At A Minimum

by | December 24, 2015 | General | 3 comments

By Kathleen Bradean

The need to write seems to run strong in the Bradean gene pool. My father, grandmother, sister, daughter, and cousins have all tried their hand at it. Recently, one of my cousins saw a comment on FaceBook I’d made about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and was intrigued by the idea, but like many people, was hesitant to give it a try. My first thought is always, “What are you so afraid of?” But that’s an easy thing to say when you’re already published. I don’t want to be flippant about new writer’s fears, so if you’ve always wanted to write but haven’t worked up the courage to try it yet, I’m here to give you constructive advice. NaNoWriMo is over, so if that felt like too much pressure, you can now work at your own pace.

So… you have a story you want to write. Last month, I mentioned that the stories we tell ourselves are like dreams. They seem to make sense, but once exposed to the harsh light of day, we can realize how fuzzy our grasp of it is. Maybe you have a detailed vision of what you want to do. If so, that’s great and you can plunge right in, but if you don’t have it mapped out that well, you can still get started as long as you know the following things:

1) The central conflict of your story.
This conflict will be created by:

2) What your main character wants.
Does she just want to go home (Wizard of Oz) or is she seeking something? (Winter’s Bone)

3) What stands in their way of getting it?
Society, culture, parents, a corrupt system, her own self-delusion, a crazed duck who won’t let her near her car… And it helps to know:

4) The cost of failure/success.
These are the stakes, and they should get more intense as the story progresses. Life is hard, and we like to read about people becoming their better selves when tested. But feel free to show people
corrupted by their desires.  Sometimes we get what we want then find out it wasn’t worth it.  Pick your moral and run with it.

That’s the bare minimum. You could get started with just those points in mind, but it’s also important to know

5) Setting.

A character working at a high school has much different challenges to face than one working in a tattoo parlor, with different norms of behavior and rules to follow, not to mention working hours. Winter in Boston isn’t winter in Tallahassee. Mass transit in NYC and San Francisco are integrated well into the cities but don’t work the same way, and don’t even think of trying to get around in Los Angeles on the trains even though they exist. As Harold Hill’s nemesis says in The Music Man, “You got to know the territory!”

Of course you’re going to add much more as you write. I’m talking about the absolute least information you need to know about your story.My process, if you can even call it that, is that from nowhere, I’ll envision a snippet of a scene. Then I’ll go What was that? And replay it in my mind. Each time, I’ll push the timeline a little longer or try
to fill in more of the details. As I’m playing with it, I’m asking myself questions such as “Who the hell are these people and what are they doing?” If they’re working together, what are they working for. If they have a conflict, what is it about and why do each of them have a valid reason for their opinions? I’m noticing where they are. If they’re in a hut, is it because they were traveling and got caught in a storm so they took refuge there, or is that hut home? So what I’m doing is searching for the five information points I mentioned above. Other writers may feel differently. I’d love to hear their input.

Kathleen Bradean

Kathleen Bradean’s stories can be found in The Best Women’s Erotica 2007, Haunted Hearths, Garden of the Perverse, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 6, and She’s On Top in print. Clean Sheets and The Erotica Readers and Writer’s Association websites have also featured her stories. Writing as Jay Lygon, her stories can be found in Inside Him, Blue Collar Taste Tests, Toy Box: Floggers, and the novels Chaos Magic, Love Runes, and Personal Demons. Read more about Kathleen Bradean at:


  1. dave smith

    This is good for a start…and now for "scene & sequel"?

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    I'm always fascinated by your descriptions of your process, Kathleen, because it's so different from mine. I usually start with what I guess could be called a premise – a moderately abstract notion about the core of the story. Occasionally I will start with a title. My current WIP, for instance, began as a comment by a fellow author that she was tired of reading stories about gazillionaires and virgins. I thought, "Hey, that's a great title." And then, "What if the heroine was the gazillionaire and the hero was the virgin?" That premise turned out to be very fruitful. I found myself creating these characters, and then following them around as the story expanded.

    I do have one or two stories that began with an imagined scene, but not very many, and those are usually shorts.

    Oh, and I want to second your comments about the importance of setting. I read so many erotic romance stories that appear to be set in Anywhere USA. As a result, they feel hollow to me.

  3. Jean Roberta

    Interesting points, Kathleen and Lisabet. Re settings, one of the best I can remember is the outpost planet in Kathleen's story "Orbiting in Retrograde." No reader has ever gone there, exactly, but I bet most readers could imagine it. 🙂

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