The stories are as old as humanity itself. Since prehistoric times, people shared and recorded them on the walls of caves and their pottery. They were passed down orally from generation to generation, and storytellers were welcomed everywhere. Each one had their way of storytelling and favorite genres too.
Let us move the time a few millennia forward. Letterpress was invented a long time ago, and so were the typewriters. Thanks to computers and the Internet, the writing is now so much easier. And that may be the problem.
Sometimes a project won’t turn out well just because it is easy. It is not difficult for our feet to jump into the pool from a seven-meter bridge. But if your other body parts don’t cooperate with them, you can end up with a pretty painful belly flop. When the same happens to you with your brain, you may jump on someone’s back. Nothing good.
Collecting and writing stories is similar. Several things work together at once. Let’s look at them in a nutshell. We are not discussing the need to read published authors, so one would soak up how the actual language works. I’m sure you already know that. Instead, we are focusing on everything from creating stories to publishing them.
That’s right. Every great writer needs to prepare before the big project. They start with the idea that needs to be further developed. With more and more details, the skeleton of a story is created. Why the skeleton? Bones need to be wrapped in meat, skin, and some nice clothes, as well as our story-idea.
The groundwork is the characters and the storyline. The most important for our story is that the protagonist is different at the end than he was at the beginning. What happened to him changed him. To plan this, you can use the five fingers rule.
The little finger is the beginning of the story. Everything is normal.
The ring finger is a shift. Something happens. Our standard is challenged or changed. Is the new opponent better than the main character? Is our hero forced to move out?
The middle finger is our way of reacting to the shift. Are we going to let our main characters train hard or make new friends?
The index finger is the peak. Our grand finale. We will finally solve or correct our shift, and it is something big. Imagine a life defying match or deactivating a bomb. It doesn’t have to be anything so explosive, but it should feel that way to our reader.
The thumb is the end. We successfully dealt with the shift, and everything calmed down. But something is different. Just like a thumb and little finger differ, so do our characters. They are altered. They learned, gained, or lost something.
When you think through your characters before you start writing, the storyline will make a better sense. Try some worksheets, for example. Sketching out your storyline will help tremendously. Your writing will be more cohesive because you will know where you need your story to go, and it will prevent you from getting stuck in most cases.
That is our skeleton.
Do not throw away all plans, documents, worksheets, and graphs! They will come in handy throughout your writing process. These are exclusive battle plans and cheat-sheets!
The first version
The first draft of your story is meant for you as an author. You write the story, and you are proud of yourself. You should be! You have successfully completed the first big step! Clap your shoulder, boast to others. But don’t give it to readers and don’t post online it for now. It’s great that you’ve come this far, but it’s just a skeleton with meat. It lacks skin and… well, it has a particular shape. It will definitely not come to life in this state, and it will scare the readers to death.
So, what to do with it?
The next big step is coming. You already have the first draft, so now it needs grooming and refining. That will transform it into a beautiful story that readers love. And that’s what every author wants. First of all, read it. The whole thing. Change the font and format. It helps with the detection of errors. Tricks the brain to think it’s a brand new thing that needs more attention. Read it out loud. Let’s trust our ears. They often tell us where the cracks in our story are. The eyes may not see it, but the ears may hear it. Focus on the story, does it make sense all the way from the beginning till the end? Some parts may need further explaining, and maybe some additions will help too?
The third step is exciting and, for many, scary. Now is the time to get test readers! Beta readers are our guinea pigs. You give them your story, and they tell you what they think about it. What they like, what they find special, and what would be good to adjust. Every guinea pig is different. Some are kind and caring, others bite you. Most of them are honestly trying to help, but their methods could be different than what you would expect. Sometimes they are grumpy and express their opinion in a way that hurts us. But don’t take it personally. They’re talking about the skeleton with the falling off pieces of meat, not you. It’s just the meat that scared them, and they try as hard as they can to help you fix it as far as they’re concerned.
Where can you get such readers? You have two options – either loved ones or strangers. If you ask your friend, they may say: “That peeling skeleton is beautiful, and I wouldn’t do anything to it at all.” Is that so? Maybe they have no experience with storytelling. Or they don’t want to hurt you with critique. Maybe, they don’t even know what would help our poor corpse. And so they just praise.
The second option is strangers. They do not know you, they often have the experience, and they do not hesitate to tell you how your work holds up. That can be great or deadly. Some are cruelly strict and loud. Others are amazing professionals who have good advice and ideas. That’s why we need to be careful when choosing betas from the Internet. Criticism can be difficult to deal with, so each artist has their own proven ways to deal with them.
It is good to have prepared questions. This will let you know in detail what they think of your story. A lot of people don’t know where to start, and you end up with useless feedback.
Getting Beta readers is not always easy. You need to find a person who is willing to read your work several times in a row and who suits you. That’s why finding a writing buddy pays off. Read your works. Advise and help each other. If you find someone like that, never let them go!
Do you already have the opinions of your readers? Go through them. Arm yourself and scientifically, without emotion, consider whether any advice or criticism can help you in anything. Sort them out. Then make yourself comfortable and upgrade your first version. Sometimes it’s easier to write the whole paragraph or even the scene again. It will be much smoother, and your story will look combed and well-thought.
And you have the second version! Now it’s up to you to decide how different it is from the first one. Are there many changes? Send it back to your readers. Not so much? Decide if your story is done and whether or not you want to send it out into the world. Your betas can help you make this important decision.
Let’s share it?
You may be eager to show off your work and would like everyone to be able to read the story right away, but trust me, it’s worth the wait. If you want to publish your story on platforms like Wattpad, wait until you have at least half of the chapters in the final stage. That way, you will still be able to correct or change it for most of the writing process. Some authors change their beginnings eight times before they settle for the right one. The storyline can become entangled, and we find out that we need to save a character or kill them much sooner. But if the story is already part of the Internet, you can’t do anything about it. And who will help us then?
Be proud of yourself, you did it!
Do you have other ideas and methods for writing stories? Share them with others! Two heads are better than one. You can do it differently, and we both can be right. Let’s expand each other’s horizons 🙂