Finding the right seeds for your story.
Sometimes the hardest part of writing a story is finding the story itself.
This challenge is fresh in my mind, because I am still fresh off the manuscript submission roller-coaster. But that’s why I feel well equipped to write about this process.
So let me give you a few pointers while I’m still feeling my way through the business of authoring.
What do publishers want?
When you pitch a manuscript to a publisher the thing they IMPLORE you to do is to ‘make them care.’
At first I must admit (rather shamefully) that I struggled to decipher what this really meant. But after awhile I realised that they wanted to be hooked by an emotion and to empathise, squirm or fall in love with the characters and their plight.
So there are different ways to get this story ball rolling – here are just five potentials.
- Place: I know some authors love to create a story from a ‘place’. This is particularly true of rural romance/fiction authors and also historical fiction authors like me. It’s about evoking their past/present and letting the reader drift or jockey along on the scent of their memories.
- People: Sometimes it’s a person an author admires or an amazing fact about a feat from the past and then use that to inspire a fictional version.
- Philosophy: Something that you are passionate about in life, but without being preachy.
- Thing: Often people find something interesting from their own lives. A letter or a piece of jewellery or even their own family tree.
- Feeling: Usually it’s an emotion. This is my primary method. And then I’ll use the other four to augment. So I start with something I’ve felt uncomfortable with! Something I’m trying to reconcile, or understand or fix. I wrap my head around why I am feeling this way and also pick apart the events leading up to the feeling. Once I get close to figuring it out, I build the feelings into a character and their actions.
In The Eighth Wonder, I started with my own feeling of torment about a situation involving an ex-circus elephant, then asked myself. Who would love the elephant? And so the story began. The era gave me the facts about time, place, customs and current events that then nurtured the lives of the characters. Once they were living and breathing, they seemed to hold my hand, make their own choices and help me figure out what happened next.
In the end, all authors are after the emotional connection, it’s just that the starting point that differs. So use place, or person, thing, philosophy or historical moment or even just start with a feeling in your gut.
Then just do it.