If a story can go in myriad directions, how do we know which way to go?
A tweet from a writer based in London, England:
@GoIntoTheStory I was hoping I could post a question on here. I usually write down scenes and then work a story around them. my problem is I keep writing the same scene in different ways, I don't know which story it belongs to. how do you know?
You have a story idea. You see a scene in your mind. You write it. Great!
But wait. You start to think about it further. Now you see the scene in a different light. You write another version.
Ah, this one feels right.
Uh-uh. Yet another iteration of the scene bursts into your consciousness.
This version… that one… ahhh!
“I don’t know which story it belongs to. How do you know?”
In a perfect world, the story unfolds before you and that’s it. It’s your STORY. Clear. Clean. Obvious.
What if there are two ways to go with your story? Or three? Or even MORE?
There is subtext at work in this question.
How do I know if it’s just ME dictating what the story will be… or the story ITSELF letting me know which way to go?
There is a solution to this problem and it’s simply this…
Immerse yourself in the lives of your characters… individually… collectively… lean into THEM.
After all, it’s THEIR story!
Rely on them to lead you into and through the story-crafting process.
You’ve heard of the old saying, “Seeing is believing”?
Invert it: “Believing is seeing.”
Believe your characters exist. Their story universe exists. And go there. Seek out your characters. Use biographies and questionnaires to dig into them. If that seems arbitrary or inauthentic, then use direct engagement exercises:
- Interview: You’re a psychiatrist, the character is your patient. Engage them in a therapy session where they must answer your questions.
- Monologue: Do a sit-down in which you get into the head space of a key character, free type what you ‘hear’ them saying.
- Inner Monologue: Do a sit-down in which you get into the head space of a character and write down every thought they have.
Lean into your characters. Reach out to them. Listen to them.
If you’re worried about what version of the story should be THE story, rely on your characters because it’s THEIR story.
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Reader Question: How do I know which version of my story to write? was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.