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Posted: 2006-10-23 | Updated: 2016-01-18

So You Want to Write a Story

by Asa Strong


Introduction:

First of all, this is not a story. It is how I go about the process of writing.

I'm posting this in the hopes that it will help and encourage others to try their hand at becoming an author. You, the reader, must understand, that as I write this I have been writing for a little over six months. This is not a lot of experience, to say the least. But, because it has been such a short period of time, the many trials and tribulations I've gone through in this period are fresh in my mind. What I present here is the 'lessons learned' during this process.

The way I work may not be the best for everyone. But, it is the method I use to develop a story. It is not a bible to be followed by anyone else, unless it works for them as well. This document is intended to give the reader somewhat of an inside view of my story creation process, in the hope that they can use some or all of it to start writing their own stories.

What this is not is a typical writer's guide. There are many fine guides of that type on this site, as well as many others on the web. I encourage any new writer to read them. My only comments in this area are to make sure you know the differences in voices (person or point of view) and when the action in the story takes place (tense: past present, and future). This above all else is critical.

What this document does contain is my thoughts on how to develop and produce a story.

I'm a pretty structured guy, so I approach developing my stories in that manner. There are several authors that I know that do exactly the opposite. They sit down and wing it on the fly for each chapter. It works for them, and it may work for you, but I really think they are in the minority of good authors. Remember, you can get by with shaky writing and a good plot; you can't get anywhere with a terrible plot, no matter how well the writing is done.


I. My Process

1. Story Research:

Be familiar with the incidents and technical aspects of what you are going to write about. If you don't know the subject and incidentals of the story you want to write about, research them. An example would be if you want to write about a Japanese Samurai character, you would need to know the weapons, history, and culture of that period. The depth of research you do will dictate the amount of detail you can present in your story. So, think about this BEFORE YOU START WRITING. Believe me, if you get something of a technical nature wrong in a story, you will hear about it. It seems to me that there must be experts in every subject in the world out there, and they all read what you write!

2. Characters in the Story:

I try to define the names and personalities of the major characters in my stories before I start writing. This helps to keep the actions consistent throughout the story. It is very easy to wander off track with my characters and have them end up being someone or something I never intended. I develop what I call a 'Cast of Characters'. This is a simple text file with the names, personalities, and any other useful information on each character that is introduced. I start this with the main characters, and as I develop the storyline add to it. As I work my way through the chapters of a story, I continually find myself checking this file to make sure I'm in sync with the character. This works really well for me. (Although, there was one time I got in a hurry and actually used the name of my editor in place of one of my characters. Thankfully, he caught it.)

3. Plot out the Story Outline:

Stories need a reason to exist. They need to convey to the reader a series of events or actions by your characters. This is commonly called the plot. I plot out my story in outline form before I ever write a single word.

All my stories start with an idea: a situation, action, event, or some other occurrence that I want to use as the basis for a story.

Once the germ of a story takes form in my mind, I then develop a storyline, or plot if you will, around it. Stories are time sequential for the most part, meaning that they flow with time, usually forward. This naturally leads to developing a chapter outline in itself.

I spend a lot of time developing the storyline. I outline each and every chapter. I include the action(s) that will take place, and which characters will be involved in different situations.

When I finish with the outline, I now know where the story starts, where it ends, and how it unfolds. I'm ready to start writing.

4. Writing the Story Description:

The Story Description is what will appear on the SOL index page of stories. I use it to tell the reader what the story is about. I take a lot of time writing this, as it is in a sense, the advertisement for my story. If I can hook the reader with the description, I have a much better chance of them also reading it. If the description is ambiguous, the reader is much less likely to read the story. I try and make it interesting. In other words, it's a hook, just like a catchy advertisement on TV.

5. Story Codes:

When you post your story on SOL, you will be presented with an array of choices of codes that apply to your story.

