In my writing tips I've talked about writing your life stories and how to make a start but one of the other most common questions I'm asked is 'I want to write a good ripping fictional story and don't know how to begin.'
If you're planning to write a story of high-seas adventure, or a dramatic historical novel, or perhaps a murder mystery - then having a sense of story line and the characters that will populate and drive it, is pretty much an essential.
Crime writer Val McDermid (and that's not her picture here, by the way) has this to say about how she starts her books:
"When I start a book, I have an idea of the story arc and I’ve spent most of my prep time thinking about the characters: how they’re going to conduct themselves, how they got to be the person they are today, how I feel about them. I spend the first month feeling my way into the book, getting a sense of its world and learning its nooks and crannies. Then it picks up pace and I can’t escape it. Seven days a week, its presence dominates my head. It’s a very intense period and I’m not very good at switching off."
There are some important words here from Val, for example, 'story arc' and 'prep time'. Often there will be a strong story structure behind a good book that really hooks you in and romps along with you from page to page, so much so that you hate to put it down to make dinner and can't wait to get back to it afterwards, and planning out how the story will look (literally as an arc which you can draw on paper if you want to - here's a short write-up about a story arc by Ali Hale, and how to construct it ) and taking time to prepare before you start writing goes a long way towards ensuring that yarn you want to tell is a ripping one.
I'm also asked what comes first, character or story?
Phew. Well, character drives plot, and plot can drive character - but my advice would be character. As Val also says, she spends time thinking about her players, who they are and where they have come from before they enter the pages of her story. Let's face it. Lives are propelled along by actions, which have reactions and consequences - and of course all avid murder mystery readers know that 'in the beginning, there was the crime'. Someone committed that crime and their action sets the wheels turning.
And I reckon you know you've got a winner when, as Val says, the writing just takes off with a life and mind of its own, and it's all you can do as a writer to keep up with it.