How to get to the Starting Point

And it’s not because I forgot it was Friday again.

It’s about stories. Where the open lies, where the build happens, how it all crashes together to form an ending.

I use a couple of methods to get the shape of the story.

The first thing I do is a paragraph about the idea. A moment in time for a potential story. Then I think about it, and try to place it in a moment within a beat sheet.

A beat sheet shows the major emotional beats of a story, whether determinate or indeterminate. The opening, the event that kick-starts the forward momentum, the decision to pursue the goal, the opposition shows itself, the middle of the story where the character sees the need to change tactics, the bigger push from the opposition, the black moment where all seems lost, the final decision to do or die, the showdown, and the close.

It sounds simple, but knowing these beats makes it easier for me to determine if the story has legs. If I can’t do a simple major beat outline for the initiating idea, then it isn’t ready to become a story yet. It also helps me find the hooks to grab the reader, that indicate there’s more to come, questions that needs answers, a driving force behind the character.

If it’s easy to fill them all in, then I move onto finding the WWWWW: Who, where, when, what, why, and how. Another few paragraphs to do a rough outline (I like to use the snowflake method here; a single sentence to give the overall story premise, and five sentences to give the shape and context to the story). If that comes together in less than a day, I move onto the main scene outline, and create a side list of the characters encountered (because they all need a reason to be in the story, and that means they all need their own beat sheet, otherwise, they’re just puppets and won’t demonstrate the strong pull of conflict, suspense, or tension (oh, yes, that was supposed to be the topic for the week, wasn’t it? Sorry.).

I’m at that stage now, creating a story for possible inclusion in an anthology. A short, Gothic-themed story (short … okay, up to 10k words. That’s short for me).

And next week I’ll do the post on Conflict, Suspense, and Tension. Promise.

Photo by Mikey Dabro on

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