Your hero knows the story before you do.
April 13, 2015
SIDNEY SHELDON WAS NO STRANGER to the creative process of writing. He produced screenplays for Hollywood, hit television shows, and novels that have collectively sold more than 300 million copies.
More than once he sat at a typewriter and searched for the right word or, on some days, any word at all. Like the rest of us who rearrange words into books, Sidney would stare into the distance, often into the darkness, and know a story was out there lurking, waiting for him, and all he had to do was find it.
Good stories are elusive.
They aren’t so easily tracked down.
As Sidney Sheldon said: “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.”
He’s right. That’s what we do when we write.
We play God.
We look down into an abyss that is without form or shape and have the obligation to create any kind of world we want.
There may be peace and beauty.
Or death and war.
There may be love.
There may be life.
It may glimpse the future.
It may reach for the past.
It may find the good.
Or the bad.
It’s our world, and it belongs to us.
Of course, we can’t leave a world unpopulated, and that’s where conflict is born.
Someone has it, whatever it is.
Someone wants it.
Someone takes it.
Someone wants revenge.
And a beautiful world is thrown into chaos.
That’s the stuff of good novels, beginning with the first chapter of Genesis.
Nothing has changed.
Nothing ever will.
You now have gone to the trouble of creating a world.
You have characters – the good guys, the bad guys, those in love, those filled with hate, those with guns, and those who dig the graves,
Only one thing remains.
Where is the story?
Don’t worry about it.
Just do as Ray Bradbury told us to do.
First, he said, find out what your hero wants, then follow him.
He or she will lead you to the story, into the story, then through the story.
You supply the words.
You turn the phrases.
You add the punctuation.
Your hero will supply the rest.
He knows what he wants.
He knows what he fears.
He knows who and what he loves.
He knows what he doesn’t want to lose and knows how hard he will fight to keep it.
He knows his secrets.
He knows the mistakes of his past.
He knows his hopes and his regrets.
Finding out what they all happen to be is what makes writing worthwhile.
Caleb Pirtle III is author of Night Side of Dark.