Challenges of bringing a story idea to life
by Shanta Everington, author of XY
Character v plot
For me, a story always begins with a strong character in crisis. I am a character-driven writer, which means that I like to spend a lot of time ‘getting to know’ my characters, and then let them dictate the story, rather than plotting in advance. I find that this approach can help with the creation of complex characters – the story ‘belongs’ to them. But the downside is that the plot can sometimes go AWOL…!
Character-led writers can find it challenging to keep control of plot and pace, and we need to take extra care not to let the story veer off track or sag. Plot-driven writers face their own challenges – starting with plot before character can sometimes lead to half-baked characters being shoehorned into the story.
Neither approach is inherently better than the other but it is important to be aware of the particular challenges in order to address them. If I feel I am losing control of the story, I try to take things back to a basic story arc: introducing a character and setting, showing the character’s dilemma, building up to breaking point, and then following a journey to finding resolution, with several false starts.
I ask myself, ‘Does this scene advance the plot in any way?’ If the answer is no, it may end up on the cutting room floor!
Another challenge is authenticity. We’ve all heard of the saying ‘write what you know’. But writing would be rather boring if authors were restricted to their own experience. After all, imagination is an author’s best friend. ‘Write what you come to know’ means spending time on research and discovery.
My latest novel is young adult dystopian novel, XY. The story centres on fifteen-year-old Jesse, who lives in a world where babies are born neither male nor female, and Compulsory Gender Assignment is carried out at birth. Jesse faces a major decision and is terrified that the secret she is hiding will be found out.
In order for me to create a believable fictional world, it was important for me to spend time researching the realm of intersex, with all its complexities. I learned that intersex conditions are, in fact, pretty common – 1 in 50 people has some form of intersex – that’s as common as having red hair!
Authenticity is more than just doing your homework though. You need to eat, breathe, sleep as your character for them to come to life. I am a big believer in getting ‘in role’. I had to become Jesse while I wrote her story, to stand in her shoes and see the world through her eyes. Imagining you are someone else is what writing is all about.
Showing and telling
It’s easy to tell a story. Not so easy to show it. I can tell you that Jesse is anxious, upset, frightened. Or I can show you through her body language, her interactions with others, the things she does or doesn’t do.
Showing a story involves using sensory imagery to bring it to life. A reader needs to feel immersed in the scene – to see, hear, smell, touch, taste, to experience…
Showing allows a reader to feel present in the story – it’s an active form of reading which requires reader participation. A challenge for the writer is getting the balance right.
XY by Shanta Everington is out now in paperback or on Kindle
Would it possible to live without gender?
Fifteen year old Jesse lives in a world where babies are born neither male nor female – Compulsory Gender Assignment is carried out at birth. Will the secret she closely guards be found out? Boyfriend Zeus, mother Ana’s Natural Souls, and new friend Ork, leader of We Are One, pull Jesse in different directions, forcing her to make her own mind up about who she really is.
“A highly original and thought-provoking dystopian novel. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it!”
Luisa Plaja, Chicklish, the UK’s Teen Fiction Site
Shanta Everington is the author of seven books, including three young adult novels – Give Me a Sign, Boy Red and latest release XY (joint winner of the Red Telephone Books YA Novel Competition). She has had all sorts of jobs in the past, from baking vegan muffins and working as a private tutor to appearing as a guest agony aunt and running a teen sexual health helpline. With an MA in Creative Writing with distinction, Shanta currently teaches Creative Writing with The Open University. She lives in London, UK, with her husband and two children. Visit www.shantaeverington.co.uk