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Not Sure How to Start Your Story? Try These 5 Tips


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The hardest part of anything is simply getting started—whether it's a fitness regimen, a healthier diet, or starting a story. As writers, especially novelists, it's mind bogglingly difficult to create a complete narrative from the ideas flying around in our brains—that's what makes us awesome! However, even seasoned novelists suffer from moments of "What now?"

You have the idea, but starting it and getting those words down on the page can seem horribly daunting. And when you sit down at the computer, the blank page and blinking cursor can seem like an impossible mountain to climb, regardless of whether or not it's your first story or your hundredth.

What do you write? How do you start?

Today, we have five tips for you that might make getting your story rolling a little bit easier!

Start with a story concept

You might know you want to write a romance, but what kind of romance? Contemporary? Sweet? Angsty? Suspenseful? You might know you want to write a thriller, but what kind of thriller? Mystery? Political? Military? Sci-fi?

The genre of fiction has so many subgenres and sub-subgenres that the possibilities are endless. Do you know your setting? Do you want it to be in present, the past, or the future? Do you want there to be magic and mythical creatures, or do you want it to be set in our world? Do you want it to be more literary, or more plot-driven? Do you want to write-to-market, or do you want to break out on your own?

Starting with a concept of the story you want to tell is the best place to begin, as it helps narrow the field. Each subgenre of fiction comes with its own set of reader expectations. For instance, in romance, almost every single romance reader wants the same thing—a happily-ever-after! That's what makes it romance. Understanding those expectations can also help shape your story before you start to write it.

Read in the subgenre you want to write in

In addition to being great research, especially if you're writing a first novel or trying out a new subgenre, learning from successful books in your genre is important to understanding popular tropes within the story and how they're used effectively. This can give you great ideas for a jumping-off point for your story as well. By paying attention to the pacing of the successful books in the genre you want to write in, you can better identify and shape your story to follow those beats.

Further, you should check out the best-sellers in that category on Amazon. Read a few of the top 20 books and see what they have in common. Read the reviews, too—oftentimes, readers will leave comments about the parts they loved or disliked and tell you why. You can also Google search blog reviews on these books to get more insight. This is a great way of researching what makes these books work and what makes them not work as well, which can be of great assistance to informing how you write your story.

Attend a writing course

Enrolling in a course such as the ones offered by Jericho Writers can jumpstart your story writing. These creative writing courses offer an abundance of options, from creative writing modules where you're mentored by experienced tutors to video courses that cater to self-paced learners. These courses not only provide hands-on training but also cover a range of proficiency levels, from novices to seasoned authors.

The benefits are multifold. For instance, attending a course can provide structured guidance, enabling writers to navigate the initial stages of drafting with more confidence. In addition, the course modules are designed to hone specific skills, be it editing your own novel, mastering the self-publishing domain, or exploring the foundations of fiction.

A course can provide clarity, breaking down elements and providing actionable steps to approach them. In conclusion, the journey of storytelling, while rewarding, can be riddled with obstacles. Enrolling in a course can be the catalyst that not only kickstarts your story but also nurtures it to fruition.

Try a story prompt

Another super effective way of actually getting words on paper is to try a story prompt. You can find science fiction and romance prompts within our blog. You can also check out Google or Pinterest for ideas. A prompt may be a one-line sentence that seems totally random—the idea here is that you'll interpret whatever it means to you and build a story from it. Or a prompt may be more specific, with a certain premise and characters mentioned. It's up to you to see what aspect of the prompt speaks to you, and of course, they're always customizable. Think the premise would be great if you changed one little detail? Change it! Love the premise, but think the character would be better a different way? Change them! These are merely suggestions to get your creative juices flowing. You may even find that you start with one idea in mind based on the prompt, and then it takes you in an entirely different direction. But either way—you have a story idea now!

Outline your story

Okay. You have your chosen genre and subgenre. You've read some books in that category and you have a pretty good idea of what makes for a great story. You've studied the best-sellers in that genre and taken notes on what they do well and what readers didn't love about them. You've studied some craft books and now you have a pretty good idea of how to tell a good story. And, you've read a few prompts, and combining those with your chosen subgenre, you now have your story idea.

You go to your computer and sit down. You open a fresh Word document. You have your coffee and water nearby to stay alert and hydrated. Your fingers are poised over the keyboard.

Nothing! Nothing?

But you prepared. You studied. You did the leg work and the research and got a great idea. How is it possible that you're at the moment of execution, and you can't write down a single word?

One last step I highly recommend: outline.

That blank page and passive-aggressively blinking cursor will seem a lot less daunting when you know exactly what you need to write.

Before you start drafting, spend some time beforehand—a couple of days, maybe a week—thinking about that story you want to tell. The characters, the plot points, the climax, and the resolution. Write detailed notes about the arc of the story, the plot, and any subplots you want to include. Make character profiles on your main, secondary, and even tertiary characters that include even the most minute of details—though not all these things may come into play in your story, it all serves to give you a much better understanding of exactly who your characters are and why they do the things they do. Include their "GMC"—that is, goals, motivation, and conflicts. Examine how they all intertwine to work in the plot you envision.

Then begin to organize these thoughts and notes into sections—this could be by story beat or chapter (this is my preference). Provide yourself enough details as to what needs to happen in each section or chapter and study them before your scheduled writing time so that when you go into that block of time you've set aside for yourself, whether it's an hour or twenty minutes, you don't have to waste a second of time figuring out what to write. Often, my outlined chapters even include bits of dialogue for the characters. If a line comes to me when I'm looking at my outline the day before, I make sure to write it down right then exactly how I thought it, so that when I sit down to write the next day—and it is imperative you study your outline the day before you write—I know exactly what I wanted that character to say and how to say it.

There are some writers who can write by the seat of their pants—they're known as pantsers. Most writers, though, will greatly benefit from an outline as a means of organization and remembering the important parts of the story. It helps to see how it unfolds in a linear fashion, and don't worry—you can always change things in your outline as your story takes shape. Outlines are meant to be a tool, not the end-all, be-all of your story!

I hope these tips have been helpful and aid you as you begin to craft your fantastic story. You might find only one or two of these tips is helpful, and you may find that all of them work! They may seem like a lot of legwork, but in the end, if your goal is to create a story in a reasonable amount of time that you can query or self-publish, these tips taken together will go a long way to helping you achieve that goal. Happy writing!

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