Today’s focus is going to be “The Basic Five”.
This is a technique many writers (myself included) use when we’re starting a raw project from scratch.
For the sake of continuity, let’s go visit the KISS method again. I’ll try to keep these as light as possible, so you can get on with your writing!
*The basis of every story falls into a few simple guidelines* – I’ll give specifics after the list.
- Location & Time
There are more that we can pinpoint, but these are the (main) five.
Two main headers branch off into literally hundreds of possible specific areas (including mashups, crossovers, melded genres, etc):
Non-Fiction and Fiction
Under these, there are three for Non-Fiction, and five for Fiction main sub headings:
Educational (Text books, Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, etc)
Bio/Autobiographical (Factual stories of actual people, written by them personally, with someone, by another person who was present/able to provide proof, or posthumously.)
Reference (Genealogies, Atlases, Astrological charting verification for Naval ships, etc.)
Since the majority of writers are Fiction Writers, be it poems, kid’s books, plays, movies, video game plots, comics, graphic novels, or books themselves, I’m going to focus on that area from here on. If you are planning on writing a technical manual for something as your NaNo, you already know what you need to share with folks. These remaining 4 guidelines are based off of fiction writing.
This is one that a lot of people tend to either skip or just “know” right away what their theme is going to be.
There are a LOT of choices in this one, so I’ll save you some time and post them all in a table for you to see all at once.
The reason you need a theme, especially for fiction writing, is so you are able to have a direction for your overall story’s arc.
Right from the start, you should be able to see the ones you like versus the ones you have no desire to read about, let alone write about.
This one gives people serious panic attacks.
What do I name my characters? How many do I need? Do they talk? Do they interact? What about the 4th wall? Can they break the fourth wall… Yeah, there are a ton of different decisions to make. But they are yours.
Let’s take a deep breath and go over four points:
Name, Tense, Number of Characters, and Type of Character
If you want to be remembered, be memorable.
Naming your main character Xqixngaigjklrr3 might be funny, but no one will know how to pronounce their name, let alone want to. Bilbo Baggins (don’t get me started on the alliteration haters, Tolkien is a deity) is MEMORABLE. And not just because he rocks. You don’t know he’s totes the best when you start reading about him (for the first time).
Plays on words, easy to pronounce words (in your common written native tongue or whichever you are writing for), and as short as possible are going to be your three helpful tips for naming.
Creepy mix of both?
And then, will you tell the story as one of those as a retrospective, present action, or intended ambiguous timeline?
Number of Characters:
A good story needs at least two characters to play off one another. Be it for comedic factor, or thriller, there are very few authors who have been able to pull off a story about one person being the SOLE character in the story.
Sleuth is a brilliant screenplay – so well done in fact it was redone in the late nineties. The original was deliciously drawl and choreographed by Sir Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine. Their dance through the script – onscreen – makes you forget you’re watching a movie, and you need to know what the next plot twist is going to be.
If you’re going to make it a smaller character list, you have to be prepared to put in the ‘meat’ of the characters.
Type of Character:
Are your characters all going to be “main” or are you going to have various levels of supporting characters in your storyline? I say “character” instead of “person” because aliens, animals, talking microwaves, and all other possible personified inanimate objects can be characters as well.
There are three types of characters:
Main, Supporting, and Tertiary.
Let’s look quickly at what they do for your story: (I’ll use Game of Thrones Characters for reference)
Main: lead the story. Full dialogue, are the heroes/villains for your plot. Tyrion Lannister is a main character.
Supporting: these are the ones who also have dialogue, help move the plot, and can be prominent throughout the story or only there for one scene. Samwell Tarly is a supporting character.
Tertiary: these are the ones that fill time/space/plot holes, the background people in a city, redshirts on an Enterprise, and so on. Rarely do these ones ever have any dialogue, and you never learn their name. Everyone in King’s Landing without a name.
Location and Time:
I’ve put these two together for a slightly obvious reason – you’re going to give some indication at some point throughout your story, even just in ambient feel, of a location and/or time – most likely both though. I’m going to break both of these down into three areas for more definition for your story.
Let’s briefly look at each of these.
Location in Time, Place, and Character’s Life
Location in Time: Think Quantum Leap. The TARDIS. The Time Machine. Where are you in time and space?
Are your characters in the “dirty 30’s” or back in Medieval times?
Giving specifics can help shape your story and make it more believable. Reference the details to get time period (if it exists already) with the proper details. Do not Braveheart* on people and expect your readers/watchers not to pick up on the HUGE faux pas of assumption.
