We're back - and we've made it though the first month of the new year - with part three of Pixar! Have you gotten tired of it yet?
Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is part of you. Recognize it before you use it.
I feel like this one is self-explanatory, but it's true! There's a reason you're interested in some particular part of the story, whether it's a love triangle or a certain sad scene. Why do you like it? What's appealing? What does it say about you as a person? Your personality, your experiences, your own story? If you're going to take an idea from another story, as is what happens with most authors, think about why you're using it. What does it mean to you? Do you like what it did to the characters or how it makes your feel - how you want your readers to feel.
Why must you tell this story in particular? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
There's a reason that certain authors have stories to tell, and if someone else were to write your story for you, it wouldn't be the one you wanted, right? This is also the important thing to remember about collaboration itself. We all want help from our friends, and even I love asking for someone else's ideas. But it's necessary to critically think about the advice you're getting and if it will really work in your story as they're telling you, or if it's something that may give you an idea. Taking advice because you don't know what else to write and it sounds like it could work could change the story completely - plot lines erased, characters' visions changed. It's not usually that drastic, but it has that potential, and the potential to become whatever the other person wanted to read instead. But this is your story. Think about why you're so invested in your story and why you had that idea in the first place. What does your story mean to you?
Discount the first thing that comes to mind - and the second, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
This isn't always one you think about, and not necessarily something I always follow myself, but predictability can lead to a boring story. If the reader already knows what's going to happen, what's the point of continuing with the story? Twists, turns, and loops are the most fun part of a story, but make sure to keep things believable, at least to the lore of the story. Just like a roller coaster, if you can see the track, it's not nearly as much fun as if you're in the dark and/or don't know what's coming up. Plus, thinking outside the box gives your mind an opportunity to be creative! Think about scenarios you'd never expect - it may be your next great plot point!
Give your characters opinions. A character being passive or malleable is easy for you as a writer, but it's poison to your audience.
This is so important for a good book, and it kind of goes along with the point above - if your character is predictable, the story can get boring. It reminds me of improvisation that we used to do in my high school drama class. For all the non-theatre kids out there, the first rule of improv is to always say "yes, and..." or "no, but..." . If someone asks if you've ever wrangled a dinosaur, say yes. Think about it: "Hey, do you want to go to the park today?" "No." How boring is that? The story stops before it even begins. And if you're trying to give your character believability, having them go along with everything you need them to because it's convenient isn't going to give them a thrilling personality. It's going to leave readers with a character they care absolutely nothing about with no feelings or emotions of their own. They are not going to be invested in any aspects of their live if they don't have a personality that lends itself to story conflict.
What's the essence of the story? What's the most economical way of telling it? If you know this, you can build out from there.
This particular rule boils it down to the most basic storyline you start out with, the bones of your story. Once you've got that, add the muscles, add the organs, add the nerves, add the skin. Think about the answer you give people when they ask "What's your story about?". For me, I feel like this is such a bad question because my answer (spoiler) is "Two orphans find a dream world and a man stuck in there that they need to help get out," or something along those lines. Sounds boring, right? But the truth is, there's so much more to it than that. There's monsters, romance, multiple dimensions... but that all came from the bones. That's what's going to make your story. Just like a house. If it doesn't have good bones, there's not much you can do with it until you get them.
If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
Back to believability for this one. Your characters are real people, not robots. This may be easier for some than for others, and that's totally okay! Put yourself in your character's shoes and think about how you would handle the emotions your character may be feeling. Then, shift over to the character, especially the parts that are different than you. This may take a little thinking, as you want to make it honest, but "honesty lends credibility" is true here - if it feels real, it becomes real.
What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What happens if he doesn't succeed? Stack the odds against him.
This is a basic step in order to 1) build character, but also 2) make sure your character can't just leave the story. There's a reason he/she has to be there, right? If they can walk away, so can a reader. This is one of the most difficult pieces for me as a writer, especially in my own story. "Because he wants to" doesn't always cut it. Stacking the odds against your character and seeing how they react to things is what helps them develop. It's said that humans show their true forms under stress, and your characters are no different. Even if it's something you end up not using in the final draft because it doesn't fit, think about what could happen and try it out. You'll get honesty from them either way, and it makes the plot more exciting if they have to finish it to succeed.
Tune in next week for the final part! Also, if you haven't subscribed to the newsletter yet, please do! There's a new writing template out each month, plus one just for signing up!
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I'm an editor, yes, but I'm also on a writing journey of my own. In writing about my own struggles, maybe it'll help you out, too.