The Story Process Posts From Go to Whoa

And it’s cos Marina asked — so blame her! Anyway, in case you wanted to read the whole gamut (approx 5k words) of posts (all written on the spur of the moment, off the cuff, so any errors are stuck there now), here they are in one post:


An Idea

It’s been on the backburner for a while, and as I have so much trouble staying online for more than half a minute at a time, this is what you get. It’s a bit of fun, and one day it may be a real story.

This is how my stories start life:

Two: Robbers, Roos & Roses

Idea: She feeds the big roos to keep them out of her roses, and when she’s robbed, bashed, and about to be abducted, what happens? Who’s there to save her?

Genre: Australiana

Where, when, who – working on it.

OPEN: mulching the garden, half over the fence – plus his favourite treat – the bath water drained into the gully for the mob to get access to green grass, check the fence between the garden and the gully is stable. The garden must be secured against the boomer, who jumps six foot without thinking about it.

THEME: don’t spoil the wild-life with special treats – they’ll never leave

SETUP: Country life, garden marauders.

CATALYST: she’s expecting the regular delivery, but the kid turns up with escaped prisoners (2).

DEBATE: what do we do with her and him? We can hide out here …

BREAK: the kid will be missed – tells them the store will call her – she thinks they’ll go.

B-STORY: they trash the joint, break the things she treasures more than money.

PINCH: they found the shotgun. One gets wounded when she fights them for it.

FUN/GAMES:

MID: tell them where the booze is – should she warn them how strong home-made is, or what she really uses it for? Nah.

AGAINST IT: Get the kid out after they pass out – tell him the gully shortcut – watch out for the boomer – go OVER the ridge, even though it’s tougher, longer. Don’t go along the main track. Go OVER.

PINCH: Where is the kid? She’s bashed, dragged outside.

ALL IS LOST:

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL/LULL:

BREAK: she points out the gully track – sees kids shirt on the trail.

PREP FOR FINALE: she packs food and drink – he makes her taste everything first. It works, the injured one stays, and he wants food, medicine – and he doesn’t get her to test any of it.

SHOWDOWN: the sammo, the big boomer wants his treat. By the time the cops come, crooks happy to go back to prison.

END:

The moral of the tale: country life isn’t the quiet life, nor the easy life.

Further to that Idea

is the next stage of the preparation. It’s the process of getting one of those little outline thingies for every character in the story.

Why?

Because if the writer doesn’t know why the character is in the story, and can’t understand why they’d do it this way and not that way, then the reader won’t get the right feel for the character.

There is more than one character to a story – even if it’s only the mirror image with a different view.

So, here’s the deal for the crooks view:

Two: Robbers, Roos & Roses

Idea: We broke away from the forced worked program. Me n Bud got better stuff to do. We need wheels, but there’s no one around. And then a kid comes along. He’ll know something. The kid’s on his own, but he doesn’t have a vehicle. We gotta get outta here, and fast. A coupla hours is all we got. When we see the kid’s got a list of customers to get to, we know one of ’em has to have a vehicle.

Genre: Australiana

Where, when, who – working on it.

OPEN: Break away from the work party. [this isn’t likely to go into the story, only their backstory, and only if it come up. It may only be a single sentence – that’s life].

THEME: don’t run.

SETUP: Country life ain’t easy.

CATALYST: she’s expecting the regular delivery, but when the kid turns up with extras, she doesn’t seem too concerned. Is the old lady nuts?Better and better.

DEBATE: We need supplies, a change of clothes – and where she hid the keys to that bomb of a vehicle.

BREAK: a weapon. Even better. Now she’ll give us the keys.

B-STORY: Bud gets shot in the shoulder. The old lady and the kid sort him, but he’s gotta get real help.

PINCH: Bud can’t run, he can’t even walk. The vehicle doesn’t have a battery. Go to the next farm and take one, quiet-like.

FUN/GAMES: She’s got booze!

MID: The food – is it poisoned? You can’t trust old ladies who live alone in the country and talk to roos.

