As a writer, the blank page can be the most daunting adversary you’ll ever face. You probably have an idea, and if you have an idea, you probably also have mid or late story scenarios constantly bouncing around your noggin that will be awesome to write—if you can ever manage to get there. Sometimes you sit down in front of your chosen writing medium and… blah. Nothing. In my last post, I encouraged the readers and writers of Prose Opiate to start writing and keep writing, so now I want to give you a little guide on how exactly to craft the tools that will help you defeat that first blank page.
What is your protagonist’s motivation?
Now events aren’t story, but good luck having a story without events. Plot advances through action. So, what actions will your characters take? What makes sense? Get your plot rolling with a motivation. What does your main character want at the beginning of the story? Do they want to get the girl or guy? Win the war? Get promoted? Maybe they’re a little darker. Do they want revenge against the man who killed their father? Do they struggle to control their bloodlust?
Often, the protagonist is reacting to some outside force. That’s okay. Let the antagonist antagonize. There’s a reason why so many great stories start with a normal person reacting to some external force. It’s okay that the hero just wants to stop the bad guy, but be sure to write your character motivation from the protagonist’s perspective, not the antagonist’s.
Choose a motivation now. It’s okay. You don’t have to write the story if you don’t want to, but I want you to think about a motivation for the main character in a hypothetical story (and write it down, preferably.) It should read like “(Character X) wants to (insert desire here.) For example, “Normal Bro wants to win the surf competition.”
Now, hold on to that. It’s the first flake in a snowstorm.
What’s at stake?
A good quest also needs stakes. Think about why it’s important that our hero not fail. What will happen if they do? Communicating why the hero must not fail will add some some needed intrigue for your reader. For example, If the main hero doesn’t find her daughter soon, she will never see her again. If the cult isn’t stopped, it will summon Cthulhu. If the werewolf can’t control his hunger, he won’t be able to live among people anymore. Conjure up some stakes for your hero and add it to your previous sentence. Mine is “Normal Bro wants to win the swim competition to prove to Bro Mom and Bro Dad that his passion isn’t a waste of time so they don’t send him to boarding school.”
I know it’s kind of wordy, but I’m not trying to write a logline here. Indeed, your own first idea may be far from perfect. That’s okay. Next,
What sets your protagonist on their journey?
Your protagonist now has a motivation—an ultimate goal they strive toward for the length of their journey. This is the foundation stone of plot. Next, we need to get our protagonist and our plot off their respective butts. For that, we’ll need an inciting incident. The inciting incident is a scene in which the main conflict of the story is introduced, and it can never happen too early. How will your protagonist learn of the struggle they must face?
Now, typically, the inciting incident is hardly pleasant for the protagonist. This is their first test as a person in the story. Any normal person might just give up, but fiction heroes need to be cut from different stock by necessity. Since my story is clearly leaning toward some sort of cheesy early naughties stoner comedy, I’m going to make my protagonist go through the trial of being fired from their part-time job at the convenience store. This will encourage his parents to threaten him with some institutional education.
Think up your own inciting incident now. It doesn’t have to be great. We’re brainstorming, and the way stories start is rarely how they end, so don’t take it too seriously.
And there we have it. These are the primitive tools any evolved humanoid can use when trying to start on a new story:
To introduce your characters, you may want to also think of a cold open, a flaw, and maybe even an archetype for your protagonist, but I think those will be blog post topics for another day.
So, here’s what I produced:
“Normal Bro, an overly idealistic young man, wants to win his local surfing competition and make a name for himself so his parents won’t send him off to boarding school when he loses his job at the convenience store.”
What did you produce? There is a comment box at the bottom of all Prose Opiate blog posts, so share your thoughts and your new off-the-cuff plot! Maybe you can use it for one of Prose Opiate’s monthly contests!
I hope to see a story from you. Thanks for reading and writing.