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    Feb 2013

    Building Your Story

    Story Building 101
    By your host, Grassy_Aggron.

    So, you want to create a story. That's great, and all fine and dandy, but then you suddenly realize that you aren't sure how exactly. While writing something up is essentially what a story is, it is never as cut and dry as that. A story does take time and effort - a masterpiece is generally created over years, rather than in a day. Daunting? A little, but you must remember that authors write the story slowly, pieces at a time. By cutting down the work into manageable chunks, it makes it easier to have control of the story and to not get overwhelmed at the same time. If you find yourself procrastinating, don't be angry with yourself - this is expected as you, and only you, are writing the story. You control the plot. You control the characters. You control the story (although in many cases, the story does take an unexpected turn. This is your creativity at work - don't stifle it!).

    This little "guide" is actually more advice than telling you how to create a perfect story. There IS no such thing as a perfect piece of work. There are always going to be flaws. As you write more, you learn and grow, and your style inevitably will change. What you may have thought was great two years ago, you will find yourself wanting to burn it with FIYAH. Don't be ashamed! It's all a natural part of the process...and it is also considerably easier to rewrite a story you already have done than to create an entirely new one. The goal of this guide/advice/thingymajigger is to not tell you what to do, but to show you good ways to either start your writing hobby (or career) or improve what you already know. This is based on my experience with writing - I am by no means a professional.

    At least, not yet. :)

    Stage 1: Brainstorming

    When creating a story, you first need some sort of idea. It won't be anywhere near final at this stage, as this stage is, quite literally, the process of thinking up topics and what you want to do with the story. Decide if you want the story to be mostly romantic, more action and adventure, a mystery, completely and utterly insane, and more. More importantly, come up with characters you would like to use, and an idea of what you wish to accomplish (which could be considered the proto-plot, as I'll call it. A very, very vague plot idea). It can be anything you want, but at the very least you should try to make them make sense. For example, magical talking rats in a spooky war story would be extremely, extremely difficult to do, and it would probably be better to change the idea. While I am not saying it is impossible, it is something I would only encourage extremely good writers to do, due to the amount of difficulty involved.

    This section is relatively short, because it is just coming up with every idea possible. Don't just pick "good" ideas. Take all of them, get an idea, make a list, and then go through and decide which ones are plausible and which are not. It's easier to let the mind go crazy with ideas without restraining it, because often, multiple ideas which have good and bad points get put together. A cursed frog idea, with a chicken who aspires to be a samurai, for instance, both ideas are really either bland or very zany (personally I'd like to see the latter chicken idea come to fruition), but you could easily combine both. A samurai who was cursed to be a chicken has to travel to break the curse, using the talents granted to him as a chicken such as limited flight and the ability to communicate with other animals. Extremely interesting right? This shows that just because an idea is "bad", doesn't mean it can't put some of its elements into another, making that idea even better.

    So go crazy, and think of ideas! It's a lot of fun, and who knows? Ideas that don't make the cut this time, might still spawn ideas for another story another time.

    Stage 2: Plot

    For the sake of simplicity, all information for this section was found here. Look Mom, no plagiarizing! :D *Cough* No, this is not the proper way to cite a source, but it works for this guide.

    Anyway, the image above (clicking on it should enlarge it) is called Plot Structure, or Dramatic Structure. It shows the typical progression of many plays, and many stories also show an undeniable link to this. In fact, any good story should generally follow this. Do go into detail, however - detail is good in a story! And remember, they do differ - a lot of my stories, I feel, often have "Mini Climaxes", although in truth they really are just a part of the Rising Action, a part of a mini story taking place within the greater main story. What ho, are these mystical words I speak? Read on, dear reader, read on! Please note that this is the structure for a plot - try to fit your plot into it from brainstorming. Smoothing it out will be discussed in the Rough Draft portion.

