Writers are in the business of creating stories. These stories should captivate the imaginations of the reader and entertain them. As a writer your goal is to entertain, and sometimes inform. To me when creating a story it always comes down to three things: story, characters, and setting. These three things make up every story and if one lacks the other two suffer greatly.
Let’s start with the story. The story is the events that take place in the book, movie or game you are writing. In Lord of the Rings, it is the journey to destroy Sauron by destroying the one ring. When creating a base story, it’s good to remember, what do you enjoy? When I started the story that would become Chronicles of Hazard city, it was much different. It was a five-part story of four different heroes. A soldier in the Middle East, a girl in China, a mercenary in Europe, and a military experiment in New York, all of the were unknowingly working against the same force, a company known as Hydra. The first four stories would have been the individual stories, and the fifth was them being brought together.
At the time, I wanted to write for video games, and I wanted to create something that was different. The games would be episodic, and would tell the story in installments. Over five years I worked on the story, and it changed as time passed. I became a writer, but I still had that story.
I tried to write it twice, failed twice, reworked it a hundred times. I uncomplicated the story, started stripping parts away. Eventually, it was placed in one city instead of four, and I gave it the name Chronicles of Hazard City. The first story, was about crime starring a lone mercenary named Dylan Price. Before it wasn’t ready, I wasn’t ready, now I’m taking another shot. We will see how it works out.
My advice for crafting a good base storyline. Start general, a story develops through interactions between characters. The details of your story will come from interaction. As you develop your characters, you will develop a better overall story. The same rule applies towards building the world. The forces that work inside your world will influence your story. The details of your world will add layers to your story. So the best advice I can give. Make your story like putty, able to stretch and change shape to fit the current need, and it’s ok if things change to the point that it is an entirely different story.
Characters, they are the drivers of your story. When I started writing, I thought how writers could talk about characters performing actions as if they had any choice. I like most people thought that the author makes the decision in the universe. They decide what the character does and what the character doesn’t do. This isn’t true.
Think about you as a character. Your family influences you, they stories they tell, the prejudice they feel, everything that makes your family unique is in you. The friends you keep, are they rich? Are they poor? The hobbies you keep. These things will shape you into who you will become.
Your characters will also have all these traits. Most of them will be picked before the story begins. Dylan for example, mother died giving birth, dad died while fighting. He wasn’t rich, but he was sent to a military academy after his father died. He didn’t have many friends growing up but did have one real friend in a man named Miles Jackson. He believes in doing the right thing, but not at any cost. If someone shoots at him, he shoots back.
The backstory for Dylan’s character influences his decisions. He lost his family so he wants to protect others. In books two and three, he starts to build a team of extraordinary individuals. People become the family he lost. He doesn’t see himself as a hero so when people try to honor him he rejects it. When you build a character, he has to act like that character.
When writing a character you have to do what makes sense for that character. Other characters will also have to do what they would normally do in response. If the main villain wants to kill the main hero, and he gets an opportunity, he should take it. If the story calls for it, kill your main character. If it’s hard on you, it will be hard on your audience.
Some general rules for characters. Heroes need flaws. They make the character human in the eyes of your reader. A hero that is able to take on an army is awesome. A hero that would rather take on the army than the demons in his head is even better. Your villain is the hero in his eyes. Whatever he, or she, is doing, they have to justify it. No real villain has ever stood up and said, “I am doing this because I’m evil.”
The world, I’m planning to make a long piece dedicated to this later. The storyline, the characters they all are affected by what is happening in the world. It’s not easy to make a good one. This will take time, but it is one of my favorite things to do. To build a good world you need a couple of things.
The most important aspect you need to this world is history. History is what drives most conflicts. Iraq is probably one of the best examples. It’s a region that politically has about three factions. The most important ones are the Sunni, Shia and Kurds. The Sunni and Shia factions have a long, complicated history dating back to the formation of the Islamic faith. The Kurds are a tribe that doesn’t even want to be part of Iraq. When you add in the other parts of the country’s history, like how it was created, the western intervention in it, Saddam, you get a complicated region with a complex history. It’s also not unique, history is complicated, and the meaning of events are constantly changing.
The history of your setting needs to be defined. To do this is complicated and takes time, but it is well worth it. The easiest way to do this is to take some character’s backstory and turn them into full stories. Tolkien wrote short stories that were set in the same universe as the Lord of the Rings. Each of the rings they talk about at the beginning of the first movie has a full story attached to it. Gandalf has more than a few stories written about him. Adding history to your world is a great way to make your story have depth and give small details that really set your story apart.
The setting is more than history. The setting needs to have a character all its own. Take Hazard City for example, the city is dirty and rough, it’s a tough city to live in. That makes the people who live there harder. The people of Hazard City know they can’t trust the police. Therefore, they rarely trust anyone. This adds character to the city and gives a bit of direction to characters.
There is a lot more to developing a good setting. I didn’t cover things like unseen forces, magic, religion, and several other topics, but trust me I will get to them in another article.
The only thing I have left to say is write. For a writer, story creation is a need and less of a want. Chronicles of Hazard City started as characters made as fan fiction inside the Marvel Universe. I built the characters, then the story, then setting. Then I restarted and built them all again. The setting will influence the characters. Characters will alter the path of the story. The story may change the setting a little. My closing words, no story is perfect. No game is perfect. No movie is perfect. We strive as storytellers to tell the best story but know when to stop. Nothing is worse than working years and never finishing, but having someone enjoy your work, nothing is better.