Writing a story is a strange My Live Updates process. It’s a bit like fitting a jigsaw together. Except that you’ve got to paint each piece as you go along. And, as you’re building it, you find out that some of the pieces are from a different puzzle. Then when you finish you notice that half of it is missing and the rest of it doesn’t make any sense so you need to start all over again. But, like a jigsaw, the feeling when you finally slot the final piece in is fantastic.
So, how do you go from a blank page to a brilliant story? Here are some of my simple, practical tips:
1) Ideas are easy to come by. It’s finding a good one that’s difficult
Be curious about everything. Jot down or make a mental note of any little ideas or “what ifs” that pop into your head. Take time to ask yourself questions like: “What’s the worst thing that could happen to …?” or “How did that thing get there?” or “What’s that weird man got under his hat?” All of my books started off with tiny germs of ideas like this: What if a child had nudist parents?; Wouldn’t it be awful if your favourite food ruined your life?; Just how sinister are chicken nuggets …? The more you have, the more likely you are to find one that’s worth exploring.
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2) Nobody’s going to want to read something that you’re not excited to write
When you find one that scares you, or excites you, or makes your brain race with possibilities, you might be onto a winner. And if it doesn’t, well …
3) Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
You don’t always have to dive straight into writing your narrative. The best advice I ever read was: “The world isn’t going to end for the lack of one more story”. If you’re struggling, take your time. Think. Cast your mind back to any interesting thoughts you’ve had in the past. Go for a walk. And be playful. Imagine a character – it can be anyone – and write their shopping list for them, or interview them for a magazine, or put them in the worst possible situation they could face, or walk down the street in their shoes, reacting to normal life, or have them trapped in a lift with someone they hate. Take an interesting object and write about it: who owns it, where did it come from, what’s its story? These little jottings might just lead you in an interesting direction.
4) You’re the boss. Except when you’re not
Sometimes when you’re writing, something magical happens. The story takes over. It has a mind of its own. The words seem to flow out of your fingers and you just find yourself being dragged along behind. But most of the time it doesn’t Folk Fests. And when it doesn’t, just remember: you’re in charge. If you want that pink hippo to suddenly appear in the library, or if you want the creepy man on the bus to suddenly turn into a bubbling puddle of toxic gunk, or if you want the old lady to hand your character a mysterious package, then make it so. It really is up to you. And when you do that, that’s when the story might just take over.
5) Write to please yourself. And don’t settle for “my aaa”
When you write, don’t think too much about your audience at first (you can always tinker the story for them later). Write what you like, how you like: enthusiasm is like rocket fuel for stories. Have fun with it. Experiment with the narrator, the style and the passage of time. Maybe you’ll come up with something original. And whatever you’re trying to do (comedy, horror, mystery), make it the best it can be. Write. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Experiment. Pull things out. Put other things in. Get rid of anything that doesn’t work. Be ruthless, particularly if you’ve got a word limit. If you can face it, ask a trusted, honest friend to give you some feedback. Listen to what they say: do they have a point? And, after all that, if you love it, maybe someone else will too.