I don't have a big celebratory post or event. Honestly I didn't realize I had 200 posts until I opened up the doc to write this post. So maybe this is kind of in celebration of 200 posts? Ish?
I don't really have anything deep to say, or anything super clever about writing. But I'm beginning to learn that it's okay to not have clever things to say about writing. I admire the people who can find things like that to say, and I love gleaning advice from it.
I wanted to be like that. To offer something to writers that was helpful and interesting. But everything seemed to have been already said, either in tweets or blog posts or plotting structures the writer came up with. I didn't feel I had anything to share on that level.
But I'm realizing that's okay. I'm (slowly) beginning to realize that I don't need to match their wit. I probably can't.
However, what I can do is offer advice that's been told before, but in my words. There are writers out there who're just starting out, looking for a launching pad. Maybe I can help. Maybe I can offer them a launch pad. With my own experiences, with things I'm still learning even today.
So I might try it out (and I'm totally open to advice on how to offer advice). Instead of wishing I was clever enough to offer advice to people already well on their way in their writing career, I want to try to offer advice to the ones just starting out. Help them pick their first Pokemon, if you will. ;)
So today, I'd like to give you a small "starter kit," if you will, of a few of the basic writing elements. Disclaimer: It will be far from perfect, as I'm still learning them myself, but hopefully if you're feeling a bit lost in this forest of words, this post will help give you a foothold.*
*Please, do remember to take anything I say with a grain of salt. I just want to share what I've learned with you. ;)
We'll start with the basics.
But its your job to make him go through ALL the hoops to get it. Maybe even then he doesn't get it, and finds instead something he needed rather than what he wanted. But the plot follows your MC's journey, his search for the thing he wants (or thinks he wants). That includes all of the obstacles he faces, people or otherwise. Usually there'll be an antagonist (the villain) who stands in his or her way (think Captain Hook from Peter Pan or the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia). The villain wants something too, and the plot will help you (and readers) follow what happens when these two forces collide.
Spoiler: A (hopefully) exciting story happens. ;)
Usually, stories follow a character-driven plot, or it's simply plot-driven. Character-driven stories, while they should have an external plot, tend to focus in the inner workings of the MC and follow her development, the way she changes over the course of a story (this is called a character arc).
Plot-driven stories are usually when the plot keeps the character moving. Trouble will find the MC, and the MC follows along while struggling to stay on top of things. In this type, there's sometimes not much of a character arc. The world around the MC changes, while the MC may not change much.
Sometimes stories have a bit of both types, which would make for even more complex stories, which I find could be rather interesting. ;) In either case, the plot is the track for your story, complete with all sorts of obstacles that need hurdled.
So you need people. I'll break it down to three general "groups." It gets a little deeper than what I'm going to describe, and I'm happy to try delving deeper into them if you all want. But for now, we'll divide your cast into three fairly easy groups for you to organize: main characters, antagonists, and supporters.
You probably recognize those first two. The main character is who readers will usually follow in the course of the story. They're the ones your readers will root for. They have a desire, and they're going after it. Remember to make them active in their desire. They need to be the primary force driving the plot. Sometimes the plot drives the character, and that's okay, but remember to keep your MC on track. Maybe she reacts to events up until a certain point before she realizes she needs to start taking responsibility and acting, but give her some active-ness, even when she's just reacting for a portion of the time.
Don't be afraid to give your MC flaws. Your story's hero doesn't, and probably shouldn't, be totally perfect. Maybe he or she has weaknesses that affect their journey. Give your MC layers: interests, dreams, fears, flaws, strengths, complicated relationships, etc. Stuff that make humans human (even if your character might be a dragon ;) ). Your hero can be strongly righteous, and that's good too. But giving him or her a flaw or two can't hurt. ;) Your hero should get knocked back from reaching his goal (whether by external forces, or his own shortcomings), but he needs to keep getting back up, learn (eventually), and try again.
We're going to say the antagonist is also human (or dragon) for now, because usually antagonists are. Sometimes they're simply other, non-sentient forces (weather, sickness, etc). Those can be excellent antagonists for character-driven plots. Human villains can supply the antag-position in both character- and plot-driven stories. For villains, they too have a want, a certain desire. But, often, it tends to rub against the MC's desire the wrong way. They get in the way of each other. The MC might be working to stop the villain, or vice versa. Or they're both trying to stop each other at once.
