What if your story already existed? What if you were just the channel for the story to see the light of day and that all you had to do was to give up your ego and write? What if the story took shape beyond your control?
If you believed that this was true, then what do you do next?
The story world deals with the passing of time, as well as a sense of place. There are the passing of the seasons, the wear and tear and age and decay of life. No storyworld is pristine and unmarked. There are births and marriages and death. There is the rubbish that litters the street and the wars that scar the landscape.
And within each of these moments there lies a story. It may not be the story you wish to tell, but all the same, it is there waiting to be told. The photographs on the mantlepiece, the pictures on the walls, the simple things like bowls, knives, forks, plates, bed linen. All these innocent objects were chosen not by you but by the characters who inhabit these worlds, bringing alive the blank canvas of your mind.
Look for stories in newspapers and magazines. What grabs your attention? Look for the obstacles. What gets in the way?
Many stories might seem boring and mundane. Don’t just throw them out.
Play around and see if you can find a way of reframing the story to make it funny or frightening.
Never go against your beliefs. Pursue your ambitions with passion – not for thirty minutes, not thirty days, but for thirty years. And each day you will succeed. It is about being consistent. It is about getting up each time you are knocked down, again, again, again. Remember – if at first, you don’t succeed, you are running on average.
Don’t see every problem as a nail and every solution a hammer. Be flexible.
Practice your writing, build your experience and in the end, you will succeed.
When writing dialogue, challenge yourself to let your characters speak for themselves, in any way they must.
Find ways to free yourself up. Write their words on paper using different pens for different characters – just as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn used to do - the elegant fountain pen for one character, the chewed Bic for another.
After you’ve given your characters a chance to empty themselves, cut and trim, combine, or pick a line or two that says it all. Often what people really mean is not what they say. Look for that tension. And remember, what people don’t say is often far more powerful than what they do say.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote longhand with a large collection of pens scattered liberally across his writing desk. He said 'Each of my pens is an individual with a personality of its own. I don't write with just one. When I'm using one of them, others are involved too. So I use different types of pens for different tasks and to emphasise different thoughts and nuances - thin or thick ones, this colour or that. And I know what each one is for. That's why my table's so cluttered. In fact, each pen is at work.'
What the character says reveals more than pages of description. She reveals herself through her words; her thoughts, feelings and influence.
When she says “Politicians! They should be cut into pieces and fed to the lions” you know her better than if you had just written ‘She had extreme opinions on politicians.’
Sometimes it is just easier to start at the end than it is to start at the beginning. Make a list of all the big moments in your stories and ask yourself ‘How did I get here?’
Then ask ‘What happened just before this?’ and then again, ‘Before this?’ and then again ‘Before this?’ and soon you will find yourself back at the beginning, but with no detours or diversions. This is a good way of staying on track without getting distracted.
Anger tells us we don’t like where we have been. It shows us where our boundaries are. It tells us we can no longer get away with the old life and habits. It tells us we are being reborn.
There is always a consequence to anger. It should never be acted out - but acted upon. It is a conscious reaction to being frustrated. It is your story map.
Read the papers and books, watch the news, listen to the radio, all the while making notes of any interesting ideas.
Can dull and boring ideas be made interesting? What if you raise the stakes, add twists, change locations? By reframing the facts, you will find the stories to want to write.