They have filled a mountain range the length of the Rocky Mountains with books on how to write a story. I cannot possibly relay to you all the best information. At best, the barest yet most marrow-crammed bones are all I can give you. These bones are the ones my OCD self had to punch out in order to keep my own self on track. These helped me, and hopefully, they won’t just help me.
Sift through all your ideas and go by instinct with the ones that seem most connected. These ideas can’t be just random ideas. They could be world building details, a theme you’d like to explore with an interesting backstory to tell it with, or perhaps, your own take on a story you would like to write differently. Start making connections and making a web.
You could really spend forever building a story with all the coolest little plot twists, revelations, set pieces, and deep, dark character relationships that change at least a quarter of a dozen times. If that’s really all you want to do, then by all means, enjoy yourself. But if you want to write a story, you must decide on the ideas that best tell your story with the theme (point) you wish to get across. Just decide.
You now have a collective board of ideas that you somehow want to piece together into a beautiful tapestry. Any good story centers around characters and the themes they stand for. So, find your theme. Find the anti-theme. Stick them together into the plot points (Initial Condition, Inciting Incident, Big Event, Pinch [Midpoint], Darkest Point, Lesson, Finale, and Resolution), and escalate the stakes as the story progresses.
Outline the major events and lines of dialogue you know (at least, at this point) you want to have happen and put them in sequential order. Figure out the best and quickest battle plans for both your protagonist and antagonist and throw them at each other. There is quite a bit of information I am so excited to give you, but digression would inherently follow.
As you outline, fill in the gaps of the story with all the stepping stones between plot points and the points between the plot points. Using all the dialogue, scenes, cool ideas, and story points to craft your masterpiece, you now pretty much have a rough draft going. Wow. That was easy. The outline just… turns into your rough draft.
No intimidating, towering Chapter One pages staring you out of town. Just slowly building up your outline until one day, you just wake and find a rough draft in progress before your very eyes.
- Edit a few times. This part’s tough.
Now, the next step, most people would say, is to just let your draft sit for a few months, even weeks. But think about the grammatical, spelling, messed up mess you’re coming back to a few months later. My advice? Fix all the grammar, spelling, and “how, in the name of Pete, did I write that into this masterpiece?” parts of your rough draft. Make sure it’s as pretty as possible without getting too deep into it. Then… the hard part.
- Let simmer.
Go live your life and work out some other story ideas you had (if you had any of those). Spend more time with your family. Go to a ballgame. Read, instead of write, for a change. Do something and don’t think about your draft. A good way to not think about something, is not think to not think about it. Just focus entirely on something else. Don’t tell yourself why you’re focusing on something else and not focusing on your writing. Your writing, at this point, is none of your business.
- Return to your draft after your set period of time, read, and mark any changes you’d like to make as you go.
Nuff said. Print your rough draft out, grab your iced tea, or whatever, a highlighter, a pen (it doesn’t have to be red), and read it through using the highlighter and pen to mark anything about character, dialogue, story, anything that doesn’t make sense, anything, and everything that you deem worth marking for later attention.
After the read, go back and apply all your corrections. This step (which it’s probably not the first nor only one to do this) will take time. Like, perhaps… months. It should be treated as fun and creative process of making your story ten times better!
- Read for fun. Analyze your reaction.
Upon arriving at a seemingly satisfactory draft eight or nine, read your manuscript for the pure joy of it. And I know it’s tempting, but don’t heed the voice inside your head wanting to fix every line of dialogue and prose that just doesn’t sit right with you. Unless, of course, there is a real spelling or grammatical error, you must press on and enjoy reading what you’ve written.
- Edit accordingly.
After reading, ask yourself why you did or didn’t like different parts of your manuscript. Or if you liked it at all. Analyze your reaction and edit accordingly. Hence, the number nine bullet point.
You’re on your own from here.