Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

100 Words

August 4th, 2016

A post for writers:

“100 Words” is a game I play when I’m having a hard time getting a new short story started. (In other words, just about every time I’m trying to get a new short story started.) The game is exactly what it sounds like: I make a deal with myself that I only have to be concerned with writing another 100 words.

My story development process begins with an idea, often just a setting, sometimes a situation. Never a character, unless I’m writing about a character I’ve already developed in some other work. No doubt your process is different.

Once I have this starting kernal, I do a lot of brainstorming at the keyboard — nonstop writing in which I ask myself questions about the story and try to answer them. I look for the setting, the situation, the spine of the external plot, the character, the internal plot.

Long ago I read the advice that a short story should be about the most important incident in a character’s life. Clearly this requirement is flexible — a single character can appear in many stories after all — but I think the general concept is good to keep in mind. The incident that takes place in the story needs to profoundly affect your main character. That’s what will make your story emotionally interesting, and provide you with an internal plot, meaning that your character learns, and changes. For better? For worse? Hey, it could go either way.

At this point in the story’s development, I write a synopsis. It’s always a really, really rough synopsis and there are inconsistencies, but I try to work out a time-linear sequence of events — cause and effect, one thing leading to another — and an ending. All of this can and will change as I write…which brings up the next challenge: tackling the actual story.

Another writer told me he needs to visualize the story before he can write. I’m the opposite. I need to write to visualize the story. This, I think, is why I have such a hard time getting started, and why the idea of telling myself that I MUST write a thousand good words a day, or two thousand, as many writers do, is so unhelpful for me. Writing a thousand words is easy. Writing a thousand words that are useful to telling the story — not so much.

Even when you have a solid feel for the story you want to tell, it’s easy to become frozen into inaction when contemplating all the things that need to be done at the story’s beginning: defining the scene, the conflict, the characters…

Every approach seems wrong, and I’m all too conscious of all the undiscovered words that need to be written, and there is the doubt: what if I can’t pull this off?

It’s at this point that I’d rather go read someone else’s hard work, or hang out on Twitter, or mow the lawn, because I am just not feeling it.

So I play the game. I tell myself: Just write one hundred words. It doesn’t have to be the opening paragraph of the story. Just start somewhere near the beginning. Write one hundred words. That’s easy. Just a description. A few lines of dialogue. Take a break if needed. Then come back and write one hundred more.

It’s a way to get started. A way to start visualizing the story. A few hundred words today. A few hundred words tomorrow. At some point (with luck) I’ll begin to feel the story, and my writing stints will get longer. It’s always a turning point when I start worrying that the story is going to be too long.

“100 words” might sound silly, but it was the 100-words game that let me get “Through Your Eyes” started, and that story led directly to writing The Red trilogy. Big projects can have small beginnings.

So if you’re stuck, just aim for one hundred words…and then one hundred more.

Posted on: Thursday, August 4th, 2016 at 6:39 pm
Categories: Writing Life.
Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.