Since I don't write much in the way of sexual content in my stories, it is a trivial matter for me to select those that apply. Another author though, may have many that apply to his/her story. When you post, take time to go through the list and select those that apply. This will let the reader know more about your story and make a better decision on if they want to read it or not. Readers get angry when stories are not coded correctly. Save yourself the agony of a flood of email on the subject by being as precise as possible selecting story codes.

6. The Cover Page:

If you are writing a serial, you will have a default cover page of the different chapters. If you want to add additional information that applies to the story, this is the place to do it. An example would be my story "A Long Way Home". This story was based on a song, so I included the lyrics of the song on the cover page.

7. Writing the Story:

Now I'm at the stage to actually start putting words together to tell my story. Some of the things I consciously try and remember as I write are:

  1. Make sure the tense used in a paragraph is valid. It's a no-no to mix tenses in the same sentence. It can also drive a reader nuts trying to figure out what you are trying to say when the story is bouncing around between the past and future.

  2. Proper use of quotation marks. Don't mix dialogue between two characters in the same sentence. Make sure that you have paired you quotation marks (the exception is when writing multiple paragraphs in dialogue by the same author, then only the last paragraph needs closing quotation marks).

  3. Watch paragraph length. It is difficult to read long paragraphs on a computer monitor. Try and keep them short. Itry and keep them at ten to twelve lines maximum.

  4. When writing dialogue, each person that speaks gets a separate paragraph, even if it's a single word.

  5. Consciously try to avoid the "He said, she said syndrome. It gets boring real fast for a reader to wade through pages of dialogue Of 'He said this' and 'She said that'. There are many ways to set up dialogue, learn them and use them. Several of the 'Writers Guides' on SOL address this problem. Take the time to read them.

8. Ending the Story:

A story has to have a conclusion. Even if I plan on a follow up sequel, I can't leave the reader without some kind of resolution. Since I developed a chapter outline up front, this usually is not a problem for me.


II. Some other considerations to take into account.

1. Posting a Chapter or Short Story:

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE READ AND UNDERSTAND THE POSTING SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. You can access them from the Authors/Editors page. Stories are submitted using the 'Submission Wizard', accessed from the 'Authors/Editors' link on the main index page.

2. Using an Editor.

FIND AND USE AT LEAST ONE EDITOR. I can't emphasize this enough. No matter how good you think you are, a good editor will make the stories you write much better. I have been blessed with two very good editors. I will tell you, they make what I write much, much better.

There is a list of available editors that can be accessed from the Authors/Editors link. Find one or two that you are comfortable working with. You will never regret it.

3. Dealing with Criticism:

This was probably the hardest thing for me to do as an author. I'm an old-fart, sixty-years-old, and I'm pretty much set in my ways. When I first started writing and posting my first story, it did very well, score wise. I was receiving quite a bit of email from readers saying that they liked my story. Then, out of the blue, I received an email from a very well know author (who will remain anonymous) saying that while my story was interesting, it was filled with numerous errors. He even included examples!

My first reaction was to become angry. The next day, after I cooled down, I re-read the email. It was not nasty, in any way. It simply stated the obvious; after I'd gone back and re-read what I wrote, I ended up going back and re-writing three chapters of the story.

The moral of all this, is that criticism can be a good tool to use. I now make sure that when someone has something negative to say about what I've written I don't just blow it off, but rather take time to analyze what they have said. I believe this process has made me a much better writer in a very short period of time. Listen people, there are a lot of smart cookies out there that will read your stories. If what they say is valid, use it and learn.

4. Dealing with Scores on Stories:

I'm not a big fan of scoring stories, but it seems that readers are. I really don't pay much attention to how my stories are doing score wise. I'm much more interested in how many people are reading them, and the email I receive from those that chose to write me.

Now, I'm also not a total imbecile either. I know how and what to write to get a great score on SOL. I don't think it is actually very hard at all.

If you can write a coherent sentence, it's easy. Write a story about a 16 year old guy that gets hijacked by aliens, creates an army, beats the bad guys all to hell, and in the process creates a large harem that includes his mother and sister.

This is not to disparage several very good stories along those lines, but let's face it, Sci-Fi and Sex together sell.

