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This guide is about the writing process behind my latest creation: 'A Memory That Will Never Be.'
You can read it by clicking on the link above, or by copy-pasting the link below into your browser:
In this guide, I'm going to go over the whole creation process - from ideation to publishing. So let's start from the beginning!
How It Happened
I started writing ‘A Memory That Will Never Be’ on May 1. It was untitled back then. I wrote on and off, just thoughts, notes, pieces of dialogues, till about June 20. But most of this first pass was done within the first week of May.
After that, I picked it up again on August 8. In the time between, I did zero writing on this story. I also didn’t write much else, except the Guides. Why? Because life. And work. And the fact that my life = work. #notcomplaining
I wrote a big chunk of the concept and some of the dialogues in that first pass. It was right after I had published ‘Dismantle With Care’, and I was surprised to have something new to say so quickly. That self-awareness didn’t help though - I started thinking that it was too soon and I needed more time away from that story in order to have a new mindset for this one.
I’ve never written something so haphazardly. Even on August 8, I wrote for a couple hours, but then I stopped because I just wasn’t sure about why this story was worth telling. Then I took a couple days off till around August 15, and told myself that I will definitely finish this story during that time. That was the time I finally came up with the title, and as soon as that happened, I was ready to tell the story. But when I got to writing it then, it just kept on getting bigger. Finally, I decided that I would let this story happen at it's own pace, and I’ll just slow cook it until it’s ready.
So as with most of my stories, the last 25% of the writing - the part where I put everything together and add all the magic - happened in the last couple nights, before I pressed published on the night of August 27 (technically 2AM on August 28).
So now that I’ve told you about how this story happened, let’s talk about the why -
Why Tell This Story
The idea of this story came about as most of my work does - two people talking about life. But this time, I wanted one of them to be a musician. Someone who does something that I can’t. I didn’t want to tell a love story, so having the musician talk to a current or former lover was out of the picture. So that left me with either telling a simple ‘life’ story about two people who know each other or two people who are strangers. I liked the idea of strangers because it meant that you as the reader didn’t need to worry about any backstory between the people (more on this later, since I clearly didn’t follow this plan).
As soon as I decided on them being strangers, I immediately wanted it to be an older man and a younger woman. I wanted him to be very famous and I wanted her to not care about his fame at all. I wanted this whole conversation to be between two people who normally would never meet. And I also wanted this to be a learning experience for both of them.
I wanted to write about selfishness. Why do we do things for ourselves? Why do we hurt others? How do we justify our actions and their consequences? Is there a way to be harmlessly selfish?
I also wanted to explore and debate some ideas about art itself - is art selfless or selfish? Is art the result of an imbalance of self-love and self-hatred? Is art the answer or the question?
I’ve said this before - for me writing is about finding answers to things I’m curious about. Every story I write is the answer to a question. In the case of this story, the primary question was -
What happens to our creativity - and to our life in general - when we think we’ve seen everything there is to see?
Everything I write is very personal, and I love writing fiction because I get to lie about the truths. So you can guess how much of 'Sid and Story' is me. Because I can’t tell.
With the ‘why’ settled, let’s talk about how I put the plot together.
Creating The Plot
Once you know what the story is about, what you really have to do is figure out a scenario where you can do everything you want to do creatively with the story while still making the chain of events sound and feel plausible and believable.
Getting 'Sid and Story' in a room together is not the hard part. Getting them to stay in that room and actually talk and be honest with each other is the challenge.
Okay, so here’s a list of some of the problems I had to solve when it came to writing this story, going from easiest to hardest -
#1: How did Story get into Sid’s green room?
#2: Why would Sid agree to talk to her instead of throwing her out immediately?
#3: Why would Sid tell her the truth about his past with her mom?
#4: How do you - the audience - believe that he’s telling the truth?
#5: Why did Story come today rather than any previous day?
#6: Why would Story come to meet Sid in the first place?
#7: How do I make Sid an asshole and a good guy at once?
#8: How do I make Story smart and naive - aka a teenager - at the same time?
#9: What are these two people going to take away from this experience?
#10: Would their lives be any different if this night didn’t happen?
Questions 7 and 8 are about character so we’ll deal with that in the next section.
The rest of the questions are all something that can be answered by creating a plot that makes it all feel very organic. How did she get into his room? Because she’s smart and resourceful and has figured out how to manipulate people to get what she wants. Why did she come today? Because it’s the last day of his tour and he’s very private so she can’t get to him any other time. Why does she want to meet him? Because her mom needs help and he’s the obvious villain here so he must fix this (as far as she knows).
Your story’s plot is a collection of answers to questions you ask yourself as you think about your story - and as with most questions - they’re all going to be starting with ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘where’. This is why you should write down everything you think when you’re in the story-thinking-mode. And if you can, try to form your thoughts in the form of questions, so that your mind gets the signal that “I have to come up with an answer to this asap!”
I’m not a plot heavy writer. I don’t enjoy writing set pieces and scenarios and then have my characters react to them. For me, a plot exists to further a story, but the story has to be grounded in the characters’ journeys.
Also, when you’re writing, there are a lot of questions for which the answer is pretty much ‘no’. One of those questions was whether Sid should be Story’s dad, and I should reveal that at some point. It would solve some problems, like why they end up talking for so long and why he wants to help her - but it wasn’t enough. I thought about this one a lot - but in the end (technically, in the beginning) I just really liked the idea of ‘Story’ being the ‘could-have-been’ in Sid’s life. And I’m very happy I didn’t start the story with them being related because then I wouldn’t have come up with the two core plot points of the story: the song, and Story’s name (I’ll talk about both of these in the last section).