AGAINST IT: Fell asleep. She did drug us, but we’re not the usual .

PINCH: Where is the kid? Beat the truth outta ya, old lady.

ALL IS LOST: He’ll call the cops. Gotta go after him – down the gully, through the mob of roos. He can’t get too far, just a kid.

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL/LULL:

BREAK: Meet Boomer, and he likes to have a sammo every day. Who’s got that sammo? Boomer doesn’t take no for an answer, chases all around the blackberry bushes until trapped.

PREP FOR FINALE: scream for help.

SHOWDOWN: The cops finally arrive. With an ambulance.

END: Happy to get outta the country.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll do one for the kid. I might make him a trainee for an olympic sport, and he’s friends with the old lady because she was a champion shooter in her day … hmmmmm, has wings, potential.

Each character in the story (all with a viewpoint, and the baddy/opposition) get one of these outline thingies (it’s a beat sheet, adapted for the way I do things), plus a few ideas on motivations and stakes and a family of verbs to make their metaphor.

It’s the fun bit before the serious business of writing it up into a readable story. It brings the people in the story close to real.

What Comes Next …

In the pieces that go into constructing a tall tale.

I’ve done the basic outline for the old woman and the crooks, but why does the kid bring deliveries to her on a rural property?

It brought to mind to consider who he is, what he wants (the kid, that is) and how she interacts with him, and why.

One part of the story has the crooks finding a rifle. Now, I could make that an ordinary rifle, but what if it was a rifle used by shooters in Olympic sports? That would be interesting.

So, I came up with a bit of background.

The old lady gets the deliveries because the kid’s trying to get enough money to buy a proper shooting rifle, and they’re expensive. Despite the exorbitant cost of the deliveries, she plays it up and invites him in every time, waiting for him to notice the books, the plaques, the photographs. But of course, it’s too soon in the story yet, and only when the crooks have trapped him there does he take the time to look around.

What he sees is a picture of his dad, with this old woman, and they both hold professional shooters rifles.

When the crooks find the gun-safe [where should it be hidden so that it’s a big deal?], they ask what it is. The old lady says it’s a fire-proof safe.

What for? Her will, of course, what else would she have of value?

They open the safe, and pull it out. ‘What sort of rifle is this?’ and they mishandle it badly.

‘Where are the rounds?’

Wrong sort of weapon, she tells them, but they don’t believe her, do they?

The kid, though, almost drops his jaw into the cellar. He knows what it is, he knows who she is now. This woman was his father’s mentor before … [work on that bit, too, make it emotional in terms of why the kid wants this so badly].

So, now I have the big moment with the crooks finding the gun and how it creates tension for all three main stories.

The benefits of doing the preliminary stuff is finding out these things that make a difference to the end-state of the story.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll give the motivations for the crooks, and it’s not just to escape prison — everyone has a reason to do what they do, and every character in the story believes the story is only theirs, they are the heroes of their own story.

How does that sound?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a pic of the specific rifle I had in mind, so that may take some more research. Meanwhile …

Ah, How to Do That

Further to the process of finding the story from an idea, I went on to think about the crooks and what they’re doing in the story. I needed their reason for being there.

It’s not a simple thing, although it looks like it could be. They’re crooks, after all, and the quick and easy part would be to not think about it too much and just make them the baddies.

But, and a big one at that, there is the question of how their story is going to reinforce the main story.

It’s not about theme, not yet, but each story within the story needs to have a reason, and the best reason is to showcase the main story.

And I could find one.

I wrote down a few things.

What is the question that only this story can answer? [that’s how to find where to end the story – when that question has an answer. The answer to the question is the resolution to the story.]

Which leads to this one: how does the effect of the opposition/antagonist represent one side of that question?

The woman and the boy — is it about competing? She wants to help him, but she wants him to ask. Is the story about enabling? Enabling what? Does that lead to the crooks being disablers?

Didn’t sound right, or strong enough, or feel worthy of the time and effort.

