Nancy’s Notes: The Art of Story Crafting

How do you create a story?

I recently saw a question in one of my writing groups (Thank you, Joy McCullough) asking some basic questions about story creation.  The answers, on the other hand, are different for most every author.

We all seem to have our individual way of bringing a story to life.  Some are pantsers and completely wing it, letting the story go where it may.  Others are strict outliners.  Some prefer to write in sequence, while others create scenes and stitch them together.  I tend to fall in the middle.

Stories need structure.  Just like the human body would be a mass of flesh lying on the floor without bones to provide framework, my story could end up going nowhere if I don’t provide a scaffold of sorts for the ideas to all come together. 

How do I start a story?  I daydream an inordinate amount of time.  I think about my character and follow him/her around until I know all I need to know to start. Who is she?  What does she want or need? What is her obstacle? What are her setbacks?  Does she have a past issue that creates a complication? Who/what is for her?  Who/what is against her?  Does she achieve her goal?  And the big How?

I visualize the scenes, the locales, the other characters. If you need visual cues, go crazy on Pinterest, tear pictures out of magazines, or print out images you Googled.  I decide on my viewpoint…first or third (limited or omniscient). My mind creates a movie of the story before I even start typing. 

I jot these impressions down, often on post-it notes (index cards, scraps of paper) and place them on a wall or piece of project board. You can use your computer in much the same way but I like the feel of writing the ideas down. Then I play with them until I see the ‘movie’ as I envisioned it.  From there it is just a small step to writing up an informal outline of the prime or central plot. 

Once you’ve laid out the prime plot, you can go back and add subplots with more post-its (maybe a different color). Secondary characters need to be fully fleshed out, not just cardboard stand-ins to fill a gap.  If there is a love interest then it should play true to the story, not just be there for the 2.5 sex scenes incorporated for the heck of it. 

How do you know when it ends?  Has she achieved her goal?  Did it elude her grasp at the last moment? (Do I smell a sequel?)  Has she come to some form of enlightenment?  Are all the messy loose ends tied up or at least in the process?

Here comes the dreaded editing where you will question every word you’ve written.  I highly recommend that you not try to do all the editing at one time.   Read through and make sure the story works.  If not, go back and make it so, but do not mess with any other edits. You can circle them or highlight but leave them alone.  Read again.  Does it flow well?  Are your facts straight?  Even fiction has facts like characters age, time lines, etc.

Now read through for grammar and spelling.  Then send it out to readers.  Edit again to incorporate their advice. Send it to an editor.  Then start the submission process.

That is how I write a story.  Your method will be special to you.  But it all comes down to work, not magic, not talent, not luck. 

Nancy E Miller
Follow me:

Nancy E Miller

Columnist/Illustrator at Our Write Side/OWS Ink, LLC
Nancy E. Miller, romantic suspense author of Shark Bait and Crystal Unicorns, lives near St. Louis with her husband and three dogs, pygmy goats, chickens and a cranky rooster named Ketchup. Her degree is in Psychology and Sociology. She has worked in education and mental health as a case manager and crisis counselor.
Nancy E Miller
Follow me:

Latest posts by Nancy E Miller (see all)

3 thoughts on “Nancy’s Notes: The Art of Story Crafting”

  1. kenml2014 says:

    Nancy, Thank you for your words of wisdom. I know where I’m going in my story; up to the point where it enters a mist that clears as I approach it. I think we are coming up to the end then my protagonist makes a hard left and were off again. Still into the initial manuscript, and looking forward to the day I can sit back and read the whole story before the editing process.

    1. Stephanie Ayers says:

      This is a day every author looks forward to. Write on!

    2. Nancy Miller says:

      Sorry I didn’t see your comment before. Thank you and I hope your book is going well. Characters making a sudden left turn is fine as long as they remember to signal. In other words, make sure it fits into the original theme of the story ND doesn’t just run on because you aren’t sure how to stop. Tell your characters they can continue in another book but for now they can just sulk.

It's YOUR write side, too! Let's hear it!

%d bloggers like this: