Every author has a personal way to develop a story, and I thought I’d share my own. Realize that this is my personal way of approaching building a story – you may have another method – and I may refine my method as time goes by. But for now, this is how I build a story.
I am inspired by a character or a scene in the story
Plotting isn’t what fires me up. No, it’s a character I have in my mind or scene that sparks my attention. Often these arrive in my brain fully formed, in that twilight time between sleep and waking. Or sometimes, these ideas surface when I’m on a nature walk or driving.
TIP: Put a recorder app on your phone or a notebook nearby to jot down these ideas. Once a month, compile them together so you can find them later.
This line that begins the story Milking Time in Wicked Wolves of Windsor is an example. I was working on a different project, but this line wouldn’t let me go. I had no idea what the story was about, just that I had a drive and a need to write it.
Bess was milking her favorite cow as her stepmother entered the barn and asked her to kill a sorcerer.Milking Time, Wicked Wolves of Windsor and other Fairytales
The book Never Date a Siren started with the idea of a supernatural being stealing a bedroom from a human. The idea of having a roommate you didn’t know was sharing your apartment really tickled me. The College Fae series is also heavily influenced by the fact that both of my kids are now attending college and living away from home.
From there, one of the first scenes I wrote was solving how Brigit would get into Logan’s apartment without him noticing. It all involved Brigit’s talent in convincing a coco mat to let her inside.
She found apartment 305 at the end of the hall. In front of the door was a coco fiber welcome mat and since no one was in view, she knelt, and asked it, “Would you like to help me?”Never Date a Siren, College Fae series #1
I welcome people! Welcome. Hi! How are you?
It had a coarse, grating kind of voice in her head. Brigit’s abilities let her communicate with organic material, whether it was living or not. She stroked the fibers with her fingers and palm, causing it to shiver under her hand.
“I need inside.”
Help you! I’m a Helper! Wipe feet!
The palm situated at the dead-end of the hallway, just a few steps away, interrupted their conversation with a slight furry cough.
The man will leave in a moment with his laundry basket. I’ve heard the laundry is in the basement. I’ve never been there personally.
For me personally, it’s why I find it difficult to write “by assignment” and why I don’t participate in writing prompt challenges. If something doesn’t tease my interest, my mind will stubbornly go blank.
Who is my character?
Before I can plot out a book, I usually have to understand the main character. How do they think? What do they want? How will they face the problem/challenge presented in the story?
I write character-driven stories. Without a character, I don’t have a story. Creating a character comes from personal experience. Some of me is in everyone I write, whether they are good or bad, self-centered or generous. We all are multi-faceted beings with many experiences we can draw upon.
TIP: if faced with a writer’s block, seek out a new experience. Walk a different nature trail. Take your bike somewhere else. Listen to new music with lyrics. What a show you wouldn’t normally turn on.
While Sarah Dannon from Granny Starseed (Wicked Wolves of Windsor) is the mother of Logan Dannon (in the College Fae series), it was interesting to see how quickly readers took against her. When in reality, as a writer and a mother with a MIL, I actually sympathized with Sarah’s aggravation because of Bab Dannon’s sudden visit.
There have been times I have been fed up with the demands of family and I channeled that into this story. Actually, a lot of my stories (hm maybe all of my stories) deals with relationships, and usually family. For there is rich material to mine there.
“Just like your mother,” grumbled Sarah to her husband, Arthur. “She hasn’t visited us in years so why now?”Granny Starseed, Wicked Wolves of Windsor and other Fairytales
While Sarah spoke the truth, there was nothing to be done about his wayward mother. Arthur shrugged and continued with his morning routine of getting ready to leave for his job as president of a bank.
His wife continued airing her grievances.
“Just because we have a guest house doesn’t mean your two brothers couldn’t share the burden of looking after her.”
By this time in her narrative Arthur was brushing his teeth. He gave her a nod, the foam in his mouth serving as an excuse for not answering.
