3 Simple Tips for Finding Your Story

Some writers’ stories just come to mind, fully formed. Lucky them. It’s more likely that snippets of a story streak through your brain, like a naked drunk criss-crossing the football field, and when you chase it down to determine whether this tale is hot or not, it evaporates into thin air. Or maybe there’s a whole group of streakers on the field and you don’t know which one to tackle first. Or you’re on the screenwriter team writing cartoons and it’s hard to get out of that headspace, ditch the fart jokes, and write deep dark stories for teens. That last one was me.

It took years to develop my story, mainly because I didn’t have a handle on what I wanted to write, except that I wanted it to be in the broad category of YA. I was excited to have the freedom to write whatever I chose, especially after freelance television writing where the world, characters and general story were already established for me. But I was unprepared for the overwhelming amount of choices at my disposal. Consequently, I spent four years creating various stories that just weren’t “right” for me. At least I learned from the experience, and can pass on the knowledge to you…

3 Simple Tips for Finding Your Story

  1. Brainstorm a Bunch of Ideas – You think that first idea you came up with is THE BEST, but it’s probably not. Brainstorm ten ideas, set them aside, and a few days later pull them out to see which ones still rock. If the first idea is still the best, awesome, write it. But it’s quite possible that another idea you came up with is better. And if you hadn’t forced yourself to create ten, you never would have thought of it. Worse, you would’ve dived into that first idea, spent months/years developing it, only to realize that it was never very good. Been there, done that. Avoid my pain and brainstorm first.
  2. Write What You Read – Why are you writing romance when you read sci-fi? Because romance sells? Because love triangles are the hot trend? Trends and what sells are not good reasons to write a book. Besides, these things will change by the time you finish your book. So write what you read – you’ll naturally be better at it because you love the genre and you’ve studied it through reading.
  3. Write What You Know – This advice is so common it’s cliché. Even more problematic is that most of us lead lives that are not novel material, myself included. Still, I tried to do this because everybody told me to write about my life growing up in a small town, and to make it a comedy because they thought my upbringing was hilarious. But though my anecdotes made others laugh, I never really found small town life funny (more tragic). Plus, I didn’t want to write comedy. So I put the book aside. However, for the location of my current novel, a mystery thriller, I chose a small town, and even though I never set out to write about my life, it’s coming out in the story. The lesson? Don’t take this advice literally and write your life story; write a story peppered with details you’ve lived. That’s what makes it your story.

Those are simple tips to find your story. But honestly, it may just take time. If you’re not exactly sure what kind of stories you want to write, it could take a few years to suss that out. Also, what you write may change as you get older and grow as a writer. Don’t stress about it (I’ve done enough of that for all of us), and just write.

Next Up from Heather… So now that you have a story, refresh on how to outline that story using Outlining Method #1 and Outlining Method #2, because next week we’ll talk about Outlining Method #3 aka The Wall of Sticky Notes.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

2 thoughts on “3 Simple Tips for Finding Your Story”

  1. How to find your story? Start writing it. Hammer out a first draft or story board an outline. Then read it. Really look at it. One of two things will happen.

    You will see the parts that work and parts that don’t and after removing the parts that don’t you start carving a narrative to fit the parts that do.

    Or. You get something that works but realize that while you have an interesting chain of events. You’re not showing them from the most interesting POV. Telling the storry of a grand crusade from the POV of a Knight is fine, but what’s the Horse’s POV on the whole thing? See where I’m going.

    A mystery novel from the PV of the detective is great but in looking it over you may realize that the same story shown from the criminal’s perspective might be more interesting.

    1. Those are two things that could happen out of at least two dozen! I’m glad your process is so straightforward. ? Alas, I find it more productive to brainstorm before writing, but that’s just me. If your vision is clear, go ahead and write it. But some of us struggle through some pretty muddy waters first, and these are just a few tips to sift through the crap before diving in.

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