The villain's desires are, usually, bad. Maybe it's their goal that's bad, or their methods. Or maybe it's both. That's basically how stories go. But just saying that they're evil isn't quite enough. Maybe they really do just want to halt the MC in his tracks. But ask yourself why. Why this hatred for the MC? Explore their character. Villains are human too. Maybe their motives aren't entirely bad (though their methods might be). Maybe they have a few traits that make them seem a little less 100% evil and more human. Do they love playing a certain game? Do they love and dote on their newborn daughter? Give your villains depth like you would your heroes. Make them and their desires complex. It's interesting, sometimes, when we get a villain who we despise and who does awful things, but on the other side of the coin we kind of understand where they're coming from.
Just make sure it doesn't turn them into a good guy, unless that's your intent (redemption arcs, whoo!). Villains shouldn't necessarily be portrayed as good. They might be motives we get, but the way they go about them can be where we draw the line and say "ahh, no, that's bad." Evil shouldn't really get away with being evil. At least, sooner or later the consequences should maybe catch up to them.
The last grouping is the supporting cast. These are the people who team up with the hero. Or perhaps the villain (or maybe both). These people can come in as a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds as your MC and villain can. And they have their own desires and dreams, fears and flaws. Supporting characters can make great companions to the hero. Maybe he needs a mentor to guide him through using magic. Or perhaps your heroine needs a hero to help her through her arc. Or perhaps they simply need a best friend, or parents/siblings. Supporting characters can be very nearly anyone. They flesh out the world. Sometimes they show up only once, or they're a close partner to your hero.
Remember to give your supporting characters layers too. Give them their own desires to pursue. They tend to think the story's about them. ;) What do they want? Does it interfere with the MC? How well does the MC get along with them? This complexity will make them feel as real as the antag and MC. They're people too. Let them act like it, and not just be part of the backdrop. Just remember that these characters need a role that is relevant to the plot or your MC's arc. If they're just there for the show, they may need to go.
You get the idea.
Setting, in a way, can be its own character. Your story world will likely have its own culture. How does this affect the MC's beliefs? How does this affect the way the villain acts? You might need to do some research depending on where or when you want your story to take place (especially if it's set in America in 1776, for example).
Worldbuilding is a tool you can use in your setting. I tend to see it as a tool most often used in fantasy or science-fiction. Worldbuilding is, basically, building a world. You create the world, instead of using the one around you. However, you draw from the world around you too, so it can't hurt to research for fantasy or sci-fi cultures anyway. You use it to develop magic systems, or technology, or lots of things that might need an additional creative spark. ;)
If you like, I have a Pinterest board of worldbuilding stuff that might be helpful to you. ^_^
Sometimes your story might call for theme to be a little more noticeable, other times maybe not. Play around with it. Theme can be a fussy thing. It needs a good balance to weave seamlessly into the narrative without making bumps in the road that go "here I am!", but also strong enough that it doesn't fade out of sight and sound.
Experiment. Play around with words, or make a list of possible themes. As writers, we need to communicate truths. Those truths come from God and His Word. We need to make sure our stories don't give the impression that we support things God has said are not good. And theme is an excellent place to start: it will help set the tone for your novel's smaller messages or sub-themes that might be woven into it too.
So what do you want to say? What has God put in your heart that he wants you to say?
There's tons more elements to writing, I'm sure. There are sub-topics for each of the ones we've discussed, and sub-topics for the sub-topics. But hopefully this gets you started. :D It sounds complicated, maybe, but be patient with yourself and with your writing. You will get there. It's gonna be hard, there might be tears or doubts (even I still have those!). In between the satisfaction of smooth sentences and deep characters, there's going to be frustrations. It's part of the learning process.
But you know what?
You've been given a gift. The Master Storyteller's given you a skill to use for His glory. He's given you a mind for stories and telling them. Pray about it, too. Ask Him to show you how He wants you to use the written word. Be willing to learn and change and grow. You are God's story, living in a world He built. Learn from it. :) Explore the stories He's telling, the world He made, and borrow from it. Maybe it's His will that you become a storyteller, that it's where He's calling you. If it is, that's awesome. Follow His lead.
You've got this. Play with the words. Mix and match. Break grammar rules or follow them, or both. Read books on writing, or blogs, or podcasts or YouTube videos. Study the story-lines of movies, TV shows, or video games. Play with the words again. Play and experiment and explore.
And don't give up.