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  • Writer's pictureBaptiste Pinson Wu

It Starts with Two Sentences

This right here is the first post of this blog. Some good friends and peers advised me to have one and keep it active, so here’s my attempt at it. As I don’t read many, you’re more than welcome to tell me how I’m doing. Well, not just yet, finish this text first, please.

I gave some thought to what I could write about here. History, book reviews, updates on my writing, daily life stuff, or just whatever pops into my mind. I guess there will be a bit of all that and more. But today, I wanted to write about something else, and it starts with two sentences.

I’m not talking about this blog, but about books, or stories I should say. And I’m not talking about this magical first step which is supposed to be the hardest and the most important to any project. I’m actually talking about my writing process here.

As of today, September 22, 2023, I have zero authority in giving writing advice for creating a best-seller, none of my books is close to being one. But, I can give some tips on how I write in terms of quantity. Readers and reviewers will judge the quality of my books, but the quantity is there. I started writing seriously in July 2018, and have since completed 11 novels, 7 of them within the last two years. I have published 3 books in the last 10 months and wrote the 1st draft of my latest novel in 17 days. With every draft, I am trying to refine my method, and while I’m certain it will keep changing for as long as I write, I’m getting pretty happy about it.

Before I type those first two sentences I mentioned, I have usually spent a few days thinking about the characters, and the world they live in. I may even have a general idea of the plot, but I haven’t put anything down on the screen yet. Then, I open my laptop, a blank Google Doc page, and spend an hour or so answering two questions:

What does the main character(s) want, and what prevents them from getting it?

That’s right, conflict. Conflict is the basis of my outlines. Everything else flows from there. Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, an architect or a gardener, conflict is the one prerequisite idea of a story. Having a clear one makes writing much easier, it helps avoid writer’s block, and will naturally nurture the story. I have spoken with a few other writers over the past few years, and it is my assumption that when a writer struggles with a manuscript, it often has something to do with a blurry conflict in their mind, or even the total absence of one. The other day I was trying to help someone with her plot, and it occurred to me that her character had no agenda, she was completely at the mercy of the events of her world. It can quickly become boring for the reader. This was the bigger risk I faced when writing Yellow Sky Revolt, the MC being a child and all.

Of course, sometimes, a character without a strong motivation can still give us a strong story. The kind of guy Martin Freeman plays perfectly. One of my favorite novels, Anansi Boys, runs on the idea of a man trying to get his regular, tedious life back, and so does the MC in Neverwhere. Of course, don’t go compare yourself to Neil Gaiman, the man could turn a cookbook into a dark, thrilling novel. So for new authors like me, I think a clear conflict should be the basis of our stories.

As I mentioned, I struggled a bit with this idea in Yellow Sky Revolt. As Liao Chun grows in Heroes of Chaos, so does his will. And when I started Dynasty Killers, the 3rd book in my series, I finally could write two decent first sentences:

Liao Chun wants to become a warrior of renown while following a path of honor and compassion. What prevents him from getting it is his lord and his ruthless methods.

That’s not a pitch by the way. I’m writing to myself here. But it can turn cooler. Look:

As his fame grows, Liao Chun envisions a new path to fulfill his ambition, one of honor and compassion. His lord, however, is getting deeper into one of blood and fear. Will Chun remain loyal to Cao Cao or to himself?

I’m sure it can be better, but to start the plot, it suffices.

That’s it for me today. Next time I’d like to move on to my favorite part of the writing process, the plot. So make sure to check this blog in a few days.

In the meantime, if you too write, let me know in the comments what is the very first thing you do when a story makes itself known to you.

See you soon!

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