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A Question from the Audience: Starting Stories

Question marks in different colored bubblesI recently had a question from one of my fellow author friends, which I was given with an eye toward blogging about the topic. So here we go. First ever question from the audience!

Do you always start writing in the same place? Scene? Character? Descriptions? Dialogue? Start-to-finish? End first and write backward? Write the punchline and then construct the elaborate justification for it?

My stories generally start with an idea seed. “Wouldn’t it be cool if …?” Sometimes that comes in the format of a scene or a snippet of dialogue, but more often, it’s not much more than just an idea. And sometimes, once I start prodding at the idea, it falls apart, like a rotten seed. So then I sweep up the bits and file them away, just in case they somehow grow back together in a different configuration.

Once I have more than just the seed, the next thing that I MUST have is character names. I can have the ideas for the characters, but until they have names, they don’t really become real enough to me to consider writing. Once I’ve got the names set for a story, it’s odd for me to change them, too. I think there’s something about naming the character to really lock them into my mind, and once they’ve got a name, changing it feels weird. (Also, there was the one time where I changed a character’s name from Lance to Athos, and I learned just how frequently I use the word “glanced”. Hello, “gAthosd”.)

Once I’ve got something larger than a seed and names, I generally put together a rough outline for the story, and then I write it start to finish. I have heard about people who write their stories backwards (whether that’s the final scene or just the final line), but that method doesn’t work for me. There are occasions when I finish a story and realize that it needs a different beginning, but that’s about the closest I would come to writing backwards. For me, there are more often occasions where I write a few scenes at the beginning that I then realize won’t be necessary, and so they get cut from the story later. But even if I have a solid outline that might permit me to jump around and write different scenes, I really prefer to write them start to finish.

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