Writing a starter can be pretty tricky at times.
New characters, a new scenario, and absolutely nothing to start with, gets to be more of a challenge than expected. There's something challenging about a fresh start, and it takes some finesse to get the right starter to stick. Everyone's goal in starting a thread is to have good momentum right from the start and to ensure their hard work and writing don't get overlooked.
This blog is meant to help prioritize what elements are needed in a starter to help your plotline get off on the right foot.
1. Write up your goals.
I'm talking before you even think of finding a writing partner.
Start by digging deep and really considering what types of experiences you want your character to have. Do you want to see them grow, or learn a certain skill? Do you want them to become more independent or learn to trust people more? Think about where you would like to see your character go, and what types of storylines might help make it happen. Once you have this list (either written or in mind), use them to help in the planning phase and to show that you have confidence in what you're trying to accomplish.
If you are having trouble with this, then it doesn't hurt to go back to the drawing board to see if there is anything more you can do to flesh out for your character. It's no secret that the more you know about who your character is and what they want, the easier it will be to make a game plan for where you want your stories to go.
2. Start plotting.
If the imposter syndrome or social awkwardness creeps up when plotting with another writer, just know that they share the same goal as you: They want the story to work, and they want it to be fun as hell. For that reason, communication can go a long way to make sure your story starts on the right foot. While spontaneous stories can be successful on occasion, it makes sense and saves time to make sure both parties know what they want.
Good questions to ask are:
How do you want your character to grow from this thread?
Do you have goals in mind for this thread?
What locations work for you, or how could we elaborate to make a setting work?
Who's starting? Me? Oh, ah... Yeah. Okay, I can do that...
3. The setting Matters.
If you've made it this far, you've found a thread and are responsible for starting.
Creating a scene that will be comfortable for both writers to work in is essential. In the past, the some of the simplest mistakes I've made with starters (and replies alike) was making the other party do more work than necessary. The reply after your starter should come relatively easy to the other writer since you've provided the scenario and a great interaction. Then why is it so hard to achieve?
Let me give a single example for right now.
Think back to the last time you bumped into someone on the street.
What happened after? In the real world, odds are there were apologies and both parties continued on with their day as normal people would. No matter how many vampires or witches you throw into a story, those real-world scenarios don't change all that much. Bumping or crash landing on the street is a limited and brief event most people want to get behind them. While spontaneous, it forces the responding character to make something out of an event that is too short to be an event at all. Leaving a starter at this point puts work on the other writer's plate that will make them have to think double hard about what the starter was meant to achieve.
Okay Kei, how about this.
What if I make them bump into you on the street and they were running.
With blood on their hands!
While... it might feel slightly more dynamic to write that starter, the core problem is still there. No matter what speed or circumstances, if you base your starter off an event that doesn't hold very much interaction in our real life, it's going to twist their arm, and put the other writer in a hard spot of elaborating. They might have a character that would immediately think to turn the other way, but in order to stay engaged, they'll have to trail your character to keep the newly plotted thread alive.
You know what they say about assuming.
That's when the thread drops.
...Kei, what're you getting at?
3. Your goal is to pull their character in.
If you can't make a connection with the other writer's character in the first few replies, it's going to be very hard to build that up later on. Your goal is to also hold that character and tether them to yours for as long as the plot needs to ensure the story can go on. No matter how beautiful your description of the scenery is, or how interesting your character looks, if you don't give the other writer something active to respond to, then the description is all for nothing. We're all awkward little introverts when the setting feels uncomfortable, and our characters aren't spared from that either.
Consider some Questions below.
Do the characters have common ground or a common enemy to build on?
Are they both in their situation begrudgingly and have to work together?
Did one of the characters actively seek out the other? For what?
Is there something high-stakes keeping the characters together for the plot?
If their meeting was an inconvenience, what will ensure they can't just go separate ways?
Is your character searching for something or vice versa?
How might these scenarios start?
Your character grabs them by the shoulder and says "Hurry follow me, we don't have much time."
A pre-scheduled meeting. Create the background for why the two would be meeting. Business? Bribery?
Put them in mortal danger, constructively. If your character is on the run, maybe the other can get roped into the trouble.
Provide long-term character trouble that the other might want to help with - Without making a damsel in distress scenario.
Think of every Marvel or DC movie for examples, or your favorite TV show that feels closest to your character's theme. How do they introduce new characters or frame the scene when movies and episodes start?
4. Keep that thread going. Add a little complexity.
This is for the stage where you have properly connected the characters in some way. Beyond that initial conflict or greeting, you're going to need something to strengthen the thread for the long term. Below is a method I've caught myself doing in threads whether I realized or not.
Consider layering two conflicts.
A base conflict that is long-term can exist along with immediate conflict(s) that causes trouble. This keeps the characters busy whether they resolve their immediate conflict or not.
Consider adding a 3rd party.
Giving the characters a mutual friend or enemy can add variety and another layer to interact with other than character vs. character. It could be a villain that appears or the sudden realization that they both know someone and never knew.
Kei and Kougar met on accident in an abandoned theatre building he owns. They fought immediately (Kei lost).
Kougar decides she wants the theatre. Kei won't give it to her.
Their base conflict is the fight over the building. This conflict is more long-term.
A werewolf appears and a fight breaks out where they have to team up. It's there for revenge because Kei killed a pack member long ago.
Both of them are now on the run and trying to deal with the wolf pack on their tails.
This is an immediate conflict because it's distracting from the base conflict and making it harder to achieve.
5. Check the grammar & clarity.
When you're shifting around text to make things how you want it, it's relatively easy to leave a jumbled mess of thoughts. Read back through and make sure your sentences make sense and are ended properly. How much grammar matters to a writer will depend on their tolerance with typos and so on. Not everyone's first language is English after all! Sometimes the storytelling can outweigh simple typos, but a doublecheck is always a good idea.
If you are a person that writes fast or has grammar problems on occasion, I highly recommend the free version of Grammarly to make this step take no time at all. Grammarly can be turned off when it's not needed and flicked on when you're done writing. It's a no brainer really for me.
If you want an alternate way to check your work for what seems funny, Natural Readers is a site that reads text aloud back to you. This is an admin's dirty little trick for reading through blog contest entries.
There isn't a magic formula, sadly. Characters all vary and writers do too, so it's up to the pair to communicate and figure out what route they want to go. It's up the individual writers to make sure they're giving each other enough to respond to. I do have a list of questions destined to give you a panic attack assistance in what your reply might need.
The Starting Writer's Checklist.
- Do I have a goal in mind for this thread?
- Did we think of a plot collaboratively?
- Do I have a clear idea of what will happen?
- Is this setting friendly to both characters?
- Have I caused any limitations for the other writer with this setting?
- Do I have a clear idea of the time of day, temperature, etc.?
- Do I know what my character's agenda was before the two meet?
- Does my starter give them enough to respond to?
- Does this make sense?
- Is the description level good? (Sometimes it's okay to choose simple over elaborate/confusing)
- Am I creating work for the person who will reply to me?
- If someone sent this to me, could I answer to it easily?
- If someone sent this to me, would I want to answer this?
Ending notes (and disclaimer as always)
Whew! That's three today. I hope this mess makes sense.
Starters are hard to write and sometimes even hard to make stick.
For the serious writer looking to hold a thread long-term or the writers that struggle to hold threads long-term, this is for you.
Recognize that this blog might hold bias, and feel free to let me know in the comments where your perception might differ on the topic. Let's start a conversation. I'll never claim to be an expert, but I thought a little mindfulness on how to tackle starters could benefit the site as a whole.