This story is about Sid and Story. Who they are, and who they’re going to be. The role of the plot is to allow me to explore these characters, and have them come out just a little bit different at the end of the story than they were at the beginning.
How do we do that? How do we make two people learn something new in under 2 hours?
This is where character development comes in. So let’s talk about that.
Creating The Characters
Sometimes we think that we’re weak when people we care about enter the picture. But maybe what we’re really doing is becoming more comfortable with connecting with another person. To Story, her mom is her weakness and her responsibility. But she would never show that, so she feels guilt for something she had nothing to do with. The idea of a daughter knowing that at one point in her life her mom regretted having her - I wanted to create a character that didn’t ignore the guilt - but tried to fight through it. Story is one of the my favorite characters - yes, I pick favorites - I’ve ever written. And that’s primarily because she sees the world for exactly what it is, but still has something left to say and contribute in the hope that she can create some change.
I came up with Sid when I picked up a tangent I often think about - what drives you once you’ve seen everything and done everything and made all the money in the world? Do you run out of the magic? Do you even want to make magic anymore because you know exactly what the audience wants?
Sid and Story aren’t just two individuals that I made up - they exist because I wanted them to meet, so as much as I had backstories ready before I started writing them, pretty much 80% of their characteristics were written as they were talking. In that way, I was able to create two people who are very different, but are still able to complement each other in viewpoints and interests. And since both of them are talented musicians, it became a little easier to find the commonalities, despite their age and generational difference.
Now, I know I said that I wanted them to be strangers. But as I started writing the story, I realized quite quickly that I need there to be some backstory between these two otherwise there’s no reason for them to be in this room together for more than five minutes. This is an important lesson - you have to always remember that once you create a character, you also have to create a full life. In the case of Sid, I had to write 36 years of a life. With Story, 14 years. And the trick is, I have to communicate all of it through dialogue. So having them have some connection during these years was quite helpful in figuring out who these people really are.
And just in case you’re wondering why I named the girl ‘Story’, well, there are many ways I could justify that. But let’s leave that to your interpretation. What I will say about this is that I named her Story way before I wrote most of the meat of this story - and in a way, her name ended up being the inspiration for the ending. Funny how these things happen sometimes when you write.
The thing that really brought the whole story together for me was the ending. The moment I knew that final scene, I knew that this story was worth telling. So let’s talk about the ending and how it became the magic element.
Adding The Magic
I’m not a musician. So as soon as I decided for this to be my next story, I knew that I was going to have to write a song. I tried to avoid it, but then I tricked myself into making the entire story about the song.
The song was just an idea in the beginning. I ignored it for as long as I could, until I realized that the song is also the title of the story. And if you know me at all, you know that I can’t fully commit myself to writing a story unless I know and love the title.
I then made an even bigger challenge by making the song the reason for why these two characters end up together in that green room. But, as I already mentioned, that is just a plot point. And for me that is just another word for an excuse - an excuse to get talking about the real crux of the story: creativity (which I mentioned in the ‘why’ section).
So, basically, putting this story together was a really fun challenge. One that I had every intention of completing. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t tough.
I didn’t hit my magic moment - the one where I came up with the title - until I’d written about 4,000 words, which is more than half of this story. Then, once I’d enjoyed that moment for about a minute, I realized the real hard part was next: writing the song.
Why was the song so hard to write? Because it had to accomplish three things -
#1: The lyrics had to sound like they could easily be about Sid’s relationship with Story’s mom, since that is why she’s suing Sid.
#2: It also had to secretly work as a song about Story, which Sid won’t reveal until much later in the story.
#3: It had to sound like a song that a famous rockstar / songwriter would produce.
I knew I couldn’t fulfill #3, since I’m neither a rockstar nor a songwriter, so I focused on #1 and #2 only, and hoped you - my lovely audience - wouldn’t judge my skills too harshly.
So in a moment of no-self-criticism-allowed, I wrote the song. Backwards. Why? Because I wanted the last line of the story to be the story title, which is when it’s revealed to you that the title of the story was the name of this song all along. I like doing things like that.
However, even after I wrote the song and the last line of the story, I still wasn’t happy with the result. The story kept asking for more. So I took a break. For about a week. I told myself that the ending needs to feel more complete, like these two actually worked out something unexpected yet important.
So I kept editing the story, adding bits and pieces slowly to refine the flow. And it was on the final night (August 27), where I decided that this is it - I’m finishing this story tonight. I told my brain - buddy, you’ve got to give me all you’ve got.
I told myself a simple thing: what if this was the last night you had to write, ever? What if this was the last story you would write? How would you finish it? What’s missing?
That’s the moment I figured out - and coincidentally, so did Story - that she was named by Sid. So I wrote down Sid’s final line: ‘This could have been our story’.
The real challenge and lesson of writing a story like this is that you have to become so good at creating a character, that you not only create their life, but you create memories, desires, regrets, hopes and dreams. These people may not exist, but when you write them, they are as real as anything you’ve ever felt.
And that is it. That’s how I wrote ‘A Memory That Will Never Be’.
I hope you took something positive and helpful away from this story and this guide.
And as Sid said, ‘You can’t give up before you try.’
So try! Start your next story right now. The button is in the usual place!
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