Don't let your story fall apart

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 12:00am

One of the most difficult parts of any writing assignment is how to get started.

A famous writer called Graham Greene had a good way of overcoming this problem. When he finished his writing for the day, he always ended in the middle of a sentence. That made it easier for him to get started again the next day as he could just pick up from where he had finished the previous night.

You often have a title to start you off. You can think of the title from different viewpoints. Remember that in English words can often have different meanings. Here are some examples.

Suppose the title is The Fall. Start by thinking of all the different ways in which you could interpret this title. It might be a literal interpretation - someone physically falls down. So jot down a list of all the situations in which someone might have a fall of some kind: from a rope whilst rock-climbing; down the stairs; while performing in a gymnastics display; on a football field; off the harbour wall and into the water and so on.

Next, think of other ways in which you could interpret this title. These are metaphorical, rather than literal, interpretations. You can fall in love with someone - or indeed fall out of love with someone; a successful businessman goes bust; a sportswoman has her winning streak snapped and falls from her top position in the sport. You might be a teacher's favourite and then you do something which causes you to fall from this position.

You now no longer have a blank sheet of paper in front of you: it is filled with ideas. You can now select one of those ideas and give it a shape.

Most stories start with some kind of problem or conflict. If there is no problem or no issue to resolve, then usually there is no story to tell.

So let's think about the first idea - the fall from a rope while rock-climbing. What is going to be the key conflict or problem in this story? The most obvious possibility is that the problem is the fall itself. The story is then mainly concerned with the rescue. Remember that a story can start at any point. You do not have to include the build-up to the fall, such as a group of friends getting together, what they do on the journey, what they eat, and so on. You could write pages before you get to the fall itself.

Why not start like this:

'Sarah had no warning of what was about to happen. She was high on the rock face and could see her climbing partner Joe peering down from above her. She was just stretching out for a hand-hold when she felt her feet slip. The next thing she knew she was lying on a ledge, her leg crumpled beneath her and Joe nowhere to be seen ...'

This kind of opening plunges the reader straight into the story. His attention is immediately captured and he is interested in how this problem will be resolved in the course of the story. How will Joe rescue Sarah?

Alternatively, you could create a conflict involving the characters. Your story could open with an argument between some members of a climbing expedition. One boy might feel that a fellow-climber is paying too much attention to his girlfriend and is feeling jealous. The fall could come towards the end of the story and not be too serious. The accident happened because the boys were distracted by the dispute.

This time the story is about relationships and not a rescue. It has a moral point - disagreement can bring disaster. The boys learn their lesson and the trip ends happily.

Whatever the topic, your writing process is similar. Jot down all the possibilities, however unlikely they might seem at first. Select your favourite. Give it some shape and decide your starting point - then off you go!