First question today comes from commentor Elise:
I know the number one piece of advice from any author is "just sit down and write the freakin' thing already!" and I've tried! I write a scene or two and then I realize...my story has no plot. I have three ideas for stories floating around in my head right now, and all of them have 1) a fairly well laid out setting, 2) really in-depth characters, with backstory and development, and 3) little to no actual plotline whatsover... This is obviously not a book anyone who likes reading good books will want to read. I have a few ideas for plotlines, but they all feel kind of forced, and like they don't quite fit with the rest of what I created. Should I pick one of these just so I have something to work with, or is there some key to creating plots that I'm missing?
Well, the problem here seems fairly obvious, Elise. You say you have ideas for three stories, but in actual fact you have three story worlds and three sets of characters - which is great - but no stories to put them in. The story is what happens to your characters after the reader meets them in chapter one, the series of events that allows the reader to get to know them and to move through your invented worlds. The story is, basically, STUFF HAPPENING. That's what you lack.
Not having a plot laid out isn't right at the beginning isn't necessarily a huge problem. Some writers are 'pantsers' which means they write by the seat of their pants and just follow the characters. But you don't seem to be a pantser - if you were you wouldn't keep bumping up against the feeling that you don't know what to do with these people. But you can learn a lesson from the pansters by allowing your characters to tell you their story.
You say you have a lot of knowledge about your characters and their backstory. You say you have a fully fleshed out world. Use this information. Ask yourself - what is the worst that this world could throw at my characters? Or the best? What is the worst that these characters could throw at each other, or the best? What can change between my people? What can go very wrong or very right? How can I break my main character, bring him or her to their lowest moment of sorrow and despair? How can I tranform my main character, and allow him or her to display their deepest and best traits?
It seems as if plotting isn't a very natural thing for you, Elise, so you might want to take some time over this. There's no rush. It's supposed to be *fun*, because you can do anything at this point. Let the elements you already have just roll around together in your head and keep your mind open. What kind of stories do you like to read? Funny? Action-packed? Romantic? Sad? Hopefully once all the possibilities start playing out in your head you will begin to have any idea where you would like to go. A good way to keep track of all the ideas is to brainstorm, like in this image.
At some point your brain will reach saturation point with all these ideas and you will really want to write some of the scenes that have occurred to you. You can do that, or you can try plotting those scenes out, maybe using bullet points, and seeing how they work as a story. Do whatever seems natural to you. Above all, give yourself time. Trying to write a story before it's ready, before it's fully mature in your head, will often result in the problems you've described - so don't be in a hurry!
The next question came via email from Lexie. She asks:
...in my stories/attempted books i always avoid the meticulous doings of a normal person. I always hate writing about someone going to school, or doing chores. I try to keep away from anything normal, in any normal persons life. So, is it okay, if i avoid those things, and write exactly what i want to write? I've never tried it, i always force myself to write normal occurences. But, why do i have to? Also, my friends always read my stories and freak out, because one of the characters might resemble me. IS it okay to have characters based on yourself?
Two questions here.
First - is it okay to find the normal day-to-day events of normal people's lives boring and avoid them? Heck yes. I do it as much as possible. In most cases, unless there's a point in showing someone ironing their clothes (like that they burn their shirt, which shows they're careless/dreamy, and also makes them late which results in them going to the head teacher's office and accidentally finding out that the head teacher is an alien), you can skip it.
Second - is it okay to have characters that resemble you? Depends. HOW does this person resemble you? Most of my characters (even the evil ones) have *something* in common with me, because I have to understand them in order to write them realistically. Zira/Zahira has my way with words and my occasional ruthlessness. Alexandra has my desire to please people and my love of nature. But neither of them are actually anything like me as a person.
That's the vital distinction here. If a character has fluffy brown hair and freckles like you, 'cos you're sick of reading about tanned blondes, fine. If your character loves playing the piano like you 'cos music's something you're interested in writing about, fine. But if you're writing about someone who actually IS you...who friends of yours recognise as being a fictional version of who YOU are...that's not a great idea. Some writers have managed to create stories this way, usually people who've lived through amazing events and tell a fictionalised version of them (like Gerald Durrell and Roald Dahl). But in general it's going to lead to this character getting unfair treatment from you in the story (who wants to see *themselves* fall in a hole and get covered in cow dung, even if that's what *should* happen?) and probably making everyone who reads it roll their eyes as they figure out that you've shoved yourself into your own story and you're just writing to make yourself look good in it. This is what is called a Mary-Sue.
Plus, there's such a fascinating variety of people out there in the world that it seems kind of boring to write about people who are just like you, as I say in this previous blog-post. It's limiting, and it won't result in the best stories. My advice is to think a bit more and create a new character who is their own person.
Lexie, you also asked if I would be able to give you feedback on stories that you've written, and I'm mentioning this just as a general reminder: both for reasons of time and legal safety, I cannot read other people's unpublished work. And even if I could, I'm not an editor, I've never critiqued anyone's writing, and I really don't have the necessary skills. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, and I hate saying 'no', but I can't change the way the world is. Sorry.
Okay, I hope that's been helpful! Any more questions, email me or get in touch through the comments.