Story writing. It’s a sensitive process, extremely personal, and not something you should try to take shortcuts with.
Today, I’m going to write a story in one hour.
This is not hard. What’s hard is to write a good story in an hour, but the fundamentals of all storytelling are the same, and I’m going to break them down for you with a little help from an idol of mine. Dan Harmon, creator of hit shows Rick and Morty and Community.
For those of you who’ve heard this already, bear with me. For those who haven’t, prepare to have your minds blown.
Here’s my dirty little secret. A cheat sheet for writing fiction novels, stolen from a weird Hollywood script writer with a drinking problem: story writing can be broken down into very clear steps. I won’t go into these too much, because I have no time, but they exist and if you’d like me to explain them further, I will some other time.
Every story in existence follows some combination of the following eight story writing steps:
Now, story writing isn’t a math problem. It’s chemistry. The point of creating stories is to make something that suits your purposes, reflects your thoughts, and, most importantly, is unique. You want to tell a story about a robot sun that explodes and kills everybody on earth because someone said that solar flare made its ass look fat? How about a love story between Mussolini and a clone of Mussolini with laser farts? It all boils down to those eight steps – it’s just the way you take each step that makes any difference.
And, with that, I’ve wasted twenty minutes writing this intro, so let’s get to writing a full story in 40 minutes!
You: A Ghost Hunter In The Future
It’s the year 4563 and Allan von Spookybottom, a famous ghost hunter from steampunk Detroit has made a living traveling the country, telling tall tales of his youth spent hunting ghosts. Never mind the fact that he hasn’t actually seen a ghost in over a decade, he’s enjoying his fame and riches as a touring lecturer and bonafide supernatural badass.
Need: A Return To Substance
But Allan is empty inside. He lies awake at night, staring up at the ceiling, wishing he could find a real ghost again. But he hasn’t seen anything really ghostly in so long, he’s beginning to doubt his own mind. Did he make it all up? With every fan that asks for his autograph, he begins to wonder more and more whether he just deluded himself into thinking he ever saw anything.
Go: Reach Out And Touch Someone
One day, Allan has a near-death experience. He’s drunk on his lawn in his underwear in a thunder storm, running around swinging a croquet mallet. When he wakes up, he can hear voices. They’re telling him to build a hot air balloon and meet them in the sky. But steampunk Detroit is tall – like Mega City One, Judge Dredd tall. So many buildings and so much smog everywhere it’s literally impossible to build or launch a balloon anywhere. And his friends and coworkers think he’s crazy. And his biggest competitor, Mary Shelley (no relation), is suspicious he might be onto something.
Search: Allan Takes Steps
Allan hatches a scheme that is equal parts impossible, crazy and stupid. In order to make a balloon, he needs enough material to be able to create the balloon part. He does this by stitching together fifteen fake shroud of Turin shrouds, all of which were scheduled for burning by the Vatican in a week. He weaves a basket out of bird skins (don’t worry, these were ostriches, the assholes of the bird world). For the flamey bit, he rigs up the jet propulsion unit from the back of a dead superhero’s car from the late 2000s.
He has to overcome a lot during this period, but it’s all worth it because the more he does, the louder the voice gets and the more convinced he becomes he’s doing the right thing. He eventually gets the balloon built.
Find: Taking To The Sky
(at this point, I’ve got about twenty minutes left)
Allan sets up his balloon on the roof of the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, Detroit’s tallest building (RESEARCH). Before he takes off, police rush the roof (Thadeus called the cops on him) but he manages to take off in a really inspiring scene where he’s silhouetted against the moon, E.T style. At the last minute, one of the cops manages to put a bullet in his balloon, but it still takes off, and Allan ends up in the clouds, surrounded by thousands of ghosts.
It’s exactly what he wanted.
Pay: A Rude Surprise
The ghosts are happy he came, but they called him here for a reason. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking…Thadeus opened a portal to hell, trying to find a way to contact ghosts and beat Allan to the punch. He has to return to earth and stop him, but they tell him he’ll need to sacrifice himself to stop him. He’s selfish and doesn’t want to believe he will. But he knows.
Then he gets home and finds out his son’s died. His son had, like, future diseases. Very sad.
Spooky shit, right? Moving on – I’ve got ten minutes left!
Return: Allan Does The Right Thing
Allan confronts Thadeus at his evil genius sanctum sanctorum. They duke it out, fists of fury style, with old school muskets and steampunk accessories a’flashin’. When Allan eventually gets the better of him, Thad pulls out a Trump card and opens up the gateway to hell. He accidentally gets soul crushed in the process and is no longer a threat. But now a giant Demon is stomping around the future, destroying everything.
Allan decides to get his wife and GTFO, but then his son’s ghost appears to him to tell him to do the right thing.
Changed: Allan Succeeds At Doing The Right Thing
Spurred on by his spooky son’s spectral reasoning, Allan tracks down the monster and sacrifices himself to stop it. I’m thinking something like he recreates what Thaddeus did to open the portal, only in reverse, and offering himself up as a sacrifice to force the demon to pass back through.
Allan lands up in the clouds, a ghost, chilling with his son, but it’s not his time and they send him back. There’s a Marvel-style cliffhanger, where a Nick Fury-style guy approaches Allan to join a secret society of ghost hunters who’ve been operating over many years.
Story Writing: Welcome To The Jungle
AND BOOM – with four minutes left, I wrote a story from scratch. Obviously, there’s a lot that needs to be added, but to be fair, this story’s actually weirdly good. If you all like it, I’ll be happy to go over each section to show you what goes into that part of the template, so you’ll know what I did to come up with the story elements I used here.
To be clear, I love story writing and all the subtleties that go with it. I love it because I love reading good books. I just wanted to show off how accessible this kind of thing can be. This by no means this was good, but I’ll be honest, I’m surprised by how well this turned out.
Thank you for your time, and make sure to check out my fiction novels, Bay City Monsters and Nails in the Sky for more of my writing.