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You can have your cake and write about it too

Getting started is always the hardest part of writing for me. I’ve actually written and deleted the opening paragraph to this column at least three times already! A lot of times I might have an inkling of an idea but no clue where to go from there.

A couple years ago, I put together a little template to follow to get started on the writing process (because I can’t do anything without making a to-do checklist, it seems). So this week, I’ve decided to share that here. A lot of it is common sense I think, but I hope it’ll be helpful for any potential writers out there who just need a push in the right direction to get started. This guide works best for fiction, but you could probably tweak parts and apply it to other kinds of writing as well.

Step one: create a premise.

The premise of your story is essentially a summary of it boiled down to one sentence. The premise for “Star Trek,” for example, is “the crew of a space ship explores outer space.” This story is much more complicated than one sentence, but it’s a good place to begin.

Here’s a premise I’ll use as an example going forward: “Mr. A wants to bake a cake for Mr. B.”

We can fill in the details as we continue.

Step two: develop your character.

In my opinion, characters are the most important part of any story. Without them, there is nothing for the reader to connect to or identify with. So in the example story, Mr. A is going to be our main character. But to be an interesting protagonist, he needs to have a flaw. Nobody’s perfect, right? Fictional characters need to be just as messy as real people.

Like the premise, the flaws in Mr. A’s character don’t need to be overly complicated. Let’s just say Mr. A is terrible at following directions, perhaps because he’s really stubborn.

Step three: develop the plot.

Once you have your characters set, you need them to actually DO something. Otherwise, there’s no story at all. So you have to decide on where the story will start and where it will end. Simply put, Mr. A will start the story off without a cake, and presumably, he’ll end the story with a cake. Having even a vague idea of where you want your story to start and stop can help to decide what will happen in between.

And just like it’s important for your character to have a flaw, it’s also important for your plot to have conflict, which can be internal, external, or both.

Conflict makes a story more interesting. Imagine me telling you a story about the time my family and I went canoeing and kayaking down a river, and the weather was lovely and we had a pleasant time. It’s nice, but it’s also boring. Imagine me instead telling you a story where we all went canoeing and kayaking down a river, but the water was very choppy and we lost a raft paddle and some of us almost drowned. A little more exciting, right? (Fun fact: the second river story is true.)

So if a cake magically falls out of the sky for Mr. A, no one is going to enjoy this story. If we add a problem, like Mr. A needs to go to the grocery store for ingredients, then the reader gets to see how Mr. A will deal with that problem. Perhaps when he sets out for the grocery store, he discovers road construction which sends him on an unfamiliar detour. And remember how Mr. A is terrible at following directions? Maybe that makes it even more difficult for him to reach his destination.

Step four: write it!

Once you’ve decided on all these basic details of your story, you’re ready to roll. Take Mr. A on a crazy journey for cake ingredients, let him run into a few problems, and maybe by the end of it, he’s learned how to follow directions better.

Whatever you decide to do, have fun with it! Writing a story shouldn’t feel like pulling teeth (unless, of course, it’s a story about pulling teeth). I believe anyone can write a story. They just have to get started.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.