It’s a brand new year, thank goodness. 2020 is gone and 2021 waits ahead of us filled with potential. Potential despair, potential doom, or potential fulfilment. Alas, we can’t know yet. 2020 certainly threw us an unexpected curveball.
I expected 2020 to be my greatest year yet. We spent January filming most of our film, Hollowhood, an accomplishment we had been building to and invested everything we owned in. I thought 2020 would see us finishing it, taking it to distributors, seeing it released to an audience.
Instead, 2020 saw us not even finishing filming and attempting to edit and score what we did film to a backdrop of children locked out of school and going stir crazy whilst we tried to home educate them. Dare I hope that 2021 will see the culmination of all that work finally being seen?
Honestly, I can’t know. It requires to many things to fall into place, vaccines and schedules, and finances to name but a few. But what I can know is that I will not lose the desire to tell stories. And, if you’re here reading this blog, I’m going to assume the same is true for you.
If you’ve felt a story bubbling away inside you and a desire to write it down, and felt all this time trapped inside was the perfect opportunity, it totally makes sense.
So often life gets in the way of writing, there’s work and responsibilities and relationships to maintain. Carving out time to be in complete isolation to write a story feels like self indulgent nonsense. But when that isolation is imposed on you?
However, writing a story requires more from you than just time and solitude. Telling stories requires creating characters that you pour your heart and soul into, and if you were running on empty already, you had nothing left to pour.
If you suffered from writer’s block in 2020 then I completely understand. If your dreams of writing were replaced with binge watching The Office on the sofa with a bottle of merlot and a bag of crisps, you’re not alone.
Writer’s block can strike for a number of reasons. Sometimes story related, and you can usually find a way to move through that, but sometimes it’s emotional or mental. And when that happens, taking a breath and not beating yourself up over it is essential. You’re not a writing robot, you’re a human, and you need to give yourself love.
How To Start Fresh In 2021
2021 is new. It hasn’t had time to hurt you yet. Well, hopefully. It’s only 7am as I write this on January 1st and I’ve already had to deal with dog vomit, human vomit, and squabbling children. So let’s not pretend it’s immediately off to an easy start but, still, nothing compared to what 2020 threw at us.
So let’s start over. Build a new relationship with your story.
Forget all the struggles you faced with it in 2020. Breathe and reboot.
2021 can be the year of your story. The year you finally get to write “The End.” And I can help you.
The world needs more stories, so let’s make yours one of them.
Who Is Your Protagonist?
Your Protagonist of your story is the main character. It’s their story. You will spend the majority, if not all, of your time experiencing events through them. So, before you start writing anything, who is it? And why are you telling their story?
The Protagonist of my first book, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, was the first character I truly felt bonded to. I’d written so many stories in my life, short ones, long ones, incompleted ones, and I’d had a great time creating them. But Lilly was different. I knew for sure it was her story I wanted to tell and it was worth pushing to get it done. So who is yours and why do you want to tell their story?
What Does Your Protagonist Want?
When you’ve worked out who your Protagonist is and why they matter, work out what it is they want. There’s no point joining somebody if they’re not doing anything particularly interesting. They need a goal. Something that gives you a reason to start telling their story at this point in their life.
Your Protagonist’s goal could be something simple like fitting in at a new school, which is what Lilly starts her story wanting, or it could be something huge like stopping alien invaders. But the point is, they have to have something they want, and something they care about getting. If your Protagonist doesn’t want anything, your audience won’t want anything, and your story will be flat. Make sure you give them something that motivates them.
Who Is Your Antagonist?
Your Antagonist character is equally important to the Protagonist so put as much thought into who they are. Whilst your Protagonist is who your experiencing your story with, your Antagonist is what makes it interesting.
If you imagine your Protagonist’s story goal is that they want to find an apple. They’re desperate to find an apple and decide at the beginning of your story that they’re going to go and get it. So, they set out to achieve that goal and your audience goes with them.
