Getting started as a writer can often be the most intimidating part of the whole writing process. However, getting started need not be too much of a big deal. In this post, I hope to show you that the most important part of getting started is to, well, just get started.
Stories are essentially very simple things. The basics of every story look something like this:
Every story is, at its heart, this: An entity wants something while another entity is moving in the opposite direction. They contend until one prevails.
Chose your approach
There is more than one way to get started with writing – the writing itself or the planning of the writing. You could say that there are basically two approaches to writing a story.
- Start planning and write later.
- Start writing with no plan at all.
Some people will try to tell you that only one of these is the right way but the truth is: If it works for you, it is right for you. There is nothing wrong with trying out a few different approaches and seeing what works for you.
Less planning generally means more revising later while more planning means fewer opportunities to go off on tangents. Whichever you pick some stages are going to feel like work. Sorry but that’s just the nature of the beast.
Pick a story you really care about telling. That way when you get to a part that feels like hard work, your passion for the story will carry you through. Regardless of your approach to getting started your first draft is likely to be messy – this is normal.
Don’t worry about point of view
Something that can stop you getting started is to worry about point of view too much. First person, third person, (funky weird second person), past tense, present tense prophetic future tense, omniscient narrator, limited narrator, reliable or unreliable, multiple, single… You have so many options that you could spend a lifetime exploring them and never getting started.
Instead, just pick one that is similar to the books you read most often and run with it. You will soon know if it is right for you. If in doubt stick to the past tense (trust me, this will save you many headaches) and pick a character to tell the story or narrate it as some outsider (you) telling the story. Then just run with it.
Thinking about the protagonist
When getting started, you are (most likely) going to begin with your protagonist (the person the story is about). Most of the time, the protagonist is the entity that wants something.
A solid protagonist may leap fully formed onto the page but more often than not, they will be a someone you shape over time. Regardless of if you explore this in planning or when telling the story, you should consider getting to know your character.
In the Author Buzz UK forums, there is a thread filled with interview questions for your protagonist. One way to get to know your character is to write an interview with them and see what pops out.
Here are a few questions you might like to ponder.
- Who is your protagonist?
- What do they want?
- How do they plan to get it?
- What stands in their way?
- How do they handle setbacks?
Thinking about the setting
Stories take place in a location. Well, unless you are writing some concept piece that is literally set nowhere. For those of us that like getting started with our writing without much of a plan (or no plan at all) we discover the place as we write. Those of us that plan, tend to have a good idea of the setting before we begin. If your setting is the real world, you may already be quite familiar with the setting.
Either in your first draft or later drafts, you will want to give your readers a sense of place.
Some questions you might like to explore either in first draft or planning (depending on your approach).
- Where is the protagonist?
- Where do they come from?
- What are the notable features of the setting?
- Will the setting itself help or hinder the protagonist?
- How does the setting influence character attitudes?
All you need to do now is stop reading and start writing. Except you are probably thinking “where do I start?”
In almost all cases the best place to start a story is the moment the first interesting thing happens. The first part you should write, however, is whatever part you feel like.
The sooner you start writing, the sooner you will be a writer.