My Five Steps To A Story

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-10-24 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

The other day my wife and I were talking about the elements that go into conceiving a story. She has a strategy that's more center-out where I'm more top-down. Talking about it with her allowed me to formulate a little map for how I go about developing a long-form story. Some version or other of this design has been floating around in my head for some time now, but this is the first time I've ever condensed it to bullet points. Here they are:

The Big Concept. The "what if" that you can stick at the top of the back of the book jacket. "What if God is a computer?" "What if popularity was a literal superpower?" "What if our desires were autonomous entities?"

The Facets. The different aspects, or strata, of the society as it has been shaped by that concept. E.g., if the Big Concept is "magic!", then the Facets would be every part of society touched by or shaped by magic.

The Embodiments. In other words, the characters — the people who are the living incarnations of the different aspects of that society shaped by those great, normative changes. (As per the above example: magic-users vs. "normies" vs. those high muckey-mucks in the Magic Ministries.)

The Collisions. How those people all clash with, collaborate with, co-exist with, or ignore each other. This in turn generates ...

The Story and The Plot. You should know what these things are by now.

My intention here is not to sell this as a paradigm for others; if you think it'll work, try it. It's to analyze my own work habits, and what consistencies exist from project to project in terms of how things are laid out and assembled in my mind.

I feel uneasy about the prepackaging of storytelling methods into paradigmatic flowcharts — not because that kills the magic or the wonder, or any of those romanticized ideas about creativity that do not help us anyway. Rather, I think people would be be better served by finding out how to investigate their own paradigmatic actions — looking into how their own processes behave, and making a system out of that. We teach a lot of getting to know how other people do things, but we don't teach a lot of getting to know your own way, because the former is far easier and far more conveniently formulaic.

It strikes me that developing a heightened consciousness of one's methodology has many boons. For instance, you can better recognize what actual stage you are at in your work — you might be earlier or later along than you think. It also hints at how when you are stuck, you can better determine where you are stuck exactly, and why. If you're having trouble coming up with how a given character would handle things in your story, maybe that's a sign they do not yet exist as an actual denizen of that story — that they belong elsewhere, or just need to have their background tweaked to fit.

My wife and I both think about character a great deal, but we each approach things a little differently. We both often come up with characters independent of other things, but she tends to construct more of the setting directly around a given character. In my case, if I come up with a really compelling character, but I don't have an immediate place for them, I set them aside until I can find a good world-facet for them to embody. Both of these are insights we only came to after a certain amount of Messing Around™, and paying attention to what we were doing.

These, then, are my five steps. Maybe you have fewer, or more. Maybe, almost certainly, they are different. But do look for them.

Tags: creativity creators fiction storytelling writers writing