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5 Tips for Starting to Write a Story

This month I am teaching a class on writing short stories and while working on it I came up with my own idea for writing a story. It's in a genre (young adult) that I haven't written before so as I sat down to get started it occurred to me I had no idea what I wanted to say or how. I had a concept, but where do you go from there? That got me to thinking about how I normally start out writing a story. I realized there isn't one set way that I start. I just do.

It's something I started learning many years ago when I started out in writing for TV news. You don't have much time to think about how you want to get started. You have to do it or the time will pass and your story won't make it on the air. So I would just start. As Nora Roberts says, "you can't edit a blank page." Anything else can be fixed. So start. How and where? Anywhere can be a beginning. You don't need to sit and consider the perfect first line.

1. Begin with a conversation. This was how I started on that young adult story. I had a concept and I wasn't sure how to introduce the characters or get their story started, so I began with two of the main characters caught up in a conversation. It isn't necessarily the first one they have, but it will explain one of their early actions. But writing the dialogue made me understand several things about each character and from there I was able to begin a character sketch. or....

2. Begin with a Character sketch. I've often done that in the past. I know what my story is about, and I have a vague idea of the character, but starting with a sketch (that can be used or discarded in the book) can be a good way to start off your writing. You get a picture of your character and even if you don't use the description exactly in a later scene you start off knowing more about you character.

3. Start off with a description of the setting. Now I say that not as the idea for the opening of your book any more than you would start off the opening scene with a character sketch. This is just a way to begin your writing. Write a scene setter so that you can place your characters there. Again, this can become preliminary work or you can use parts of it as you start to write. What you want to write down in the book is not so much this description as the "feel" you get from this description. Show it in your story.

4. Write a scene you know will be in the book.  I've even written the final scene as a way of starting off. In a mystery that can really be helpful because you then know how your main character is going to solve the crime.

5. Write the first thing that comes into your mind about the book. It can be anything -- from character to plot to a simple line about the story itself.  Again, this is just a way of getting started. Too often we get caught up in looking at that blank page and we don't know where or how to begin. Look at your notes about the story or look into your head to think about the story.

When I was writing for a newscast I'd have at least reporter notes or wire copy to go from. We never start out with nothing, and your stories are that way too. Think about what is in your head and just get started. Some times that is a good way to get started in the morning too. Don't let yourself get bogged down with worrying about how perfect the writing needs to be.  Once you make getting started a common practice you may find you don't need as much editing.


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