Living as a writer, whether you are published or not, has many perks. The greatest of which, in my opinion, is the constant and unstoppable parade of stories in your head. Now that you have reached the point where you have written a logline and followed up with theme, the creative energy is undoubtedly sparking. You find yourself thinking about your story often. You can’t help it. You can be anywhere, doing anything, and your story comes to mind. Your characters speak to you (hopefully you don’t converse with them—audibly at least). The plot of your story begins to roll out on the floor of your imagination like a tapestry of color and intersecting lines. You smell what your characters smell; you see what your characters see; you sympathize with their pain and revel in their triumphs.
In short, you are becoming a walking, breathing story machine. Ideas begat ideas. You will discover that your stories will have children, some relevant in structure and voice, some completely foreign. Let these stories move and shift. Let them vie for your attention. But beware: you now run the risk of pecking at all of them and finishing none of them. You must avoid this trap. You might have three or four strong ideas. Pick the best and let the rest stay behind. Stories can churn and develop over years before they ripen. Sometimes they whither and die before they are written. Don’t lament them. If you continue forth with one strong idea, crafting it into a finished work, a host of byproduct ideas will be born in the process.
Now that you have actual words on paper—your logline and theme—its time to get organized. It’s time to assemble what I call a canon of working documents. These documents will contain reference materials, character notes, articles, photographs, and other tools you will find or create along the way.
To start, you will need to place 2 documents into your story canon: a detailed story treatment document, and a character document. As you write, you must have both of these documents open at all times. Other documents in your canon should be available for easy reference. You will open them, edit them, and close them as you craft your story.
Lets take a closer look at your story treatment and character documents.
Your Story Treatment Document
This document is where your story spreads its roots into fertile ground. Your treatment document contains vague notions of your story, hints of plot and conflict.
Lets take a look at the anatomy of an effective story treatment document. It is comprised of the following elements:
4. Treatment (to be discussed in a future article)
5. Three Act Breakdown (to be discussed in a future article)
The story treatment acts as a gestalt view of your story.
Your Character Document
Your character document is the second and no less important document in your story canon. As you write, you will need voices to tell your story. This means characters. There must be 2 central characters at a minimum: a protagonist (the main character), and an antagonist (the main character’s opponent). I will write extensively about character in the future, but at the core, these two characters must be motivated by clear goals. These goals must be in absolute conflict with one another. In other words, if the protagonist achieves his goal, the antagonist must be foiled. An example: Luke Skywalker desires to, along with the the rebellion, defeat the Empire. The Empire cannot gain its goal of total power if Luke obtains his goal.
Whenever you open a character, no matter if that character is a main character or a minor character, you must put down a few notes about that character, such as the character’s name, occupation, and function in the story. Opening new characters must be done judiciously. Too many characters can confuse the reader. Each character must have some form of clear motivation and be absolutely essential in propelling or stunting your protagonist’s progress.
Your character document, hence, becomes a simple list of character names and, to begin with, 1 to 3 sentence descriptions of those characters. These 1 to 3 sentence descriptions will change, grow, shrink, or disappear as your story comes to life.
As you write your treatment, 3-act structure, blow-by-blow roadmap, and your actual story copy (all to be discussed in later articles), your character document becomes your best friend. You can change character aspects as they occur and note these changes in your character document. Perhaps one of your characters picks up a new habit, a new friend, a new piece of knowledge, a new weapon. These items must be jotted down in your character document. You might introduce a character with a Russian accent who smokes a pipe. This must be written into your character document.
Without a character document, you won’t have the ability to recall important character traits such as character names, mannerisms, and functions. To find this information without a character document you must sift through your entire manuscript. This is time consuming and discouraging. Save yourself the headache and keep a character document open at all times while you write.
Below are a few samples of characters and how they might be listed in a character document. Bear in mind that these descriptions inevitably lengthen as these characters’ stories are written:
Arthur Dent – British everyday man, unsophisticated antihero who constantly wears a bathrobe.
Harry Dresden – Chicago’s only wizard for hire.
Gus Saxy – A plumber who has been forced to deal with dangerous creatures from another dimension.
Story Canon: A Practical Example
Continuing with our demon battling plumber, I have drafted an example of both a story treatment document and character document. I have used the logline and theme discussed in previous articles to seed the story.
Story Treatment Document for Gus The Plumber
Gus The Plumber (Working Title) – Treatment
A plumber battles a pandimentional super demon and its minions.
The greatest valor comes from the humblest beginnings.
(To be discussed and written later)
THREE ACT BREAKDOWN
(To be discussed and written later)
Gus the Plumber (Working Title) – Characters
Gus Saxy – Protagonist, self-taught plumber and handyman. Gus owns his own plumbing business, which consists of him and a single truck full of tools.
Vorvadoss – Antagonist. Lovecraftian elder god. Wears a cloak and hood. He usually appears enveloped in green flames. He can also appear in human form.
Jeremy Harper – Arrogant owner of a large plumbing outfit. His business consists of twenty trucks and corporate offices.
It’s time for you to begin assembling your story canon. Create a folder on your computer. Title this folder “Canon_YourStoryName.” In your word processing software of choice, create a story treatment document and a character document using the above examples as guidelines. Name these documents as follows:
In your story treatment document, write your story title (perhaps a working title at this point), your logline, and theme. Follow these items with headings for a treatment (to be discussed and written later) and 3-act breakdown (to be discussed and written later).
List your main character and his nemesis (protagonist and antagonist) in your character document. Write a 2 to 3 sentence description for each of these characters.
Good luck. I’ll see you next time.
Go to the next step.