Hello to you! You are reading this because, perhaps, the thought of writing a story has piqued your interest? Maybe you have a few creative ideas that you want to share with others? Did you just have an astounding experience and want to share it with your fellow linkshellians or Bismarckers? Or…you can be bored and looking for something fun to do!
I’ve been asked by several people questions such as, “Where do you get your inspiration,” or, “Can you help me put together a story?” I’d like to address those questions here in the form of a Writer’s Guide. It certainly won’t be an end-all/be-all to writing as stories are as diverse as their authors. What I hope you, a varied group of potential writers, will get from this, is a firm foundation from which to customize your own thoughts and experiences. After all, this is simply the culmination of mine to this point.
Before I begin getting into the formal structure and such, I will say that you will always end up being your own worst critic. I read and reread the stories I post and I say to myself, “That was awful, what was I thinking?!” But just as I am putting the screws to my work, someone else will say, “Wow, I really liked this story.” What matters the most is that the audience for whom you write enjoys your work. Posting fanfics on Allakhazam isn’t the same as meeting a deadline for a newspaper or forging a three hundred page novel.
Step One, Identify Your Audience
This is big. Hence, it is step one. If you are writing for a friend, for a fan base, or for a national audience, each will have a large impact on your approach for storytelling. It is all about the level of understanding. If you are writing for your friend, you can get away with much more simply being “understood” between you two. Even if you stick within a fan base, it is the same. You don’t need to tell anyone on this forum what an elvaan or tarutaru is as well as the nuances that come with each race. But, if you were wanting to write a piece for non-players, you will have to pour that foundation for them then build your story atop it.
But, let's stick to writing Final Fantasy 11 fanfics. That is actually a huge load off your shoulders and why you can convey so much in such little space! You won’t need to sit down and try to make those with little or no knowledge of Shantoto’s insanity or galkan persecution aware of each’s circumstances before you go on to write your story.
Step Two, Gather Information – The Three Legs
This is where the “Six Ws” (or technically five with an H) come into play. To get a story started, you don’t even need all six. Lucky you! When you are brainstorming, I suggest sticking to just three: Who, Where, and What. You’ll notice that when I write, I post my “Criteria”. These are the items I need to know from myself or story requesters in order to get the creative juices flowing.
Every story needs a subject or subjects. What or who is the focus? By knowing your “who” you will also begin getting a clearer picture of how the story will play out. A hume (in general or someone in specific) will have different worldviews and abilities than a mithra and interact with his/her other characters or setting in different ways.
You need to know where the story will take place. Just with the character selection, your setting will begin focusing your brain on the filler details. Jeuno will have a greatly different dynamic and obstacles/opportunities for the characters than South Gustaberg.
This is the genre you will tend to write. It is the third leg of the story stool you will need in order to have it be strong enough to support the additional content. A story (even with the same characters and setting) can be greatly altered if you are going for a hot action sequence as opposed to gentle romance.
Step Three, Plotting Your Course
I tend to use three different styles in order to sketch out my concepts: stream-of-consciousness, outlined, and arc.
This is where you sit in front of your computer or piece of paper and just go at it. Write what comes to mind when it comes to mind. You can always revise it later but as ideas are ripe in your brain, just "go with the flow". Write and write and write and everything will come out as it does. I used SoC in “Roll Dem Bones” for an example of how if you sit down and write what comes to mind, the result will be a more flowy story.
The advantage to SoC writing is that you can get the imagery and emotion you want down on paper so as you revise, it is at least there and you don’t have to try to manufacture it after the fact. Also, sometimes you just go on a roll and don’t want to be interrupted. A disadvantage is that because it is so liquid, you can get carried away or your story convoluted amidst a sea of words and thoughts.
This is similar to SoC, though more structured. I'm sure you've written an outline some time in your life for a book report or other project and you know how to make big topics with small ones underneath. Outlines help with complicated or elaborate plots or characters to follow. I used an outline in “The Cauldron” for an example of this style, and for good reason as I had twelve people in a thriller plot to intertwine together!
Outlines are highly structured and will give you a great skeleton on which to put the meat of your story concepts. This has a drawback in that you can get your story to be a little sterile or you will drive yourself insane listing out everything in your outline.
Arc –or– Connect the Dots (CtD)
This is kind of like outlining but not as linear. This is where you write a beginning point or plot event then the very last. After that you put the one plot point exactly between them to bridge the two. You can make a more complex story by adding more dots in the middle along the way, such as circumstances that take place between the beginning and middle or getting from the middle to the end. I used the arc method in "A Showdown with the Apollo'" if you'd like to get a feel for it.
