This is a blogpost about a passion project of mine: writing fiction. And it’s not just any passion project… It’s one that stuck! I will tell you all about the steps I take to start working on a new novel and how you can get started on your own story today!
If you’ve read my blog before, you know that having a passion of mine stick is not always (or hardly ever) the case. Writing – and especially writing fiction – is a passion project that turned out to be one of the things I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. It became a true passion of mine. It kept being interesting, challenging and most importantly, a lot of fun.
To get back to why I started writing this blog, I try a lot of new things. Whenever something seems (even remotely) interesting to me, I give it a shot. I’ve learned that doing a lot of different things gives you the advantage of learning really quickly what’s for you and what’s not. I’m writing this starter’s guide so you can see if writing is something that you’d like to try. Who knows, writing fiction might just be your passion too.
I’ve written two young adult fantasy books so far and I’m currently working on the plot for a third novel. I love the creative part of writing the most. The creation of characters and bringing them to life, building the world they live in, describing what my heroes are up against and thinking of an airtight motive for the villain. To me personally, those are the most important things a book consists of. They absolutely make or break your story.
So, in this first part of the starter’s guide to writing fiction, I will tell you all about how to perfect those four elements in your story concept. After reading this guide, you will be able to come up with a great foundation for your story.
Creating your characters
Your characters are likely the most important thing in your story. If you do not have characters that change, develop and evolve, you basically have no story to tell. Great books tell the story of someone that went on a long (metaphorical) journey and discovered their true self along the way. When reading a book, the protagonist (or main character) becomes like a friend to you. They have qualities and weaknesses that you can relate to in some way. They are have good qualities and strengths and are also captivating.
However, he or she isn’t perfect. This is very important! People do not relate to flawless characters. Nobody is perfect in real life, so it’s very hard to believe – even in a fantasy world – that any character would be. Give them a personality trait or a disability or anything that complicates the situation they’re in. This makes the story more complex, endearing, heartbreaking or even funnier. It gives your story depth.
Goals and Desires
Other than giving them some flaws, you also want your characters to have desires and goals of their own. And not only your protagonist, but every single character that has any significant role in your story also has a goal. Same goes for fears and insecurities.
You want to think these factors over before you start writing, because it’s what drives your characters or holds them back. They will make decisions based on their goals, dreams and fears, so it’ll be best for you to know your characters very well. That way you’ll be able to write them as convincible, likeable and relatable people.
Give them some history
Now give your character a backstory. Where do they come from? What have they been through? Who are key figures (other characters) in their story/development? Why and how have they become who they are?
Amazing characters have many different traits, just like real humans. The more your reader will be able to relate to the character, the more they will adore your story. You want to start your book with about 20 characters; the hero, the hero’s family and friends, a mentor, a herald (someone to tell the main character(s) things before they happen), authority figure(s), villain(s), no-names (to create some mystery) and extras. Decide which ones you need to work out in great detail and which ones a name and a little extra info will suffice.
Every story is about a challenge for your main character(s), something they have to find, overcome or destroy. It’s basically your whole story. This is where you decide what is going to happen and how it’s going to happen. Figure out what that challenge is and think about it in as much detail as you possibly can.
Outline your story + create your plot
Write down the common thread of your story. How do your characters get introduced to the challenge? Will they happily accept or feel reluctant? How will they handle things? What bumps in the road will there be? Will they make it/solve it/destroy it or not? Who (else) is involved? How did the challenge come to exist?
These are all questions you want to be asking yourself. You want an airtight story, because readers will expect you to know all these things and inform them about them at some point.
When it comes to worldbuilding, you have some big decisions to make. Even when you’re not building an entirely fictional world, there’s always the setting of your story; a small town, a new planet, on the road, a specific time (in history or in the future), a house or maybe even just a room, a big city or a place we’ve never heard of before. The setting is very important to the story. It sets limits or creates opportunities for your characters. When you’re building a fictional world for your story to take place, there is one rule – it needs to be believable.
The sky is the limit, but mind gravity
You can build the world completely to your liking. The sky is the limit. You’re like a god. 😉 However, every world has its own laws of physics. Even when magic is a big part of your story, there must be some limits to that. Determine what can and can’t be done in your world. Because in fantasy worlds, your reader will have to believe that what you’re telling them is actually possible (in your world). This is called suspension of disbelief and comes down to when you write “human interest and a semblance of truth” into your world, the reader will suspend their judgment of the implausibility of your story. This is key, because if a reader snaps out of that suspension of disbelief, you’ve probably lost them forever.
Therefore, you want to build a believable world for your characters to live in, travel through or interact with. Things need to be explained and need to have a source. If you’re writing about magic and you don’t want to write about where it comes from, make it a mystery. Something none of your characters has ever figured out. That way it’s still believable there is magic in your world, but no one really knows how or why. That way your reader will either just believe magic is possible or they will start coming up with their own theories
The villain & their motive
Every good story has a good villain the main characters are up against. However, a villain doesn’t always have to be a person. The danger could also be an evil force like the Capitol in The Hunger Games or supernatural beings in Supernatural. But you have to have key figures in those forces too, like President Snow. Someone the reader can hate with a passion.
How to create a villain
There’s many ways to create an amazing villain for your story. Of course you want them to be evil, but you don’t want to overdo it. As with every trait you give your characters, it should be credible. People are hardly ever evil just to be evil. Sometimes that could work, but I find that stories with a villain that believe they’re doing the right thing is also very captivating.
The villain’s backstory is almost as important as your hero’s backstory. Tell the story of why and how they became evil. What shaped them into the person they are today?
And then also give the villain some traits, goals, core beliefs and values. Make them interesting. You want to give your villain similar traits as your main character, as you want the reader to sympathize with both of these important characters in your story.
Give your villain a good, distinct name. Think of examples like President Snow, Voldemort or Darth Vader. They’re all names that you can directly link to the story because we never heard them before.
There’s lots of things that could inspire a story. You can derive characters from real people you’ve met or heard about, write a scene based on a conversation you had or overheard, or base your plot on a situation you’ve been in.
I keep a writer’s journal for this. I write everything I find remotely interesting down in it and now it’s a collection of words, sentences, names, pictures and short descriptions. Whenever I want to write a new story or experience writer’s block, I turn to my journal for inspiration. I really recommend you start one if you want to get into writing.
Just do it
Getting started is often the hardest part, but in writing it’s also the most fun part. It’s great to dream up bits and pieces for your story and it’s an amazing feeling when everything just falls into place and you have your plot. If you’re not sure if writing is for you yet, consider writing a short story first and test the waters.
I hope this starter’s guide provided you with the info you needed to get started. More tips and tools will follow soon!
With much love,