    Exposition - This is essentially the background information. It includes the protagonist (the hero or in general the one you are following), antagonist (the villain or the one impeding progress), and setting. Asking yourself "Who? What? When? Where? Why?" is a good idea of figuring it out. WHO are the characters? WHAT is happening? WHEN is this occurring? WHERE are they? WHY are the events happening? The "Why?" could also be called the Inciting Incident; the event that triggers the rest of the story. It's not always obvious, either, and sometimes it has actually happened before the story takes place, such as a story taking place during a war. What triggered the war is the Inciting Incident, but it doesn't necessarily mean it has to happen as the story is taking place - it just happened before it. Many times Exposition happens in the prologue of the story and the first few chapters. Bear in mind, Exposition is just getting everything set up - scenes often change and new characters are added while others leave, later on in the story. These changes are usually not all at once or as information laden as the Exposition itself tends to be.

    Rising Action - All of the events leading up to the climax of the story. This is really simple, actually. Many, many events can happen, and often, this is where I find my so called "Mini Climaxes" often happen - usually the result of miniature stories happening within the main story, which have a shorter span of events. Rising Action tends to include miniature stories in them (although not always), as well as the general procession of events for the main story. A slow moment in the story is indeed still considered Rising Action. Even in war there is downtime, no?

    • Miniature Story - My term for a story that takes place during the main story. These follow the Plot Structure over a shorter amount of time, but they should impact the main story in some way, either directly or through characters. They can be used to further develop one or more characters, to set up an event that will happen later on, or in some cases, set up events that will happen in a linked story, such as a sequel or an alternate universe story. Despite being written over a shorter period of time, they still have to have thought put into them as they do affect the main story. A miniature story that does not is generally not needed and considered to detract from the flow of the overall story. Flow will be discussed in Stage 4.

    Climax - This is the big part. Everything, everyone, it has led to this moment in time. This is the high point of the story, the most exciting moment and often where the protagonist faces the greatest amount of danger or has to make the biggest decision in their life. This is where all the conflict and Rising Action lead and come to a boil. Climax can also be called the Turning Point, but that term can also refer to the incident right before the Climax. "Mini Climaxes", remember, only refer to the mini story within the main story - they are only Climaxes for that miniature story, and not the main story. Also be careful in figuring out what is the Climax, as some authors like to trick the reader into thinking one event is the Climax when in truth, it's just another event in the Rising Action!

    Falling Action - Quite simply, Falling Action refers to the events right after the Climax, and are usually after-effects of it. This is a very simple entry here, as it is literally the unwinding from the plot. In this area, there are usually no more mini stories to take place, and it's a smooth ride down from there, as compared to the rocky climb of Rising Action. It's often a lot calmer in this area, too.

    Resolution/Denouement - The end of Falling Action and thus the conclusion to the story as a whole. This is often the last chapter or even epilogue of the story, and can often include the final outcome of the Climax, or it can be more open-ended and never quite say how everything ended. Catharsis often happens here, a release of dramatic tension and/or anxiety, I.E. the big bad is dead and now peace is restored, etc. This is the ending. There is never anything after this part, and no, sequels do not count, as sequels are an entirely new story that start the Plot Structure all over again.

    Stage 3: Characters

    Now that you know what a plot is and most likely have some idea of what you're going to do - having brainstormed - you need to focus on your characters. A good story will have very dynamic characters, called Round Characters. Why round? They are simply fat with information and bursting with information! Conversely, you want to avoid a Flat Character, a character that has very little information and as such, is skinny and more dead than alive. Round Characters make the story come alive. Flat Characters kill it. Get the idea, savvy?

    So, what makes a good character? The character should stir emotion in the readers - that is, they must be able to connect with them well. This occurs when the character is believable. Making a character believable entails giving them a personality that fits them well, and isn't bare. Everyone in real life has quirks with them, why shouldn't your characters? By making a character believable - no matter if they are a dragon, a human, or a hairball named George - you make it so the reader can genuinely feel what the character feels, and that is the essence of a great story. A strong plot with weak characters will go nowhere - it'll be dull to read. A weak plot with strong characters, conversely, while may not throw anything unexpected can still be a joy to read because the characters make up for the plot. Can you see the correlation? A story is nothing without amazing characters, while even the most bare of plots can still survive if they have the characters to back it up.

