Anatomy Of A Story

Before we begin, I’m going to be using a specific story as an example throughout this blog post. That story is ‘A Home For Christmas’, and you can find it here:
So, I’ve talked before about how I write when an idea occurs to me out of the blue. But what about when I sit down to write a story without first getting the inspiration? The process is quite different, or at least it was for me.
First is the premise. Well, technically the decision comes first, but that is pretty self-explanitory, so we’ll just take it as given. Now, premise and plot aren’t the same thing. The plot is the story, the premise is the seed of the idea. I wanted to write a Christmas story, but I didn’t want to write another version of a story we’d all read before. That ruled out Santa, elves, reindeer, angels, wise men, lost children, sentient toys/snowmen/nut sundering implements and all the rest.
I sat and thought and occasionally typed out a quick five to ten word line. I doubt these made sense to anyone but me, and moreover they weren’t striking any sort of spark. Chimney sweep in Victorian London on Christmas? Nah. Christmas in an alternate reality? Meh. Finally, my thoughts shifted. Instead of writing about something automatically associated with Christmas, why not take something else and relate it? Perhaps something from folklore. Well. I’ve always liked the hob/brownie/house elf mythos. Little fae folk who clean homes invisibly so long as you don’t offend them. Then I thought ‘Okay, what if one of those doesn’t understand what Christmas is?” And that was the premise. A fae person attached to the home of humans they never interact with who doesn’t know what Christmas is.
Next came research. This is not a step I always take. Usually, I don’t really have to. I’m either making something up from whole cloth or else writing something where I can make all the rules. But this story was going to have a basis in actual folklore, I wanted to make sure I was getting it right. Any deviations from the bog standard should be deliberate. The name hob appealed to me more than brownie, and always has, but I couldn’t find anything on wikipedia. Turns out I was spelling it wrong, but I didn’t know that, so I switched the search term to brownie and found what I wanted. My knowledge all seemed to be correct, but then I learned that “brownie” is from Scotland. Hob is what they’re called in the north of England. Then, I read a reference to a tale of a hob from Lincolnshire. My brother in law is from Lincolnshire, and Lincoln itself is a city I love, so I decided that I’d have my little hob hail from there, at least originally.
Interesting side note: the course on medical research I had to take in college when studying massage therapy can be useful for non-medical research. I didn’t use it this time, since I was just doing a simple wikipedia search, but I have used it for writing before. You can adapt a lot of things you learned elsewhere to writing.
So, armed with premise and knowledge, I pondered plot. Simply wondering what Christmas was wouldn’t be compelling on its own, it needed something else. But fewer and fewer people believe in such things. Perhaps this little hob is in a family where only the grandmother believes, and she’s worrying about her future as well as wondering what’s up with the tree? Meanwhile, there’s this woman from Lincoln herself who is distressed at the rest of the family’s lack of belief.
Bingo. That is what we call a plot.
This is where I actually started to write. I named my little hob Tansin, and started with her finding the Christmas tree. This is where I decided that she loved the scraps of wrapping paper left after Christmas and that she always saved some when she tidied up.  I also decided that I would use the framing device of a storyteller talking to the reader, mostly so I could occasionally toss in explinations about what hobs were and the like. These were all decisions made on the fly while I was telling the story.
The grandmother got a name, and I decided that she was smart enough to realize that Tansin didn’t know what Christmas was, and that Ellie also wanted to get Tansin to show herself to the family to instill belief, so to get her attention, she began teaching Tansin about Christmas through story books.
Now. I had to make some decisions and brush over some things here. A hob is likely centuries old. Is it actually logical that she never learned what Christmas was? Perhaps not. But is a magical creature that happily does the housework without taking credit logical? Not really.
What about the mysterious cleaning? Why doesn’t the family notice? This one actually is logical. If I lived with a family with children, a spouse and either one of my parents or an in-law, and dishes got washed when I wasn’t looking, or things got tidied away, I’d likely just assume someone else did it and be glad of it. I almost explained this, but decided just to leave it.
It took a few days to get the first draft done. Now, I actually can write more quickly than that, but December is a busy month. Once that was done, I thought about rewriting it from scratch, but my first read through left me feeling happy with the majority of it. Instead, I editted within the already existing document. Things were changed. Some were added, some were removed. But editting on this was simple. It was a simple enough story.
Then, I let it sit for a week. I tried not to think about it at all. This can be hard to do, but I mostly succeeded. This let me come back to it with fresher eyes. I noticed a few things that I didn’t like. For instance, Tansin was originally quite suspicious and distrustful of Ellie. But that didn’t make sense. Why would she stay in a home where she didn’t trust the sole human who believed in her? So I rewrote that part.
A few changes, a bit of polish, and voila. A story for you all.
So. That’s my process when I’m being deliberate, and not writing because I was struck with inspiration. Or it was this time, I do often ch ange up how I do things, but that’s close enough to normal for me. As always, my ways may not work for you, but feel free to give them a try if you want to try writing. Take what works, discard what doesn’t.
Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to I post blogs every Wednesday.

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