How Do I Start Writing a Story? Timelines Made Easy.

Welcome to Motivational Mondays with Kate. This is a blog intended to help new writers overcome some of the challenges they face.

I believe you can become a good writer, if that’s what you wish to do and you can learn at any age with the right tools. The tips I will be sharing may seem simple, and many of them are, and many of them are easy tricks I use myself. Why make anything harder than it needs to be?

Recently, a brand new writer asked me: How Do I Even Begin?

That is a question so many ask… where to start? Sometimes the greatest challenge in writing is beginning to write at all. You have a fabulous idea, but you stare blankly into space with no idea on how to get it onto paper. It’s overwhelming, the ideas racing around in your head, and you are unable to focus or get out a single word. Yes, this has happened to me where the thoughts are there but the challenge is to get it written down!

Let me start by saying that I believe writing a story is somewhat like using building blocks. You don’t just sit down a write a novel perfectly the first round. You must have a solid base and break the tasks down into parts, especially if you haven’t ever written a story before.

Tasks! Wait! This is writing! How can there be ‘tasks‘ and ‘parts‘ to break down?

It’s hard to write coherently if you have no idea where you’re going, or how to get there. It’s like arriving in a new city and finding your phone battery has died and you can’t use your GPS.

I will admit, some people can just sit down and write, and that’s amazing. Others will sit and stare at a page, willing the words to appear, those fantastic ideas trapped in the depths of their minds.

I fall firmly in the middle, I like to have a plan, but it is really only an outline of the events I want to happen. Here is where an invaluable tool comes in… the timeline. If you were planning an animated movie or the like, you’d call this storyboarding.

What is a timeline? Basically it’s a simple method of organizing your thoughts into a linear and logical order. Once I have a story idea in mind, I pull out my index cards. I personally prefer doing this on index cards because it is easy to move the order of events and they are inexpensive and easy to obtain. Having a board to tack them up on is nice as well, but not mandatory. Depending on the intent of the story and the time span, you might want a calendar handy as well.

Step one ~ Define the theme of your story

The theme is the main underlying message in your story, the basis on which your tale is based. These are generally quite universal, but is basically the ‘big picture’ and you should be able to define this in one or two lines. It’s helpful to have an idea of what main idea you want to get across to your reader. It’s best to have it written down where you can refer to it easily should you find yourself wandering off track.

Step two ~ Write Your Events Down

By events, I mean the major points in your story. Is your main character going to experience a major setback? Get a new job? Move? Fall in love? Lose the love of their life? Those are all events and plot points in your story. Don’t worry about which order you write them down in, simply write a card for each major ‘stop’ your character will make along the way. At this point you may have a solid idea, but if you don’t this exercise should help you brainstorm. Don’t worry about content, just write down each and every idea that occurs to you. You don’t even need to go into detail, just a few words will do.

Step three ~ Read through your events and add details

I find by this step, my ‘inner muse’ is taking hold and the ideas should be flowing. Again, don’t worry about editing or censoring the ideas, write them all down and add a couple of sentences to each card. These might be dates – does a big event happen on a characters birthday? Or a major holiday? It might be how the character feels at that moment, it could be just about any detail you feel is critical to the story and will move your plot forward. Consult your calendar as needed.

Step four ~ Put the events in basic order

This is where having the index cards is super handy. Lay out the cards and put them in chronological order as you think they’d happen in your story. As you write your story, new ideas might appear, the events you have might no longer fit or they might further develop. The advantage of using the index cards is it’s easy to move them around, add and remove events, and expand on them as you go.

I’ve done this at all stages of a story, and revisited my timeline notes all through the writing process. My first fiction I didn’t use this method, but I find it keeps me focused now that I do this on a regular basis.

This is where the motivation comes in… if you have been putting off starting a story, or you haven’t been sure where to begin, I challenge you to give this a try this week and see how it works for you. I’d love to know if this helps, or if you have any of your own tips, feel free to share them in the comments.

I hope you have a great week, and join me next week for another writing tip.

Kate

 

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