Another question: In what way does the goal of the antagonist/baddie represent the opposite of the main character (as yet, I haven’t chosen which of the old lady and the boy will be main character — these questions need to be asked first, so I know who has the most change in their arc).

Ah, and why is there a ‘roo in the story? What does his role have to do with either of the other two? What is he going to demonstrate as part of the picture?

Several hours later, several scribbles later, and no closer to a solid enough answer, I think: maybe this story isn’t ready yet. If I can’t find the reason these groups are in the same story, the story needs more time to make itself known.

Lying in bed, half-asleep, not thinking about the story because I’ve slipped it to the back of the burner again, there’s a niggle of a thought.

It’s about choices, isn’t it? Allowing (or not) others to choose the path, to see, to ask or offer.

She wants the boy to ask her for help, but in order for that to happen, he has to become more observant of the things outside himself. He has to see what’s there. The kid comes to her house every week, the photos are on the wall and he walks past them each time. He needs to look beyond himself, to become observant. That’s his lesson, his arc. He has to choose this, and she can’t compel him or the whole reason for wanting to help him is gone.

The kid needs to know how to observe and act on those observations. It’s not just about the shooting or the rifle or the sport.

The crooks are all about taking choice away from others. They are observant, but in a manner that is only of benefit to themselves. They see, they take. They are the opposite of the old lady.

And ‘roo? He’s a foil of her demonstration of observation. How? The way she checks the fences every day, the notes she makes on weather and season, and in particular, if there are any does in the mob of roos in season. That’s the important bit about the big ‘roo. And that he stays for the patch of green grass the old lady makes with the bathwater. Oh, and the sammo she gives him every day.

And that’s how they tie together and reinforce the main story. That’s how to create resonance through each element of the story.

It’s about choices, and how they’re made/offered. Now, I can think about the backstory of the crooks. Tomorrow.

The Next Step?

Okay, it might not be. The next step could be the background for the baddies, but even if I leave that, there’s this other thing that needs to happen.

It’s called the action family for the main character. As I have yet to decide which of the two characters is going to end up being the main character, I’ll do a general verb family that could fit either or both the old lady or the kid.

Does anyone do this?

Oh. What is it?

It’s like a few verbs that indicate how the character is going to do stuff. For this story, and the issue of how to make choices, it needs a verb family that starts with a gentle action process and then builds up to the bigger actions.

If the verb family is choose, what fits with that?

(these come from Activate: A thesaurus of actions & tactics for dynamic genre fiction (Damon Seude) https://www.amazon.com/Activate-thesaurus-actions-tactics-dynamic-ebook/dp/B07PYZ17HP/).

Aquire, adopt, desire, fix, gather, grasp, hoard, invite, mark, pick, prioritise, secure, snag, source, stock, tap, strip, etc.

The opposing side of the actions: dismiss, ditch, exclude, ignore, refuse, reject, retard, squander, trash, waste.

This could start out as the actions that define the character reactions to events and situations. And this is the start. I’d need a few more to test exactly how that character is going to take action, move, fight back. And no one else needs to know this except me (and the character, of course).

Story is about characters acting, taking actions, being active and demonstrating agency. Verbs are good for that.

I haven’t done the motivations (some conflict within the things that are important to the character) or ambitions or blindness (to faults), but sometimes those things come quite late in the ‘getting to know the character’ stage. Once I have a rough outline, a bit of background, a dream, a problem, and how actions will happen, I can start working on the next stages as the ideas come (usually, when doing things other than writing, planning, or researching — and sometimes, they just fly onto the page at the time I think about it).

There you have another, tack-on stage that’s important to the way a character in the story happens.

And as to Where

… in the world are we, specifically for this story, let’s lay open the map.

Readers like to know where they are, where this story is, so they can orient themselves.

That doesn’t mean explaining. Anytime the writer feels the need to explain makes the reader feel as if they’re being treated badly, spoken down to. So don’t explain, but let them know where they are in this story.

