Finding Stories

Sometimes it’s hard to home in on a story to tell.

The Vignette

Many times, what comes to my mind is a vignette rather than a story.

A vignette is defined as “a short descriptive literary sketch” or a “brief incident or scene (as in a play or movie)”. If you have studied any languages, you probably have figured out that this word is of French origin. It’s a diminutive form of Vigne, meaning vine. In other words, “little vine.”

A vignette can have more than one purpose. It can describe a scene, bring depth to a character, and set a mood. You can use scenarios to improve your language skills because you’ll want to use the most efficient words possible to make your scenes multidimensional. The goal is not as much to tell a story as to create the atmosphere.

Sandra Cisneros published a collection of vignettes (The House on Mango Street) told from the perspective of a Latina teen. Ernest Hemmingway used sketches, as did E.B. White, and Charles Dickens. What makes them valuable is the descriptive language used to bring the prose to life.

The Character Sketch

The character sketch, or character profile, is another way to find a story. Most of us know that fascinating characters make the most exciting stories. So, how do you make believable characters?

One way is to write a profile of that fictional or real person. What motivates them? Why do they do the things they do? Who are their friends and family? How does their immediate circle affect them? What event from their past brought them to the place your story starts? What demons haunt them?

These are a few of the questions you should ask as you write your character’s background. As you interview your creation, chances are good they will surprise you with a story. Listen as they speak. You will probably learn more than you bargained for.

You’ll want to write these profiles for all major characters—including the antagonist. Without knowing the motivation for the protagonist’s adversary, a story can fall flat.

The Writing Prompt

Writing Prompts are everywhere on the internet these days. Just search for writing prompts and see what happens. Writer’s Digest offers a page full of ideas to get you started. I’ve seen calendars with monthly prompts, or “Today is National Something or Another Day.” I have a book with three hundred ideas to get me started.

(C) 2019 JJ Shaun
A page in a writing prompts book.

I belong to a community at Writing.com that touts novice and experienced writers alike among the population. One feature about Writing.com that I like is that I can offer feedback to other writers and receive feedback as well. As with most sites, you must be respectful and constructive. It offers in-house story contests based on different prompts, depending on the month of the year or whatever holiday is coming up. The point of this site is to get you writing and offer a safe space to put yourself out there.

Another way is to look for people in your area who participate in writing groups. Meet other writers. Put your energy out there, and I’ll wager that a group of like-minded writers will gravitate your way. Don’t discount online writing groups, either. A small group of like-minded writers and I play games to come up with our storylines—or at least some fascinating characters. If you are serious, you’ll find a writing community that suits you.

Read

It’s said that no plot is original. That’s true. Only so many storylines exist, and they’ve been told a gazillion times. What makes each tale unique is the perspective in which it’s conveyed. How many ways have the works of William Shakespeare been re-imagined?

Take, for example, Romeo and Juliet, one of the bard’s most famous works. This play is itself a re-telling of an older Italian tale put to verse by Arthur Brooke and prose by William Painter years before the piece was published. In modern times, West Side Story is one of the many ways the tale has been re-conceived.

You can tell the same story a thousand ways. Just ask Terry Brooks, author of the Shannara series, his inspiration came directly from JRR Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings. What makes Brooks’ story different is his approach to the plot. The characters and the Four Lands grew to more than thirty novels and numerous short stories.

Stories are easy to find. They are hard to write.

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