    Creating a character isn't always easy, however. As I said before, they must be believable. A good way to make a character not believable is by making them, what the internet calls it, a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. These are characters that are perfect, with no flaws or an extremely rare, very out there flaw that makes no sense. While these characters could perhaps be used as a running gag, as a main character, villain, or side character, they are atrocious. Typical symptoms, although not always, involve having all characters fall in love with them instantly, they learn extremely quickly, they have a lot of powers that they learn spontaneously, their past is horrifically tragic, the main villain is their father/mother, they can heal fatal wounds with no consequences, in a universe created by another person they get a normally unavailable character to fall in love with them, and, oh yes, they also can't be defeated. These are only a few of the symptoms, the most common, but there are many others. Now, just because your character can do this, doesn't make them a poor character. Some of these can be done very well! When done poorly, however, it makes the character into a joke and, when done especially in something in which you can interact with others, will most likely earn you eternal hatred.

    To make this more simple, I will make an example of a Mary Sue as well as just a bad character in general, and then revise that character into a better one.

    "Meet Susan. She is very spunky and powerful. She can heal wounds but only if she feels like it, and can control the elements of nature. Oh, that includes time and space too. Every boy she meets, she can seduce just by fluttering her eyelids at them - she can even get some girls too. Her mother and father were murdered when she was little, and she seeks revenge on the killer. She's perfectly happy though and really doesn't have any problems. She's also a master at using the sword, knife, bow, and shield, and she can play around five different instruments. She can read minds and can befriend almost anyone. She has red hair and sapphire eyes, and is pretty tall but very skinny. Oh yeah, Susan doesn't know it but the killer is part of an organization that's going to take over the world. She has to save the world, and in doing so, will avenge her parents' deaths!"

    Mary Sue alert. We get no background other than her parents were murdered. She appears to have no emotional scars from such a scene, and she winds up having to save the world. She can do quite a lot of things such as seducing people by just looking at them, controlling every element of nature as well as god-like healing skills, and knows four styles of fighting/shielding. She can also make friends with anyone and read their minds, and we get no physical description of who she really is. Not only is she a Mary Sue, but she's also incredibly flat, as well. We don't know anything about her. Can you connect with this character by reading about her like this? No, you really can't. This character makes you roll your eyes at how perfect she is, and as we know, no one is perfect.

    Now, let's see how marvelous she becomes if we revise her, eh?

    "Meet Susan Johnson. She is approximately five foot, six inches tall, but she only really weighs around one hundred thirty pounds. She has dyed her hair a fiery red to represent her hot headed personality, having originally been a blonde which can be hinted at due to her blue eyes. She often wears torn up jeans and plain t-shirts, really not having much of a reason to dress up. Her parents were murdered when she was young, and she only now can look for clues, having been too young to do so before. Having witnessed the brutal scene, she is withdrawn despite how easily she is angered, and suffers from chronic nightmares, being unable to trust anyone easily for the very real fear of losing yet another person she cares about. Due to that same fear, she has learned self-defense in order to protect herself, but she's also thinking about learning how to use a weapon to further that goal. She does have the ability to heal in a world that is bound by laws of science and nature, but it comes with a terrible price; every wound she heals creates a similar wound on herself, as well as leaving her exhausted. She rarely uses it because she has no friends in which to use it on. As for love, she really doesn't find it appealing in the slightest. Just one more way for her to get hurt..."

    Much better! Note how we get some actual idea of who she is - we even learn her last name, height and weight, as well as a glimpse at her personality. Her unusual hair color gets explained, we get a little insight on how she looks, but we also get to see her personality. Her past is briefly explained but she doesn't really know too much about the killer who took her parents, only now being a proper age - which isn't given in this example - to actually investigate. She has some very real psychological trauma from the experience, and it also affects how she makes friends and her choice of fighting style, which is to defend herself. Gone are her abilities to manipulate nature, read minds, and seduce people - in fact, she spurns love because of her fears. She can still heal, an ironic ability given how she secludes herself from others, and when she does it has some very serious drawbacks. This is a balanced character that still has room to develop in the story, but can also connect with the reader. She has problems from her life, she's beautifully imperfect, and thus, she's believable. This is only a fragment, however, and she should be further developed in an actual story.

