April 5, 2018 in Dag

Start from a theme – who knows where you’ll end up

In my general perusal of the online writing world, I’ve seen a few posts and articles relating to the issue of how to get started as a writer.

It’s a perennial question. One of the biggies when it comes to writing. Just how do you get started? What is the key to commencing a major piece of writing? How do you go from a blank page to something that may eventually turn into a novel?

I suppose there’s no specific correct answer. Because each of us has our own quirks and styles, there must be as many ways to start a story as there are writers. Maybe even more, because I’m sure that from story to story, individual writers find different ways to get themselves going. I know I have.

When I look at the range of stories I’ve written, I can think of a bunch of different methods I’ve used to get started. For example, with the three Neville Lansdowne adventures, Doodling, Scribbling, and Scrawling, it was a kind of throwaway line that got me going – something along the lines of Neville Lansdowne fell off the world, or Neville Lansdowne drowned in a sea of words – and things just flowed from there. Then there other stories, like my novels Magnus Opum, or A Fate Worse than Death, where the first inkling came from imagining a particular scene. I don’t want to say what the scenes involved as I don’t want to give away crucial details of the plots. But once I had the scene in my head, I found the rest of the story slowly began to unwind.

But for me, the most effective way to start a really strong story is to begin with a theme. The theme may be some sort of big idea, like something involving politics or philosophy, or it could be something simpler, relating to the curiosities of human interaction. It may come from something I’ve read in a newspaper or another book, or something I’ve noticed through general experience and observation. Even with the stories I’ve mentioned above, where the kernel of the book idea came from something else, I’ll usually come up with a theme fairly quickly to hold the story together.

Once I have the theme, the really interesting stuff can begin. What sort of genre of story would best express that theme. What characters could be inserted in – how do they reflect elements of the theme and how does the theme reflect elements of them. And how do those elements of theme, genre, character, and setting combine to produce the narrative that drives the story along.

As the story develops, the theme may remain important, or it may recede into the background. Sometimes, it may be barely visible to the reader. Whatever happens, if I begin a story with a strong theme, I know I’ll always end up somewhere interesting.


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