Without an Antagonist, they can just go to the store and get an apple. You might get two pages of story out of that. What they want, why they want it, and the journey to achieving that apple goal. Done.
However, with an Antagonist, it becomes a challenge. Their desire to get that apple will be tested. Entertaining events will happen as obstacles are thrown in their way.
Protagonist Vs Antagonist
From the moment your Protagonist becomes active, they are set against your Antagonist. Your Antagonist must be equally motivated, equally determined throughout your story.
The Antagonist character either wants the same goal, and thus is competing with your Protagonist to get the apple, and one one can do it. Or, they want to stop your Protagonist from achieving their goal for their own reasons, perhaps they’re committed to saving apples from extinction.
From the moment your Protagonist goes after their apple, the Antagonist is actively trying to stop them. That is what keeps your story entertaining and active, and that is where your story lies.
Apple nonsense aside, it shows you how you use your Antagonist to make your story interesting. Without an Antagonist, it’s easy for your Protagonist and your story is over too soon and really dull.
Start Your Story
Starting your story can feel like a huge mountain of a challenge. That blank screen just sitting their burning holes into your eyes, challenging you to write the greatest first line in the history of first lines and condemning every idea that comes to your head.
But IGNORE IT.
You can worry about that later. For now you just need to get moving.
How To Introduce Your Characters
There are so many ways you can start your story, it’s entirely up to you. In Lilly Prospero And The Mermaid’s Curse I start with the Antagonist. I show him dragging a mermaid from the ocean for nefarious purposes to build a sense of fear, and to tell the audience immediately what the story will be about. In Emerald Wren And The Coven Of Seven I start with a flashback to show child Emerald receiving the magic lamp that is an integral part of the story in her adulthood.
It really is up to you. But remember to start with either your Protagonist, because it’s their story, or the Antagonist, because they’re the entertainment. Introduce them in a way that tells you something about who they are and what their story will be.
Either introduce your Protagonist by showing what’s missing from their life, something they long for or is distressing them enough that they will want to change it. That way, when they become active and pursue that, their story goal will make sense and your audience will be invested. Or introduce your Antagonist doing something terrible, such as killing mermaids, so your audience is invested in watching your Protagonist become active to try and stop them.
It’s so easy to be paralyzed by fear. The desire for perfection has stalled many a writer. But trust me, your first draft is not meant to be perfect. It’s just mean to exist. Editing is where you fix it, and if there’s nothing written down, there’s nothing to edit.
When you write your first draft embrace the fact it’s going to be a mess. It can be liberating. You can add characters and drop them, doesn’t matter. You can mess up your continuity. You can change how people look half way through a paragraph. Be free! All that matters is you write Chapter One and you write The End. That’s it. That’s all the responsbility you have.
For the first draft one, everything between Chapter One and The End can be as messy and chaotic as you need it to be. So run with it. The editing comes next, but for now, just think about the first draft.
My Blogs And Videos
All my blog posts here and my videos on YouTube are completely free. I also have a book available to buy; How To Write A Story. I cover all different topics to do with writing and story craft and reference pop culture books, film and TV. I aim to make my writing advice as accessible and easy to follow as possible, and I want to help you find the fun and love of writing.
This isn’t about being perfect, it’s not about being a highly trained award winning author or screenwriter. My passion and love is in stories, any genre any style, and I don’t value any one over any other. It’s about what makes you happy and finding an audience to suit that, not trying to be impressive to anybody else.
So let’s do this. Let’s put 2020 behind us and get those stories out into the world. You are the only person in the entire world who can tell your story your way. That matters. You matter. Your story matters.
You can find more writing advice on our YouTube channel where we’ll help you become a better and more confident writer. If you have any writing questions, comment below and we will try to do a video for every question we get. If you’ve found my work helpful, please consider dropping me a tip in my Paypal tip jar to help me keeping bringing you free writing advice!