After my “I just do it” line, I can see the next round coming at me from a mile away! “Okay, so write every chance I get, accept criticism, and don’t do it for the money. Great advice, Paul. But seriously, how do you craft a story?”

My writing tends to be very organic. I start with world building, every time. I make an environment that is as complete as I can possibly make it. I establish history and politics, business practices, science and technology. Even the general psychology of the masses needs to be accounted for. Detail is everything, for me at least, because without a believable world, the characters and the story are pretty meaningless. After that I move on to character building. My characters tend to be as detailed as my world. I have huge piles of data about my characters that I doubt anyone else will ever see, just to make them as real as possible in my mind’s eye.

Once I have my world designed, and my characters fleshed out, I begin the story creation process with a problem. What is it that has everyone riled up? What are the potential dangers to the characters? Their friends/family? The world? Further, how do the characters get involved? What is it that pulls them into the quagmire of the story’s plot? Everyone needs motivation to act, and it is always helpful, from a storytelling standpoint, if our characters’ motivations are believable to the reader, and compelling enough to the character(s) that their involvement is as realistic as it can be.

Next, I try and establish a few key plot points that I think I want my story to go through on its winding path to conclusion. This is more often than not a mental map, and I try to keep it intentionally vague, because establishing fixed points makes me feel as if my stories become very forced as I try to manipulate the plot, and players, into meeting those ridged points. The dots I try and pin to the map are the start, the end, and two or three waypoints in the middle. But again, I try to keep these points as vague as possible, so it is easier for them to change and flow as the organic story begins to take shape.
Then, I toss my characters in at the starting point and let them go! I find that, for me, the story just flows, if I’ve done my job of world and character building properly. The characters will have motivations, desires, and goals, and those create personality, when combined with their history. Their personality dictates how they react to the world and deal with the problem of the plot.
To borrow an analogy from Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ (an excellent book that I recommend to all writers), the process is much like sculpture, or the excavation of a buried dinosaur skeleton. Everything is in place and as detailed as I can make it. My job as the writer is to clear away the unnecessary bits of dirt or stone that obscure the final piece from view. Sometimes it’s easy going; sometimes not so much. But I cannot force the end result to be something it shouldn’t, unless I want to risk ruining it.