Arc writing is useful if you aren’t quite sure how things will work out. You know you want your hero to go from sleeping in his bed in Bastok to standing over the Shadow Lord’s corpse in Castle Zvahl-Baileys. Ok, now you have both points. Connect the dots! What is the middle point? Getting the quest? Good! Now how does he go from bed to getting the quest? Now from getting the quest to standing over the cooling body? This has a drawback in that you can see the space between the beginning and end and still draw a blank, or you can go overboard with connecting the dots and overanalyze things.
As you can see, there is no one way to write a story and none is better than the other.
Step Four, The Rest of the Gang
This could almost be Step 3.5, but I am separating it to make a specific point. Always remember that you are a storyteller. Sure you know everything that is happening…you can envision the gut-busting comedy or grand scope of an epic. That’s great, now share that with us! We already have taken care of Who, Where, and What. We are still missing a few key points. These questions will help you to build your story, so don’t be afraid of them. You need details anyway to convey your thoughts to your audience in a lucid manner.
This is huge! Why are your characters doing or saying what they are doing or saying? Maybe you have a scrappy, sharp-tongued mithra chiding her stern-faced hume captive. Those are “why” circumstances. Why does the cowardly tarutaru seek the near-demonic powers of the dark knight? This is motivation. This can really relate your characters to us, the lowly reader. This gives them and you power and explains so much. Depth depth depth!
This is more a detail, though it can be crucial. Whether you state it flat-out or leave it for us to discover, time is everything. In the world of Vana’diel, a lot has happened over the past 20 years. Or, on a lesser scale, “when” is good for describing the setting or characters. “A moonbeam crossed her face, only illuminating her eyes and leaving the rest of the ninja’s face shrouded in darkness.” This gives a sense of scope to your audience.
Much like Why, How is one of the most powerful tools in your literary **** How someone does something, or how a series of events play out give continuity and depth to your story. Sure, you can say a galkan monk punched a goblin in the face…but how much better would it be if you described how it happened? You can paint a mental picture for us how "the goblin’s goggles shattered at the impact of a trembling closed fist."
“How” is also what can help you plot out your…well…plot. How did the party get to Norg? How did the summoner attain his vast power? How do you get your character (if you remember the previous example) from waking up in bed to standing over the fallen Shadow Lord? Leave some for us readers to fill in as it personalizes your story to each of us, but don’t leave gaping holes for us to spackle.
Step Five, Cleanup
Congratulations! You just put together a story! Keep in mind that this is your first draft. Even if you felt like you were on fire and everything is perfect, are you sure that your “yous” aren’t “yuos”? Maybe you have a sentence that just really runs on with no point at all and you forgot to catch it because of the heat of the moment which is ok as it happens to the best of us but upon further review you see that a comma, semi-colon, or period can break it up pretty well much like this very sentence.
Welcome to the editing stage. You may end up reading through your story several times. If the prospect doesn’t excite you, then perhaps you need some more description or explanation? Don’t be afraid to do that! As you read, make sure that conversations are broken up by lines. Here’s an example:
“What was that noise,” the dragoon asked his friend.
“I’m not sure.”
Talk about ease of readability! In a similar vein, try to limit your paragraphs to no more than seven lines maximum. Even enthralled readers may have to rub their eyes if they see a daunting twenty-line paragraph, no matter how well it is written. Spoon-feed your audience details and explanations a little bit at a time and give us enough time to chew and swallow before the next bite. If you do a rush-job writing, we’re going to do a rush-job reading.
Please take it upon yourself, too, to use proper SGP. What’s SGP? Spelling/Grammar/Punctuation. I shouldn’t need to go into details why and you can find references for it anywhere. As you scan and reread your work for touchups, ensure that you have written in the proper tense consistently. Jumping tenses, point-of-view, or being vague with your pronouns (he/she, his/her) can really confuse your audience.
My last tip is to use text formatting sparingly. It is supposed to be an accent or stress to your dialogue or description. The more you underline or capitalize, the less impact it will have overall. It also can hurt the readers’ eyes to try and read italics and the like too much.
Ultimately you must realize that this is your story. Your events. Your motivation and writing style. You put your humor and your understandings of the world in it. So write with what works best for you. Just remember that description is your best friend as we don't have pictures to look at. Your story is going to be a personal reflection of you and your subjects. You are the master of this universe and that is the attitude you must take. Make us understand what you have planned for us through your descriptions. Feed us and paint for us the information you want to convey.
P.S. – Never be afraid of criticism and compliments. Humility is your best bet. Revisions are a part of the job. Who knows? I may even have to revise this guide even (I'm up to three already now)! So with bright eyes and a bushy tail, I look forward to your questions, comments, concerns, but most of all, I look forward to your own original masterpieces!
Happy writings to you.
Edited, Mon Nov 28 11:55:39 2005 by Phyree