How do I tell stories?


The reason for writing this post is not because I’ve found the holy grail of writing or something. I think either J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin have that in their possession. This is merely something I thought of after reading through a whole discussion on the Dutch Nano Facebook page (if you are Dutch and participate in Nanowrimo, join us).

First I want to throw one of the biggest myths out of the window. No, writing a novel is not easy! Especially since most of us ‘writer wannabees’ do this next to our study or work. So it is often done late at night or in the weekends. Writing stories is difficult and in my honest opinion sometimes a tedious task. But everything starts to come together it’s what makes it all worth.

There are just as many ways of writing as there are writers. What works for one person will not work for the next. That is why it’s so hard to tell someone how to do it. I have been writing stories for at least the last fifteen to twenty years and no I’m not a published author. But over the course of time I’ve used many ways to write stories – some things worked for me some things definitely didn’t. The key is to see what works for you and to try and incorporate those things in your workflow. If you do that over time you can find your way to write you next story.


I know one thing for sure I need to be triggered! And by triggered I mean that I can not sit down at night with no idea at all and just start writing. I can get triggered by almost anything. Most people see triggered as a negative word, but what I mean by triggered is that I need to get my idea from somewhere, sometimes that might be from a song, a news item or a television show. What you must know about me is that I was originally a fanfiction author. And I’ve been trying for quite some time now to write original stories, but it is a difficult transition. The main reason why it’s so difficult – for me at least – is something I didn’t realize while I was writing fanfiction. When you write fanfiction the characters are there, the setting is there and the back stories are already written. You might not know everything there is to know about the characters but we fanfiction writers are really good at molding and bending the stories to our likes. In my case that was very obvious, I think there is a need for more lesbian or bi-sexual characters so I’ve made quite a few ‘originally’ straight characters gay. And I don’t need much to accomplish that. For the most part the original information is still valid, but I changed little details and created my own story. I loved writing these stories, the whole creative process of it as well as the reaction you get from readers.

Moving on from fanfiction

So when I started writing my first original story I had this really simple idea – similar to the type of ideas I would have while I was writing fanfiction. I had a female character, a lesbian female character who had lost her girlfriend in an accident of some sort and she would do basically do everything and anything to get her girlfriend back. But dead is pretty final even in this world that I had made up. And then she hears about a group of scientists who think that they can travel to alternate universes. And she wants to become part of it and as a journalist she claims that they need her skills to tell the world about what they had discovered.

That was the idea I had, but what I didn’t take into consideration is the fact that you need a setting, characters and backgrounds and in this case an alternate setting and doppelgangers for my characters – at least for some of them. I had literally only thought about my main character, what I wanted her story to be. But before that was all I needed to worry about so that was my first mistake. I started writing with not much information to go on. And I thought that I could wing it. Somehow I did make it to 50 000 words, don’t ask me how. I knew that I was just making stuff up as I was going along. In the end those 50 000 words were riddled with plot holes, one after another. And I can assure you of one thing, I never did anything with it. Problem is that I could never get the science part down – not even a little bit. It was the idea of alternate universes that really spoke to me but I The Doctor has his sonic screwdriver and in Stargate they have obviously their stargate. However thinking of some ‘new’ technology without sounding like a total nut, that is so not my forte and I realized that I could never do it any justice at least not the science part – the terminology and all that. So I decided to skip that idea even though I still like it.

The next year I still had this story in the back of my mind, I wanted to do it justice and I had figured out a way to write the story differently. Focus more on my main character and her struggles. I started the story earlier on, so you could see the relationship bloom between my main characters and feel the pain the pain when she lost her love. I wanted to write a love story and the whole science thing would still be part of the story but it wouldn’t be something I would be focusing on. Again I made it to 50 000 but I never worked on it past November. I am so done with writing once November is over that I struggle to continue in December of course December is also a busy month at work and in general with the holidays and all that.

I have tried different ways to prepare for Nanowrimo, I’ve tried the snowflake method. I read several books and followed websites, to try and find the perfect way to get a good story going. So far I haven’t succeeded. But I’ve figured out that there is no guide to the perfect story or outline. One method might work for that particular person, but it might not work for the next. I try it but if it doesn’t work, I move on. I take with me what works for me and  and I hope that one day I will find what works for me. In my opinion there is no guideline on how to tell your stories. When we start Nanowrimo we basically pledge to write 1667 words a day for a month. Let’s face it that is a lot of words. Of course you can technically write them in under and hour if you do three twenty minute word sprints of about six hundred words each. Sometimes words sprints work and sometimes they don’t – in my case I can often chuck whatever I wrote into the bin and start over.

You can even see it with very well known published writers, some might write thousands of words a day, while other writers take years and years to complete a single book. Like I said no two writers are the same or follow the same steps. I have been reading some books on writing and how to do it, I have tried different methods from those books and websites with varied success. Yet, from everything I read and tried I took what worked for me. And using those methods is how I try to write my stories.

There is no simple answer on how to tell a story or how to write one for that matter, you just have to sit down and try it.

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