*Braveheart was rife with with inaccuracies, but one of the biggest (there are 10 HUGE issues, not including the fact that an Australian played a Scot) was that they didn’t wear kilts in the 13th century – the Scots didn’t start wearing them until 400 years LATER! If you’re going to take liberties in your story, make sure you point out how you got to that transition. Ie, have someone in a Serenity class ship drop off tartan material as they are flying away from Reavers, in order for your 13th century folk to make kilts out of before their battles.
Place: Where are your characters?
Do you have a specific address in mind?
Sitting on the floor, inside the warm, brightly lit blanket fort of the living room of Apt 123, Your Town, Your City, Your Province/State/Territory, Your Country, Your Continent, Your Hemisphere, Your Planet, Your Solar System, Your Universe.
Walking up to the dimly lit old broken castle on the hill.
Loosely chained to the underside of the grate covering the ventilation fan, hidden from view by the walkway rubber mat.
Notice how each of those gives you an exact image in your mind?
Location in Character’s Life: At some point, you’re going to end up giving some sort of clue as to the character’s rough age. You don’t have to state exact, but let’s face it; not many infants (rounding up to 0) are bilingual, so if your character is, most people will make the assumption there has been some sort of education involved. The better the articulation from the characters, the higher the education and comprehension. If you’re going to show a lifespan of a character, laying out the different events will give you places to touch on for plot points.
One last piece about location:
Don’t put a volcano in downtown Paris, unless you’re making the world flip on end in some twisted dystopian reality. Get your location information straight, and keep your characters within the area. If they don’t have access to cars because it’s the stone age, they cannot travel across the continents in an hour…
Time: Specific Date, Timeframe, and Duration of Time.
Specific Date: is good if you’re giving a perspective that lets you have exactly a parameter of time. Setting your story in 1137BCE (again, unless you’re diddling with time and space intentionally) is going to give you certain limitations. Specific dates are not necessary, but they do help push a plot along, especially if there are key pieces of information that relate back to the dates themselves (ie prophecies, omens, etc).
The Timeframe AND Duration of Time:
This is an example of the possible timeframes that are possible within a storyline.
For Earthbound storylines, there are two specific ways of blocking the timeframe: BCE/CE and with Eras/Generations.
BCE (Before Common Era) and BC (Before Christ) mean the same thing- previous to year 1 CE (Common Era). This is the same as the year AD 1 (Anno Domini); the latter means “in the year of the lord,” often translated as “in the year of our lord.”
If you are not writing a religious text, BCE and CE are the correct form for writing.
**** THIS would be extremely hard to do, but would also be incredible to read if it was done properly.
One last piece about Time:
Writing “Stardate: 1.137” isn’t going to give your readers the idea you’re in the dark ages. Get the lingo for the date you want to use as well.
Here we go.
Everyone knows you need a spectacular beginning, middle, and end to keep the readers wanton for more of your words.
For now, the basics for this are simple:
Hook, compel, keep.
Hook your readers – so many people are daunted by writing that FIRST SENTENCE. I have a suggestion that I have used SO many times it is now just my common method: Don’t start with the first paragraph even. Don’t start your story where you aren’t comfortable.
Avoid the obvious cliches, common beginnings, and other traps that writers fall into when they are being overly cautious with their words.
It was a dark and stormy night…
Once upon a time…
Simply put, people will INSTANTLY judge your entire writing in a sentence if you start with this. Stephen King could get away with one of these now, but not before he was just some guy named Stephen.
Hooking your reader from the start will be paramount for them to trust you enough to continue to read.
Compel them with your words. Readers want to be taken on an emotional roller coaster. They want to feel things, see things, do things, explore things, fight things, and love things deeply and passionately and truly. Give them the escape they desperately desire from their mundane lives. Give them hope and honour and loyalty and devotion and mercy and justice that they might not have otherwise. Give them joy and sorrow, ecstasy and fear and retribution. When you deliver these to your reader, they are never sated with just one more sentence. They are compelled to read on, to find out more, learn the story’s depth and meaning and hidden nuances.
Keep them interested, and allow them the chance to fall in desperate hopeless love with characters, to be so swept up in the moment that tea goes cold and kittens have time to sleep for hours without being shifted from laps. Have your readers beg for more.
I realise this ended up being a bit more involved than expected, but The Basic Five are the keys to a well written story.
Next up: Pantser or Planner: which one is best for you?