Anyone can come up with a story. It really is very easy. Something happens, then something else happens and, finally, something final happens (though not always in that order). That’s it. It’s easy to tell someone that story. “Great story!” they will exclaim. “That’s so funny!” they will laugh. “How sad!” they will commiserate. You just tell ‘em and they react, hopefully the way you want them to.
But when a writer comes up with what he thinks is a great story, it is only the beginning of a long and bewildering list of questions.
Does the story make sense? How strong is it? Could it be a novel, or is it a short story? Flash fiction? Or novella? Is it interesting? Does it hang together? Is your fictional world ‘real.’ Can you resolve, paper over or disguise the inevitable plot holes? Are the main characters believable? Likeable? Are there main characters?
What is the audience for this story? What do they want? What will they accept? How can you satisfy them? Do they require British, Australian or American English? Should you provide all three in separate editions, just in case?
The easy part now over, what’s the genre? When is it set? Where is it set? What is the tone? Realistic? Lyrical? Humorous? Romantic? Brutal? Explicit? Graphic?
Once you have worked out the answers to these additional minor issues, you are ready to start writing. But where does the story start? Does it need a prologue? Should it start later and flash back? What about starting in the middle of an action sequence? Or should it be a more sedate character or setting description to ease the reader into the story? What about an out-of-sequence format that jumps about to keep readers on their toes?
Phew! Glad that’s over. Now, what point of view should you use? First person? Second person? Third person omniscient? Fourth person limited, eight times removed? (OK, that last one is not a thing). Mix them up? Single or multiple POVs? Can you head-hop, or should you change POV with chapter breaks? Do you need chapters? How long should they be?
You start writing, but now unplanned characters, events and story threads start to gatecrash your manuscript and meddle with your best laid plans. How do you handle them? Can they be incorporated? How do they fit with all the above issues you resolved before getting to this stage? But if you do accept these unexpected elements, it’s not the same story and a whole new set of questions arise. How do you resolve them?
Writing a story is a Question and Answer session from start to finish. But it’s not a fun Q & A, it’s a long, violent, brutal interrogation, involving a bewildering and confusing barrage of questions that will leave you battered, bruised and incapable of coherent thought. So, when you hear a writer tell you they love writing, it confirms you are speaking to a masochist.
The real joy, for me, is at the end, when I have a shiny, polished, completed manuscript that contains all the answers. Calmness descends upon me and I smile, filled with warmth and satisfaction at a job well done.
But wait! Who can I get to read it and give me an honest opinion? What if I disagree with her? Them? Should I self-publish? Find an agent or publisher? Both? And what about the cover, editing, proofreading, launch, marketing?
And what do I write next?