Writing a story boils down to 5 main questions: Who, What, Where, Why, When?
In essence, that describes the three main parts of writing: characters, plot, and setting.
Step by step, you pick a character, you decide what you want your character to do (and how you want to get your character there), and you pick where you want your character to be.
All parts are essential to writing a story. It’s also best to take notes along the way so you don’t lose track of what you want to do.
I always begin with my character(s). My Who:
Your character needs to be able to stand in front of you, walk around, think, move, and act. To do. Your character needs certain unique characteristics, such as a dog who walks sideways, burps, and wants to eat broccoli. (If my father is reading this, he will recognize his dog. No, I’m not kidding, she really does all that.)
My What: Your plot. What does your character want to do? What is the goal? Is it to take a midnight stroll off a pier and drown? Is it to hike in the jungle? Is it to find a really good piece of broccoli to eat?
My Why: Plot and character. Why is your character floating out the window to a distant star? Why is a really good piece of broccoli important to eat? Why? What is your character’s motivation for doing what they are doing?
My Where, My When: Setting. Where and When is your character doing anything? You can’t go wrestle alligators if you are sitting at the North Pole.
Note to all: if you place your setting outside of a place you know well, RESEARCH is imperative!
If you want your setting to be your very own backyard in present day time, then you can pull upon your own experiences. If you want your characters to explore the Sahara Desert, you need to research what that would look like. You have to be able to explain to the reader what’s it like to physically be in the environment your character is in to make your story believable.
For example: what’s the weather like, is it hot or cold? When you walk, is it on water, sand, dirt, leaves? What does is physically feel like to be there?
All three – character, plot, setting – have to work together like a well-oiled piece of machinery to make your story work.
When you are stumped, you don’t know what your next sentence will be, this writing thing is insurmountable – go back to the basics. Writing becomes hard if you don’t know what your character will do in any given situation. Each situation leads you forward and progresses the plot.
I write character-driven novels. For me, I have to be true to my characters, or everything else falls apart. I do quite a bit of research for my settings. I always have in mind what I want my characters to do and what it will take in the story to get them to the resolution.