“At least you have work and can avoid her. I’m the one stuck dealing with her.”
What is the voice of the story?
In a few of my stories, there is a certain voice that comes out so clearly when I’m writing that it drives the narrative and makes the story easy to write.
Such was the case in the short story, A Society of Heartless Women (from Wicked Wolves). This Regency tale was a dark story and took some readers by surprise, probably because our first-person speaker is an unreliable narrator and a woman who will stop at nothing for revenge.
I distinctly remember the first time I met the Red Rose and the White. We had just ended that ghastly year without a summer, when the skies were perpetually gloomy, and odd frosts and snows would cover the ground without warning.A Society of Heartless Women, Wicked Wolves of Windsor and other Fairytales
Looking back, it now seems to me the strange caprice of the weather was only a precursor to the peculiar events that would soon overtake us in Bath.
I have long desired to speak about the tragedy. Especially afterward when there was such wild speculation being printed in the papers.
It’s one of my favorite stories in the short story collection, but a few reviewers were shocked. Despite what I thought were heavy hints (the title anyone?) that this was a Grimm-dark tale, a reviewer (a man btw) was appalled with the “blood and gore” of the story. It got me wondering if he read the same story!
This made me realize that some readers simply won’t understand what I write. And that is okay.
The “voice” or narrative, is really what sets the stage for me in terms of what the story will be: happy, somewhat darker, romance, or adventure. For example, the recent novella Dance of Hearts is a Jane Austen-like fairytale.
That means the narrative style would be about the doings in the small English village of Chipping-Worth where the events of a ball take on far more significance than a war. Mr. Bennett says in Pride and Prejudice: “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
If there was one thing Mrs. Bartlett couldn’t stand, it was a stupid man. It affronted her. Men were to be strong, and say over dinner when the shopkeeper had been annoying, “Don’t bother your head, my dear, I will sort out the butcher.”Dance of Hearts
That was a man! Not some silly gudgeon who wore town clothes in the country when he went about to talk with farmers.
What makes a relationship become twisted?
Whatever I’m writing, it’s going to be a character-driven story exploring the grit of relationships. Those relationships won’t all be between lovers or courting couples. Some of the meatiest material can be found between parents and children, or boss and employer, or just between some neighborhood women who are gossiping.
I am a people-watcher who wants to tell you about the stories you didn’t overhear at your favorite restaurant.
For those that have read all my current books, probably Dorieann (a Grimm-dark, Red Riding Hood character in Wicked Wolves) startled readers the most. Her unpleasant father returns from World War I with damage to his frontal lobe, worsening his character. William Horn becomes a beast far worse than the supernatural wolves of the Wild Hunt who hunt Dorieann.
His face was meaner and uglier than Doireann remembered. Mistaking the reason for her stare, William Horn tapped the new scar that ran from his right eyebrow and into his hairline.The Wicked Wolves of Windsor, from The Wicked Wolves of Windsor and other fairytales
“A Kraut shell. Didn’t kill me but wiped out my platoon.” Her father wiped his greasy mouth as he gestured her closer. “Come now Cathleen and do your duty. Give me a kiss of welcome.”
“She looks like her mother more each day,” said Granny Horn, hearing her son speak his wife’s name.
Doireann reluctantly dragged herself over to her father where he roughly grabbed her, forcing her to sit on his knee. He kissed her cheek before moving his mouth over hers, forcing it open under a slobbering assault.
Her struggles made William Horn laugh before he shoved her away.
“Mother, I need more.” He pounded his fist on the table with such force that the plates rattled. Granny ran about the kitchen to serve him.
Probably Horn was one of the most unpleasant characters I’ve written about, but the tension between Dorieann and her father feels real. While I haven’t experienced what Dorieann does in this story, I have known men of violence, and it is these life experiences authors can draw upon to make characters come alive.
It always interests me to see that men who read this story see it more as an adventure story, but women know exactly what I’m writing about – feeling trapped by an abusive and dangerous man.