Conversely, you will not get near as many readers if your story is limited to MM or FF exclusive relationships. Sorry folks, but that is the real world. The audience for such stories is smaller and there are those out there that will hammer the story because they don't like the subject matter. If these types of stories are what you want to write, be aware of this fact.

As a side note, when I first started posting on SOL, I was expecting that few would read my stories, because there was little sexual content in them. It turned out I was wrong. Don't sell the readers on SOL short. They will read a well-written story with a good plot and score it well. My current story, "Poverty Hill" is a good example of this. It has no explicit sex in it at all, and seems to me to be doing quite well. The moral of all this: Good writing and an interesting plot will be rewarded with good scores.

5. My Thoughts on Writing Style:

Other than gross errors in syntax, grammar, or spelling, the style in which you write a story is going to affect how readers react to your story more than anything else.

A new author needs to understand and have a consistent Point of View (POV) when telling a story. Generally, this means they he/she must understand how to use and apply how the reader receives the story. Is it one or several of the characters telling the story (First Person POV), or is the story being told by someone outside of the story (Usually Third Person POV). There are several tutorials on SOL that delve into this much deeper than I can present here. Read them, it will make a difference in how your story is received if you understand this aspect of writing.

I personally feel that stories written in the first person POV, give me more leeway to develop the story and characters to the fullest. In this POV, you can make the characters come alive with dialogue. It gives the reader an insight into the character that can't be done in other ways. I highly recommend that new authors use this POV.

The only other viable way to write a story is from the third person POV. Third person POV is limited to the story being told by an outside observer. To me, stories written in this manner tend to end up being cold and sterile.

Storytelling in the second person POV is difficult and best left to those that fully understand usage of the English language. I certainly can not produce anything meaningful in this form.

Mixing the two POV's (first and third person) should be used only if you really know what you are doing. It is terribly difficult to transition between the two without jarring effects on the reader. I'm not that proficient; I stay with first person exclusively.

6. Homonyms.

I've found that homonyms (words that sound the same, but have different meanings) drive readers crazy. I've probably received more critical email over this subject than any other. Some examples are: site - sight, there - they're - their. There is an excellent list here: (http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html ).

Do yourself a big favor--if you are in doubt of the word you want to use, look it up in the dictionary! It will save you a lot of grief, believe me.

7. Word processor.

There is no excuse for writing without using a word processor that has a built in dictionary and spellchecker. Most good editors will require you use one.

8. Do a final review.

After a story or chapter has been reviewed by your editor, go back and read what you have with a critical eye before you post. You will be surprised at how many little things will pop up.

9. Dealing with Reviews of Your Story.

You may find that one of the reviewers on SOL will publish a critique of your work. Personally, with the exception of a very few, I've found most reviewers stick to the stories they like and pretty much ignore those they don't. This is not to criticize those that review stories, but in my opinion, a dedicated person should make the attempt to look at a wide spectrum of works.

If you should receive a negative review, look at what it says objectively. If there are valid points brought out, understanding them can only help you make your next story that much better.


III. Final Remarks.

I hope that what I've written here helps those that have considered writing their own story here on SOL. All of us have stories to tell. All it takes is a little time and effort and you can tell yours also.

While I was writing "Bits, Bytes and Life", I received numerous emails from readers. Many of these described events relating the readers own experiences growing up with computers in the early years. I can't tell you how many I thought would be great stories. It is a shame that a wider audience will never know them.

Remember, SOL is a site that features amateur writers. It is unreasonable to expect that all the stories on the site are perfect. Don't be afraid of writing and posting a story because you might make a mistake. Besides, I can attest to the fact that the more you write, the more you learn. Take a chance and try it, you just might find it to be a fun and rewarding hobby.

I would sincerely like to thank my two editors, wexwiz and bytemangler for their help in preparing this document. I would also like to thank both Grampy ("Song of Thanks" and others) and D A Porter ("A Modern Bards Tale", and others) for their review of this document from an author's perspective.