For my story, it needs to be a rural enough property that the mob of roos is a regular and unsurprising event. They’re there every day. That means it’s not urban, not even in the outer sprawl of suburbs. It needs to be far enough away from the edges of somewhere, but because the kid makes deliveries, it also needs to be close enough that he can get there without a car.

Oh, then comes the problem of how he gets the deliveries to the old lady. That’s another reason the setting can’t be too far from a town. If the kid had a car, the crooks would just take it and this story would never happen.

Never let the impossible nor the unbelievable happen just because it helps keep the story going. The kid could be on a scooter thingy (more research on the type, maybe a Honda 125cc road scooter, on its last legs), or he could be on a bicycle (how would he get the groceries there fast enough? Okay, not a bicycle).

Anyway, the setting.

Not too close to town, not too far. Other farms not too far away, but not close.

And there has to be a prison or a prisoner work release program close by. No, release is the wrong word, but (more research) the type of program where prisoners are escorted to a place for a specific purpose. In this case, either close to a country town, or in a semi-rural area.

Oh, and the gully at the back of her house. That means it can’t be Western Australia. Why? Not a common thing there, most places too sandy. Some places, but not many, and not close to towns. They do have a country prison community that often use prisoners in work placements, but not the gully.

Not South Australia. There are one or two places where it could be set, but they don’t do the release programs like that.

How about Victoria? I know lots of places in Victoria where there are good sites for this setting. Most country towns have smaller farms and farmlets way off the main road but close to town, and with good, deep gullies. And lots of roos. Of course, there are lots of roos almost everywhere (the other day a few wandered through the main square in the city – not kidding).

Not Ballarat, though, that might be a bit too close to the public transport hubs. The crooks wouldn’t need to do what they do if there’s public transport nearby. However, there are lots of smaller country towns with the right landscape. Further west. I’ll look into a few, or maybe north west of Ballarat.

That’s where this story will be set.

The opening could start something like:

The flexi-fence outside the chook run needed a bit of fixing. Dee put the secateurs in the box and looked around for the wire-cutters. The big roo lifted his head over the hedge on the west side. She was late for his treat.

The kid was late with his deliveries. If she didn’t give the roo something soon, he’d get cranky and start demolishing the fence around the garden. Again.

How long did it take to get from [town name] to here? It was only ten kilometres, and the kid was never late. What if he wasn’t coming? Or broken down? That old scooter was too far past its prime to be reliable. What if he’d been in an accident?

The big roo flicked his ears, looked toward the road. Dee followed his gaze. Dust rose along the long driveway lined with cypress pines.

That’d be the kid. Finally. She could make the roo his treat and fix the fence without worrying whether he’d eat her garden while she had her back turned. Dee dropped the tools into the box and washed her hands.

And there’s a bit of setting, a bit of tension, a bit of feed-in to the story. And I found the old lady’s name. It started as Diana, but the Diana as huntress has been done to death, so it’s now Dee Ambrose (amber is a colour, so what colour medal do you think she might have won at the Olympics?).

And if I still can’t think of how to do the backstory for the crooks by tomorrow, I’ll do an interview with them. Which means I need to give them names. Names that suit them and their role in this story. And voices that suit who they are, what they do. Not my voice, not my opinions.

The Crooks

Finally, the bit of info for the crooks pops up.

This one has crooks, and I’ve been a bit lax in giving them a background. Every character needs a background to make their story as solid and the main character/s.

These crooks, I’ve decided, aren’t brothers, not related by blood in any way. They have a stronger family. The family by choice. There’s that word again. This story is about how we choose to choose.

Their family is the father who fostered them (at different times) when the boys were in their teens. Difficult kids, but he brought them into line. And into the family business. Which was crookery. No, it’s not a word. Until now, that is.

The wife died (was the fire an accident? Did she do it herself while in one of her wild, drunken moments? Fodder for another line of depth in the characters). The father then called on his boys to support his enterprises, to become part of the whole. The choices he gave them were tough choices, but he treated them like adults, like real people. They fell for it. Followed him through some scary paths.