    A good character needs to be balanced and make sense in the story in which they are written. They need to have background (you do not need to always have a tragic past!), description (a good character need not be super unique in appearance, but they should still be detailed), strengths and weaknesses (they should make sense both to the character, world, and in relation to each other), personality, and all around should be believable and imperfect. In stories, perfection is boring. The individual quirks make them shine, and by being imperfect, gives them room to develop as the plot goes on. The characters support the plot, but the plot should also support them and allow them to develop. Character development is crucial for them to remain believable and dynamic, as well as keeping the story interesting as a whole. Mary Sues/Gary Stus, being "perfect", have no room to grow. This is also why a poor plot can limit the characters - while the characters can make it interesting, they still most likely won't be growing, and eventually can become boring. A strong plot can improve weak characters, but only if it is designed to do so - if the characters cannot support the plot, they really can't be improved by it.

    So strive to create greatly detailed characters that can stir emotions in your readers by connecting with them. If you find yourself crying at a scene or feeling just as angry, you've done a good job! If not, just keep improving. A great character is not created in a day - it can often take years to make them great, and even then, they will develop unexpected quirks as you write the story. When they write themselves, when you can get into their head and think about how they, as an individual, would respond to a situation, you have truly created a wonderful character that others will be sure to enjoy as well.

    Stage 4: Rough Draft

    So you have brainstormed up an idea, fit the key points into the general plot structure, and dreamed up characters that will bring your story to life. Now what? You just type away? Well...Yes. You have a very rough structure at this point. In order to smooth it out, you have to actually begin typing your story. You should start with the Prologue, which usually helps set up the story with the Exposition although the first few chapters also tend to consist of this. The Prologue usually sets up the information, but not always the characters, in which the next few chapters do. You see? They work together as a whole in order to start your story. Be careful of dumping too much detail into the Prologue to the point in which it becomes boring - it is better to put some information in the Prologue, then scatter the rest in the next few chapters, than pump all of it into the Prologue in order to jump directly into the story (it will also feel rushed this way!).

    The next part beyond the Prologue is what is simply called the Body. Pretty much the rest of the Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and sometimes Resolution occur in this area. This is the bulk of your story. You will write out the events in order, but remember, you should never jump from point A to point C. You need to stop and enjoy the route, filling in the missing points with meaningful information. This is the time to bring in Miniature Stories, to fill the void between them and to develop the characters further so they are more believable - and this also shows time moving in the story, a maturing of personalities. This also enables you to set up important plot points later with details that could easily be overlooked, causing the reader to be surprised (which is a usually a good thing) and thrilled that they could not predict something. A good story should be balanced in getting to its destination, and it simply cannot do that if you literally go from A to C.

    The last part of the story is called the Epilogue. This is where the Resolution either occurs, or finishes occurring as it started in the chapter before. In other words, this is the point where often events can be recounted - perhaps not nearly as detailed as they happened in the story as that would cause several more chapters - to provide a finality to the story itself, showing that the characters have learned from the experience and to provide a final recap for the readers. This is also the opportunity to show the end results of everything that happened and the aftereffects of the climax. Did two characters get married like they promised after the war was ended? Did the forest regrow after the dragon razed the land? Not only that, but this could also be ample opportunity to hint at a possible sequel, or that, perhaps, not everything is as peachy keen as it seems. Everything comes to a close with the Epilogue. There is no chapter after this. Everything comes to an end, here and now.

    This is only the Rough Draft, and should be corrected for the Final Copy. This is your big template, and ultimately almost everything should be present here that will be added to the Final Copy.

    Stage 5: Final Copy

    Corrections, corrections, corrections! Time to go and read your story and make grammar and spelling corrections. Most of all, make sure your story has Flow. That is, when transitioning from one event to another, it must jump smoothly and not be sudden. Now, this is usually the case - there ARE exceptions in which a sudden, jarring scene change is made in order to pick up interest and often give a sense of urgency, danger, and confusion. However, even this sudden change usually makes sense in the context in which it is given. You should never have it make no sense - jumping from a girl meeting her frog prince to getting married makes no sense. Not only are you missing the in between travel, but it is incredibly jarring in that she meets him and then, suddenly, marries him. Where is breaking the curse? Getting to know him better? Making the decision? Without any of these, it often feels too sudden if not planned correctly, and even then with no forewarning it really offsets the Flow.

