Tuesday, 9 February 2016

My sixth writing-related blog post in which I look at three key elements I absolutely need to know about a new story in order to start writing one

Though I have not been even remotely successful in my writing career and, to be honest, I can hardly call it one, I've been writing long enough to know what I can't start writing a new story without. Today, I'm going to look at three main elements that enable me to proceed with the new project: the plot, the names of characters and places, and the first sentence or paragraph. These are the three crucial keys that I need in order to unlock the content of a blank notebook page or a computer document that is concealed there. Let's look at each one of them in turn. 

I: THE PLOT. I learned a long time ago that vague ideas, however great and numerous, are not sufficient as a foundation for me to build my new story upon. I need to have something more substantial than that. I need a plot. I'm a plotter. I must know, even roughly, the beginning, the middle and the ending of the story. I'm not saying, of course, that I plot every little thing and detail that is going to happen throughout the story — writing, after all, is a journey and an adventure and there's nothing more exciting than to come across some unexpected revelation, to be surprised by the characters or the story itself — but I must have a solid idea of where the story is going, otherwise it has little to no chance of moving forward. Sometimes, I write a chaptered outline with an estimated number of chapters that can and will vary during the process. Sometimes, I just write an outline, dividing it into parts or segments if chapters don't work. Sometimes, I simply sit down and write a summary of the story without breaks but with lots of ellipses and question marks in place of the information I don't know yet. Naturally, these first outlines never stay unchallenged or unchanged and I usually have piles and piles of notes to wade through once I decide upon a definitive outline. 

II. THE NAMES OF CHARACTERS AND PLACES. I can't start writing a story without knowing the names and surnames of its major characters as well as those of important secondary ones. I spend hours and days looking through lists of names and surnames. I use websites, my notes, and books. Sometimes I forget myself and look through them for the fun of it. A DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH SURNAMES has been of great help to me in particular and, when you come to think of it, it is a bit of a surprising find in my family library, considering that before I started learning English, no one in my family really knew it or had any use for such a book. But it is an excellent source of inspiration and I often pore over its pages when I'm looking for some. I open it at random or with a particular letter in mind and start writing out all the surnames that I find promising or appealing. Then I start working my way through them, discarding some, contemplating the others. I need to feel the names doing their job. I need to know that they fit. I try them out. I play with them. I see how they look both written in longhand or typed. I speak them aloud. It can take a long time... The problem is that if I don't know the names, I can't write the story. I don't see the characters. I don't feel them. They are vapour. They need a name — and not just any name, but their rightful name — to start to take shape. The same goes for the names of the places I am going to use within the story. That's often something of a problem because I almost always need fictional names for kingdoms, towns, villages, estates and houses and I can spend ages coming up with them. They also must fit just right and they must hold within them some hint or clue or just roll off your tongue. I sometimes use words from different languages, mashing them together. I like scribbling down something that struck my fancy and play with words. In fact, I'm a certified word maniac.

III. THE FIRST SENTENCE OR PARAGRAPH. Finally, I won't be able to start writing the story if I don't have that first sentence or paragraph that feels just right. I usually take my time thinking about how I want to begin. I mull the sentences over in my head, say them aloud, savour them, then rush to write them down. I write different versions one after another in the same document and if none of those work I usually change the angle and try it over and over again until I know — feel — that I've got it at last. Here are some of the first sentences from my books that I really love: 

James Westfield was not an idle man and was never known to neglect his duty, unless it concerned his sister-in-law, in which case, like any man facing an unpleasant task at hand he was in no hurry to fulfill it. 

Almendra opened her eyes on the seventh chime of the clock. She quickly sat up, stretched and smiled. Just then the door to her room opened and in entered a large, grey wolf with a tray on his back. 

Mr McBride and his lady were at breakfast when a letter was brought in. Mr. McBride, a big man of five and forty, took the letter from the tray and upon seeing that it was from his uncle's solicitor exclaimed “Ha!” and tore off the seal. “So!” he muttered a moment later, clearing his throat. “The old coot is dead. Well, well!” 

So... once I have all these elements together, I am ready to embark upon another writing journey. What about you? What elements are crucial for you in order to begin writing a new story? 

Three key elements I can't start writing a new story without. What are yours? bit.ly/1Ldifr1 via @faridamestek (Click to tweet)


  1. I always find it interesting to see how other writers work. Thanks for sharing your process with us For me, the minimum I need to be able to start is a general idea of the plot (how much detail I need depends on the genre. Mystery/thriller needs a lot, whereas fantasy I come up with on the fly), and a main character. I generally don't start with a lot of names or anything like that, because generally my plans are so vague that I don't know what characters there are or who they are. Finding out while I'm writing is half the fun though. Definitely not the recommended process though!

    1. It is fun to find out things along the way, isn't it? I think that's one of the reasons why I love writing so much: it's a journey, an adventure, with lots of unknown to unlock and uncover along the way))