I’ve invited a group of top-notch writers to share their writing tips with you this summer. Look for a new bit of learned experience each Tuesday.
James Ponti: Starting a Story
Have you ever been overwhelmed when you start to write something? Worried that it isn’t quite good enough? Worried that it’s not perfect or important? That happens to me all the time, and I’ve had a bunch of books published. (Well, not as many as Avi, but still enough that you’d think I’d be over that feeling by now.) When it happens, I try to stretch.
Just like an athlete stretches their muscles before taking the field, writers can often use a little mental stretch before putting words on a page. Here’s an exercise that can help you stretch your writing muscles. Get 15 index cards (you can use post-its or scraps of paper, but I like index cards so I can use them again later) and put them in three separate piles of five.
On the first five, write a description of a character. On the next five, describe a problem. On the last five, put down a setting. Don’t give much thought to any of these, just write down the first things that come to mind. They can be serious or silly, it doesn’t matter. When you’re done turn them upside down and blindly pull one card from each pile.
You now have the elements for an entirely new and original story. Say, for example, these are the three cards you pulled:
- Character – An absent-minded soccer player
- Problem – Is late for something important
- Setting – in San Francisco
Try to make up a quick story on the spot. You don’t need to write any of it down, just think it through by asking yourself quick questions. How old is the soccer player? Are they late for a game? A practice? Are they running up and down the hills of San Francisco? Do they take a cable car? Do they feel the tremor of an earthquake? How do they solve their problem?
When you’ve figured out a basic storyline, pull out a new set of cards and do the same thing again. Keep doing this until your story muscles feel loose and ready. Then, do the same thing, only this time not with the cards. Use a character, problem, and setting that matter to you and start writing.
It’s game time.