    Always re-read your story, out loud if need be, to check for Flow and anything that seems too sudden. Check to make sure your Miniature Stories have an effect on the character or plot in some way, and make sure you space out the events in your plot so it doesn't happen too quickly. Conversely, try to avoid it where it takes fifty chapters for anything related to the plot to happen - this drags the story on. It does not apply to long stories, as these often have plot interwoven throughout the chapters, but to stories that are unnecessarily long simply because the author decided to put too much emphasis on growing characters than actual plot, or because their sense of pacing is off. If you find your story has some of these problems, review your plot and edit. If you are planning a sequel, it might be better to see if you can shift some of the events from the current story to the sequel, but only if it does not upset either story.

    Getting opinions from others is a great way to create the Final Draft. It'll allow you to get feedback from others, because, even if you deem your work "perfect" (ALERT!) many others will find some flaw in one way or another. Flaws are not bad, as it allows you to see your weak points and improve. Additionally, it may also make you better able to see how your own opinion of your story is flawed merely because you created it. Many authors go back on stories they once saw as being perfect and then find themselves cringing at their previously unbeatable work. This same symptom applies to artists, as well, and is merely a result of becoming more fine-tuned with your own abilities and also more reasonable in your judging capabilities.

    There really is no such thing as a "Final Copy". In the end, there will always be something that is deemed wrong, or does not seem to fit. It gets to the point, however, where making small changes does not affect the story, and so long as the major components are intact, constantly rewriting will only make you less productive. Stories are meant to be beautiful, and just like with characters and human nature in itself, it is those imperfections that make them unique.

    Stage 6: Pat on the Back

    After reading this guide, I hope you walk away knowing more than when you walked in. You should have a deeper understanding of the mechanics behind creating stories, or for those already writing, can now understand how to improve your work now. What I did not mention, however, is that experience is the greatest teacher of all. You can read as many guides as you want, but until you actually write your own story for yourself, you will not be able to fully apply everything you have read here. Just as I said, this guide is not perfect - it shares flaws just like any literary work, but in those flaws it allows a greater flexibility for you to make your own changes to how you would write a story. This is, after all, your story, and remaining rigid in a creative universe will lead absolutely nowhere. Take risks! They will not always pan out, they may lead to failure, but you may discover something unique. You will still learn, success or not, and there are many quotes about how losing offers more experience than winning.

    If it doesn't work, ask yourself why, and then ask yourself if you could do something differently to change the outcome next time. Never give up, and try your best. Your first story will not be the best. Heck, you'll probably look back on it with much hatred. But, remember, that very first story is what led you on your path to creating your works of art. Without it, you would never have started on the path you are now. Respect even your sloppiest pieces of work, as they are merely your mind trying to work out how to create something new and vibrant, not quite getting there but trying nonetheless. Even the worst stories have something to offer, be it a character's design or a certain plot point, to even the setting or name. There is never such a thing as a worthless story.

    I encourage you to write as much as you want and to enjoy it. Writing should never become a chore! Always seek inspiration, but remember to give proper credit if you decide to use another universe as your playground. Plagiarism is best avoided, and besides...It is far more rewarding to see your own work succeed, rather than to witness work you know is not yours do the same (however, feeling glad to see someone else's works do well if you are just a reader is perfectly fine and demonstrates empathy, tee hee). And always, always, be respectful when reading and reviewing someone's work. Give them constructive criticism which will allow them to improve, as you would like the same. It will help your Rough Drafts become great Final Copies.

    After all of this hard work though, be sure to give yourself a pat on the back and a round of applause. You deserve it for being such a trooper (and reading this lengthy guide)! May the words be with you! :3
    Last edited by Grassy_Aggron; 05-10-2013 at 02:35 AM.

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