Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.
So says the immortal phrase of some unknown* purveyor of knowledge. In that regard, I shall create my own saying: write with the authority and confidence of a critically (and commercially) successful author, not as one who averages a mere three views per blog post. It’s an insightful saying, I’m sure you will all agree; and as such, it is one I shall follow. Starting from… now!
Come hither, fair readers! and listen to my words as I tell you how I craft my stories despite having very little creative skill, imagination, or indeed grammatical understanding.
A famous author once asserted that his stories are “essentially about ‘what ifs’. In Black Fang, I asked: What if a rat could drive a bus?” Now, these ‘what if’ scenarios may work for those of you who can formulate an idea but to those I say: stop reading this right now, your creative ability makes me both sad and mad and I wish ill upon both you and your dog. For those of you remain, I say the question should not be ‘why?’, but instead ‘how?’
Yes, ‘how?’ You see, I simply cannot picture a logical, sequential run of events for how the protagonist(s) would respond to a certain event. Campbell, in his analysis of the so-called ‘Hero’s Journey’ sets out a sequence of events wherein the ‘hero’ begins in one place, has a call to action and then goes on an adventure to which there is inevitably a conclusion. For most people that would be how they picture their story too; but for me, that order of events is far too bland to want to imagine. I want action, I want excitement, I want to see Luke waving around his lightsaber and blowing up the Death Star, not aimlessly wandering around Tattooine fantasising about shooting small animals. That final, concluding, exciting moment is what I need in order to ‘begin’ (for lack of a more fitting word) my story. This is where the ‘how’ comes in; when I write, Luke isn’t dreaming of joining the Rebellion, he’s already blown up the Death Star. From that decisive moment, I can then ask: well, how did Luke blow up the Death Star? He shot at it with his X-Wing; how did he get an X-Wing? Rebellion pilots have X-Wings; how did he become a member of the Rebellion… and so on and so forth. With those constant questions of how, I can eventually reach a point where I can either no longer answer the question or I reach a stage where the answers to those hows become bland and unimportant, to which I can then say I have found my logical beginning. It’s a causal/consequential discussion of such ludicrous brilliance that even Aquinas would bow to its logic.
With the hows answered, I can flesh out those bones to create a deeper story — a task which in itself is difficult due to the aforementioned lack of creativity, but one that is damn easier than working with nothing. In my experience, having those there has worked far better for me than trying to work from A to B and then getting stuck somewhere around the ‘to’ bit.
I’m not Garth Marenghi, I’m no Stephen King (more about his talent can be read here). However, with my own crazy formula of having that end-point already determined (with some flexibility of course), I can work out the kinks of the piece to conceive a story. From humble endings come slightly better than average beginnings. That’s another saying you can print on your coffee mug if you like.
That, dear Reader, is how you use your minimal talent to flesh out a story of which you can be proud.
Of course, you still have to write the thing which is where I fall short. I’m only two trophies away from Platinum-ing Final Fantasy IX though. I’ll begin writing after that, I promise…
*They might not be unknown. I just haven’t bothered to look it up.