And while on the work party, one of the boys got a newspaper and saw the story about the police hunting through an area for a dangerous criminal. Of course, it’s dad, and they know where he’d be going, and what he’d need them to do.

Except they’re under guard, on the way back to prison, and they need to get there before the cops shoot dad. ‘Cos they will. He’s wanted for multiple murders this time.

The boys feel the obligation to rescue the only person who gave them the value of his wisdom. They don’t see that the choices weren’t valid, but will they learn that?

All in all, it’s coming together well. The two main stories, protagonist and antagonist, will demonstrate the differences in how choices are offered, seen, accepted. How one side will ensure growth and commitment, and the other side will be obligation and punishment (exclusion as the threat).

And tomorrow, I’ll go into why the opening para I did earlier won’t be the final say on the opening to the story.

Ciao!

I haven’t done an interview with the crooks yet. Sometimes, it’s hard to do. Not because I don’t know why they are who they have become, but because it’s too easy too see behind the mask.

That First Page

This is a continuation of the past few posts and I did a bit of an intro, but it wasn’t going to end up being those words, unless …

Yep, you guessed it. I have to make a decision.

The first part of a story is the most critical spot except the end, and that’s because they’re tied together. The beginning sets up a question that ends the story when the question has an answer. Yeah, I know. A bit esoteric. But that’s how it is. A story opens with a person who has a desire to do, get, become and it’s not going to be an easy path because there are blocks and troubles if they choose to pursue the path toward achieving that goal, and they must decide to step across the boundary of the time when they can leave it and walk away, or push ahead and get a definitive answer.

The main character wants something, but something else stands in the way, and the main character has to make a decision to fight for what’s desired. Gotta show agency, grit, determination (even if it’s hard, something never tried before — but the end result is worth it).

Simplified = Desire, Danger, Decision.

To know how much space I’ve got to lay that out means I need to know two main things: how long the story will be, and who the main character is.

I need the length of the story to know how much detail is going to get the story across in a clear, concise, and coherent presentation.

The end of the story comes when the character gets an answer to that story question.

In the case of this story, it could be:

Will ‘the kid’ ask Dee to mentor/train him?

Or it could be:

Can Dee show the kid how much he can learn with a bit of help?

The crooks won’t be the main characters, so I don’t have to consider them.

However, the climax is always an action — actions cause change and force a reaction; they can be acted out. Activity isn’t the same. Flicking of hair or sucking a gut in isn’t action, it’s activity, mainly because it does nothing to move the story forward.

How can the question in the story be answered?

The general story background is about the crooks turning up unexpectedly and causing mayhem, and I’ve got the end as when the last crook is cornered by the roo in the blackberry patch. That’s not the real story though.

Why?

The roo isn’t the main character. And the main character has to take action to achieve the answer to the story question.

With the two questions above, who would need to do what to answer the question/s? Who is going to get what they deserve (the crooks story is easy to show the contrast to the main story) and how?

Will it be the kid? Or Dee? No idea yet. Sometimes, these things take time to percolate, but if I don’t have the important pieces of the puzzle, then it’s not time to start the story.

Whose story is it? Why? What do they want? Why now? Is it worthwhile? I have the when and where, the why and what, almost got the who, but the how is a big tangle of net at the moment. What will happen next? Who will move into top billing?

I’ll let you know.

The Deepening of the Need

A day or so away from the planning of the story, and I came up with the main thrust of the subtext.

The Kid (still nameless, but that will change) wants Dee to sponsor him, he wants her to give him money. That’s what he wants. What he needs is to forgive her (and himself) when he finds out that she wasn’t responsible for his father’s accident, regardless of what the locals say.

That means it will be his story, he will be the main character, and the first scene will be his POV.

Why?

Because the person who starts the story ends the story. The story question is the one attached the main character, and the reader needs to know the story question within the first scene, preferably within the first few pages. Prior to that, it’s a sense of change coming, but not necessarily ‘the big question’ that it takes a story to answer.

A story is this: A character in conflict who struggles to find a resolution to the problem.

