Thursday, August 22, 2013

Short Story Guy
Google+ Profile:

Using A Quote as a Jump-Starter to Writing Stories

A technique that has worked for me when writing a story is using a thought or saying to spur the beginning of a story, or to shape the views or voice of a character.

I’ll give you an example. One day, I forget when exactly, I must’ve been thinking about the gay debate in America, or simply of relationships in general. Of that, I am not sure. But I do know that I recorded the following on my phone for later use as material:

 “I sympathize with the homosexual because it must be difficult to harbor love interests for a whole gender that doesn’t by default like you back. In other words, what limits us as guys from approaching a girl we like is our lack of courage, but a gay holding that same courage has to also be open to offending his interest.”

I even remember when these words came to my mind. No it wasn’t magical. I was simply walking down a hallway to the restroom and poof, those very words came to my mind--exactly how I’ve typed them.

While they must’ve originally been my thoughts and views toward the gay experience in our society, that is not why I decided to record this thought for later use. I recorded it because I knew that this quote could become the views of a character that I can use in later material.

I didn’t know what story would accompany this quote, or what character would say it, or in what type of scene. I just knew that there was something in this thought that could spark a discussion between two characters, or give birth to some sort of action. I wasn’t sure at all, but I recorded the thought.

A couple of months literally went by before I even went back to this note. I was writing a short story about the gay debate in America titled, “Beers, Gays and Straights.” It was a short story for my online publication, Short Story Guy, which features short stories based on current events. These news-inspired short stories use a current event to create a short fiction story that comments or adds to the relevant topic.

In this case, one of the relevant news stories at the time was the gay debate in America, and I knew I had to produce a short story for this topic. Guess what? The only material I had to begin was that very line I had recorded long ago, which I knew would be useful, somehow. I knew that the view expressed in that saying or quote could come into play somewhere in the story.

It turns out that I wrote a story about three young men who got together one day to watch the NCAA March Madness basketball championship (which was also going on around this time in April). While the game set the scene, the real focus was to somehow have this story comment on what was going on in America at the time regarding gay laws. The three men end up going to a grocery store to shop for food and drinks for the game, and at the store one of them has an encounter with a seemingly gay man, which makes this character feel uncomfortable.

All along as I wrote this story, I had that quote in mind and I still hadn’t used it. Finally, after the encounter at the grocery store took place, I knew this quote would come to life soon, and it did. It fit another character perfectly, and he said this quote to his friend to try to make him sympathize and relate with being gay.

You can read the full short story here: It is also accompanied with a podcast episode so that you can hear me give voice-acting a shot with these characters.

To conclude, I recommend saving any thought or saying that comes to you however you can. If you carry a smart phone, there are plenty of apps you can quickly use to record things. You can either type them out in regular note-taking apps, or use something like Evernote, which synchronizes your thoughts and notes across devices.

If you don’t have a smart phone, then carry a note-taker. Whatever the case is, value the thoughts that come to you every day. Life provides us with material every day, and it is our job to put it to use.

If you catch yourself thinking something or saying something to yourself, that might be a quote for a character who you can later develop into a full personality.

Give it a shot! Today, if you have any one of these thoughts, save it, and try to start a story with that saying by having two characters talk to each other on a back and forth. Good luck!

Jose has an interest in storytelling (journalism, fiction, nonfiction) and content creation, which has led him to gain experience in digital communications (writing, editing, web publishing, and online media). Previously, he worked in education for 10 years at the high school and university level. He is currently an editor and contributor to Short Story Guy, an online current event and modern-day fiction and nonfiction publication. He hosts the Short Story Guy Podcast and manages the site’s social media accounts.

He graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Literature and Film, and now lives in Los Angeles, CA.

For guest-post inquiries, email him at contact[at]shortstoryguy[dot]com

You can also get in further contact with Jose via his website, Short Story Guy.

1 comment:

  1. I could no agree with you more Jose. Sometimes the hardest part about writing is simply knowing where to begin or putting those first few words on paper. What better way to get you going then with a quote you like or have previously written. I am going to have to use this technique in the future. The way I sometimes start my writing is my knowing how I want the story to end and simply working backwards from there.