Writing a story is not easy. Even if you have the best story idea in your head, getting it down on paper can be a tedious endeavor. One needs to keep track of and flesh out all the details, make sure there are no loopholes, have the three act structure in mind, stay focused on the plot, and so much more. I may not be the best person to tell you about structure and plot, but I believe I have a good process for writing each chapter.
1) Know where the story is going
2) Determine character motivations
3) Decide who, what, where, why, and how
4) Build a basic timeline (the when)
5) Decide point of view
6) Add more detail to timeline
7) Begin writing or go back to step 6
Know Where the Story is Going
I already know the basic outline of my story. For part two of The Kavakian Empire, we’ve seen Emperor Kavak take possession of a laser that can be turned into a deadly weapon. We saw J.T. and his crew of Alliance officers get captured while trying to stop the emperor. We know Terk and Jori want to help J.T. but since they know their father the emperor won’t allow it they have to go behind his back. We also know the emperor has a strong desire to make up for his father’s failings. And we know the Tredons are a warrior race.
Determine Character Motivations
So how far will a warrior emperor go in order to develop a deadly weapon? And how unlikely is it that J.T. and the other Alliance crew members will willingly do this for him without proper motivation?
When writing a story, it is important to understand your characters and why they do the things they do. It’s not enough to have a bad guy do bad things without understanding the reasons behind them.
Decide Who, What, Where, Why, and How
After asking myself the above questions, I decide that in chapter 5 the emperor will set a drastic tone by torturing the prisoners. In his mind, these Alliance men need to know he is serious. He doesn’t want them to sluff off from their efforts. He doesn’t want to have to deal with protestors or procrastinators.
As we saw in chapter 4, Terk is to gather the prisoners in a place on the ship called the gallery. Now that I know the what, where, and why of this scene, I need to decide who will be there and how it will be done.
* Who: All the Alliance prisoners, Emperor Kavak, Jori, Terk, and several Tredon warriors.
* How: Will they all be tortured at the same time? This doesn’t sound easy, so I decide one man (or woman) will be tortured at a time so that the others can watch. A device is wheeled in. It is basically just a metal frame with shackles hanging down where a man can be hung by his wrists. Torture can’t be too severe. The emperor has already expressed his desire to give them a “taste”.
I then ask myself if there is any other information I want to convey in this chapter. I’ve decided Jori and Terk will be expected to witness it, but will they be expected to actually participate? And if they are expected to participate, will they do as they’re told?
The When: Build a Basic Timeline
The next step is to create a basic timeline for the chapter. Try to keep plot and structure in mind. Here is my basic timeline for chapter 5:
– The Alliance prisoners will be brought into the room. Describe the room, the metal frame with shackles, and who is in the room. Try to implement other senses besides sight when describing. Smell, sound, feeling, taste?
– Emperor Kavak will lecture the men (and woman) on what is going to happen and what he expects the results to be.
– The first Alliance man is hung from the shackles. He is whipped, zapped, beaten, or all three. He cries out as the other prisoners watch. Other prisoners get their turn.
– Terk and Jori are told to administer some of the punishments.
– J.T. is tortured last and worst because he is of the highest rank.
– When it is over, the emperor gives another brief lecture.
Decide Point of View
You may have noticed that I prefer to write my story from the third person point of view. And I have different characters give their point of view at different parts of the story. In thinking about this particular chapter, I think it makes the most sense to have this chapter told from J.T.’s point of view.
Add More Detail to Timeline
Now that I have all this decided, the next thing I do is make a more detailed timeline:
– J.T. is afraid. The Alliance prisoners are made to kneel on a cold floor. The room is also cold, and it smells musty or something. One of the Alliance men is hung on the shackles. The emperor, Jori and Terk, and several Tredon warriors watch. Some watch without expression, like Jori and Terk. Some watch with gleeful anticipation and J.T. hears derisive laughter. I realize that Hanna had previously been in a separate place from the prisoners and had probably already been beaten. So I have three choices: 1) not have her in this scene, 2) have her show up with the rest of the crew and have J.T. assume she’s been raped, or 3) have J.T. reflect briefly on what he knows of Hanna. Hanna was brought to his cell earlier. She had been beaten and bruised. But she was conscious and she told J.T. that Terk helped her.
– I haven’t decided yet on what the emperor will say in this first lecture, but it will be brief.
– All the prisoners cry out from the torture. Some will even beg. I will only focus on one or two but I do not want to go into morbid detail. It will be noted that Simmonds and a few others will beg while Hanna, Harley, J.T. and a few others don’t. Hanna does not get as much of a punishment because she had already been injured by Lank.
– Jori refused to participate. J.T. sees that the emperor is angry about it but he doesn’t push the issue. J.T. sees Terk hesitate but he ultimately decides to do what his father wants. J.T. feels sorry for them both.
– When it is J.T.’s turn, he is determined not to cry out. But he is surprised at how much it hurts. He’d never been tortured before. He broke his arm once while on a hike and was left to suffer for hours before rescue came. But it was not like this. This was sharp and continuous.
– The emperor makes it clear that he has torture methods that are far worse than this, but he will hold back so long as they cooperate. He mentions a man named Alkon and gives morbid details on what Alkon will do. J.T. is sickened by what he hears and when he looks at Jori and Terk, he thinks he sees the revulsion on their faces too. It is difficult for him to tell though, because both Jori and Terk are good at keeping their faces blank.
Write the Story
I can add more detail to the timeline again if I want. Or if I think I’m ready, I can start to write in earnest. I think I’m ready to get started on this one. Is it possible that the story will change when I actually start writing it? Absolutely.
When you write, don’t feel limited to the structure of your timeline. You may find some information to be too much or too boring. You may decide a certain part isn’t necessary. Or you may find that you need much more detail than your timeline suggests. Either way, that’s okay. The timeline is just a tool to help you build structure and focus.
Every writer has their own process. So if you’re writing a story for the first time, give my method a try. If it doesn’t work for you, there are many other methods used by many other writers. Find what works best for you and write away!