The struggle is the plot — events and obstacles that need to be overcome, internal and external, to be able to move forward into the next stage of life. And these struggles have to be worth the journey. And they have to be relevant to the question. The question needs an answer by the end.

That’s what makes it worth the effort, the pushing forward. His want is strong, but he can’t be a winner until he makes unobstructed observations of reality without being influenced by the opinions of others.

Or I’ll think on it some more, but for the moment, this looks interesting and can create a lot of conflict between all the characters, the people in the town, and it has a history and a future.

And now things are starting to come together, the weft and weave are showing their colours and patterns …

The Final (Almost) Starting Point

Now that the kid is going to be the MC, let me explain why he’s going to be the Main Character. Yes, I call them main characters, rather than any other label. Just habit, and stops any attempt at making them a Mary Sue (or the M equivalent).

Anyway, back to the subject of the discussion.

What does it take for the character to become the main character?

There are four main things for me (and probably millions of others, readers and writers alike):

An interesting setting. The world thing. I need to know it well enough to enable the reader to experience that world and it has to be interesting enough that they can feel it, taste it, live in it (even all the bities).

Next is an Active character. They have to want something badly and they need to be willing to do stuff to get what they want (hold your horses, haven’t got to the other half of this yet).

After that is the Goal. It has to be big enough to sustain the story, it has to be a worthy fight to get something that big.

And the last (and probably most important consideration) is Stakes. What is at stake for this person if they don’t get what they NEED from this journey?

See the difference there? They start off with a want, but underlying that want is a bigger need, and they can’t achieve what they want until they have that need stick them in the nose with a good ol’ one-two knockout to show them the reality of dreams and life.

The world is interesting to me, and I know it well enough to situate these characters and this story in it, with a bit of a push and shove from the difficult terrain, beasties, and baddies to make it more than just a backdrop. It will be real to me as I write it and that should be easier for the reader (as long as I do an edit run just for setting).

The kid has the dream of not just getting to the Olympics, but participating in the sport his father would have won gold in — if he’d lived. That’s the Want (external).

He’s also doing the hard yards to get the extra money. Some of that isn’t all that honest, and he thinks to use emotional manipulation on Dee to get money out of her for the big-ticket items. He’s an active protagonist, who may have a skewed view at the beginning of the story.

The Goal is to get to the Olympics and prove to himself he’s as good as his dad (internal goal).

The Stakes become: his life in the first instance (getting away from the crooks – the foil of his desperate tactics in pursuit of his goals and the choice of action to get there), then his skills (which includes the equipment and paying for a trainer, etc.), then his internal self-concept (will he finally understand that it’s not just about his dad, that he can’t blame the world for an accident, and that the choice to pursue a goal isn’t about proving yourself to others, but to temper and forge the person hidden under the mask (all the things he thinks the world expects of him).

So, all in all, that’s the beginning of the background to the story. After this, I go on to do an outline. Sometimes by the Big Moments in a story (the break, middle, and black moment), sometimes by doing a scene summary, sometimes a chain of events (with a few internal knockouts).

Knowing why every character is in the story helps make the story grow from a strong foundation. If they have reasons to do what they do, motivations to push beyond the first bump in the track, then they become interesting and we want to know how they deal with what gets thrown at them.

Well, that’s what I think — what about you?

And you may have noticed how much of the previous few posts comes from time away from the workplace and in the headspace. It all takes a bit of thinking time, understanding the why’s and why not’s of each character — including Roo (his motivation is that Vegemite sandwich — and he has a clock in his stomach!).


And that’s the end … until the real planning starts!

7 thoughts on “The Story Process Posts From Go to Whoa

  1. Pingback: Robbers, Roos & Roses | Cage Dunn: Writer, Author, Teller-of-tall-tales

  2. Alright, this is very insightful and helpful. I am glad you pointed me to this post. I am going to make sure I re-read it once or twice, or at least every time I have a problem with developing a concept for a short story. Once again, thank you my Commander in Quill. 😀 Stay cool.

    Liked by 1 person

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