Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

100 Words

Thursday, 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.


But Where Is The Plot?

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

So, maybe ten months ago a scene popped into my head and I was intrigued—enough to keep thinking about it, figuring out how this situation had come to be, deciding what would come after, coming up with more characters and, eventually, more worlds because if the plot hasn’t quite emerged the solution is to add more stuff. Right?

Imagine you’re putting together some crazy Lego sculpture. Every tower is a nifty worldbuilding element. Clip some Lego bridges in between to connect them. Sometimes those towers need to lean a little right or left to make those bridges fit. Sometimes the bridges start to look a little spindly, but never mind that! Keep building. It’ll get more solid as more stuff is added.

But all the while an uneasy feeling is building that maybe this is getting a little out of hand?

Hesitantly, you step back, gaze at the whole, and think, WTF? There is no shape to it, no solid structure, no pleasing design, no sense of direction. A sort-of storyworld has been snapped together, but where is the plot? Whose story is this? What’s it about? Why should the reader care?

So the whole thing gets shoved into the closet because there are other projects going on anyway.

Later, you take it out again. Pull down several towers, rebuild many of the bridges . . . after a while it’s not utter chaos anymore. In fact, this has turned into a cohesive, interesting storyworld, and yet . . . where is the plot?

How is it possible to have this much storyworld without also having an obvious story? There are lots of subplots, but where is the big one?

This is where I am right now. For years I’ve had a personal rule that I need to know how a story ends before I start it, and I have no idea how this story ends, because it can go in several different directions and I’m entirely undecided which one is right. Despite this, I’m tempted to start, just to get a feel for the work, to see what suggests itself, and just maybe to uncover an answer to that essential question: Where is the plot?