1. Characters

Because you’re not going to get anywhere without them, are you? Starting a project based solely upon a character is tricky business. My most recent project is built entirely around a character I’ve had in mind for some time. I guess if you plan to write a series of books then creating the character first is a solid starting point. 

But a character is nothing without a world for them to explore. Looking at my example, the character I had created was a war veteran in a sci fi universe. Now initially, the universe was very ill defined. In fact it would often change to complement my plans for the character.

What the project evolved from was a specific idea about one small thing, and the rest just fell into place. Finally I had a world for my character. 

But what about the world? 

2. World Building

This can be the opposite to the above, and equally fraught with difficulty. It’s all well and good creating a world for your masterpiece, but how do you populate it? Without of course resorting to clichés?

The first ever serious project I started writing was a lot more detailed in the world than in the characters who inhabited it. Again, it was sci-fi, and I had established all the different races, the lore of each race, the backgrounds and so fourth. 

The danger here is the scope of your actual story can be drowned out by the sheer volume of information about the world. Sure, that’s ok in Epic, grand sci-fi, but it can be difficult for readers to relate. 

Blade Runner put its sci-fi world front and centre

3. The Theme

Way back in my writing classes, this is one of the first things we were taught. You have to ask yourself ‘What is the theme of the piece?’ And I’ll be honest, it was something I often struggled with. A lot of my writing didn’t have any conscious thought put into what the actual story was about. It is something I still struggle with – I guess I feel a piece of writing is restricted if it is just about one thing. 

Because life is complex, and writing – no matter what form it takes – should in some way reflect life, right? 

Now, as anyone who has read my varying projects will attest, I do have recurring themes that pop up all the time. It surprised me when I first realised I have included one theme in particular in all of my writing – society’s preoccupation with celebrity. It’s not a bad thing to have one or two ‘go to’ themes throughout your work, as long as you look on them from fresh angles. 

4. Real World Inspiration

Perhaps you have a vague idea floating around in your brainbox, but you can’t quite get it to focus. Well, attach it to something from your life, and hammer it into shape! I’ve done this in the past. 

I had an for a serialised project (which I have written about at length <link>) but couldn’t get it to form correctly. Then I spent a month working at the Edinburgh Festival with a bunch of people, and there was one girl in particular whose situation and personality just threw the whole project into focus. Based solely upon a few comments she made about herself, I finally had a central character to build the conflict around. 

Now I’m not saying these are the be all and end all, far from it, these are just a few of the things that have helped me to build the worlds I have so often lost myself in. Truth be told, I find the thought of looking at a whole project a little too daunting. Like staring into the sun. Or the abyss. You have to break it down into smaller pieces to be able to cope. Or I do anyway. 

Over to you:
So there you have it readers. How do you normally start out when writing something new? What techniques do you use to ignore the looming vastness ahead of you, and get down to business. Throw your comments at the wall below.

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    I very rarely start with a theme – I normally only figure out what my theme is after my first draft!

    For me it’s normally a character and a situation (more the situation) – a bunch of people are doing this, and this happens. I still don’t spend quite enough time fleshing that out before I start writing I think.