Where a Story Begins . . .

In my junior year of high school I used a program called One Year Adventure Novel to help me plug through my first novel. The finished result: 350 pages, 66,134 words of non-stop action. It's not called an adventure novel for nothing.

Death. Captivity. Revolution. Betrayal.

One girl, enslaved to herself, trying to free her world from the twisted snares of her uncle.

I love my manuscript, raw and real as it is. I would love to see it cradled by a loving hardcover binding.

But I had to remind myself where this novel came from. It was an un-formed idea floating around in my head until I learned how to set it down in an orderly way. Chapter by chapter, character by character, disaster by disaster, dilemma by dilemma, plot twist by plot twist . . . I learned how to tell as story.

But now I have to remind myself where a story really begins! Since finishing my novel, every time I've gotten inspired by a new idea, I've found myself falling into the rigidity of a step-by-step process.
That process was brilliant to help me learn, to help me plug through, to help me finish. But now I have to remember - a story begins as a free-form idea. The rest has to flow from there. Keep the structure that you learned in the back of your mind to guide you, but let your ideas take their own course, instead of trying to shove them into an ordered list of steps.

Am I alone in this "need" for a step by step? Does anyone else ever feel that they rely too much on an ordered structure to write? Has anyone else had their inspiration sucked out by a step-by-step structure, or lost their love for writing because they constrict themselves?

I am in the midst of brainstorming for The Vision Forum Family Catalog 2012 short story contest. I refuse to let myself become constricted by a structure! Let the story come as it may come.


  1. Structure isn't always bad! It helps give focus to my work.

    However, I quickly learned that filling out all of those chapter-outlines was a good way to kill inspiration for my story. So now I stop at the "Four Steps" outline, where I put about a paragraph from each chapter, whether it's a dilemma or disaster, and the change of values I expect.

    Sometimes, though, my character still mix it up on me, so that helps me know I'm not constraining them too tightly. :)

  2. I agree! Structure is wonderful - I would never be able to start a story if I didn't know where I was going with it, or how to get there.

    For me, it's a lot like writing essays. I'll write an outline the first couple times, but once I've written enough of them, the outline forms on it's own, without having to write it down. Having the structure there, in the back of my mind, and writing notes down here and there - just enough to focus my story - helps me know what to write, and still keep my inspiration!

    And yes. Characters do often seem to have a mind of their own. And it's never really a good idea to hold them back . . . let them do what they will! It makes my job as a writer easier . . .

  3. When characters have a mind of their own, you know you're doing them right. Even if it's inconvenient at times. Haha.