The last thing one settles in writing a book is
~Blaise Paschal, Pensees
Have you decided what it is you want to write about?
Donald Miller, in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, states, “A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. If a story is going to be good, the protagonist has to face stuff she doesn’t want to face.” Working cross-culturally has probably given you many incidences of having to face your fears. What are those? Could you develop one of those fears which you have courageously faced into a story?
If you know you have a story in you but can’t quite come to any conclusive direction or underlying message, perhaps you have not lived it out completely yet. Give that story time to cook.
But if you know exactly what it is that you have settled on, let’s proceed. Let’s give your story some structure by plotting it out. The “three-act” structure is one of the simplest and most universal ways to tell a story.
- Act I is your setup, where you show your protagonist (you, most likely) going about her daily life, and set up details which will become important later on.
- The Inciting Incident, Plot Point I, is the event that drags you into another, more exciting world.
- Act II is the act of developing the story. This is the chronicle of the troubles the protagonist faces.
- Plot Point II is the event that is the point of no return; this will cause the protagonist to draw upon what she has been learning when the confrontation/climax occurs.
- Act III is the final act, the confrontation, climax and resolution.
This structure can work with informative pieces as well. Say you want to write about how to learn a new language.
- Use Act I to set up why you have to learn a new language.
- Plot Point I is your inciting incident: you just found out you are pregnant, thrusting you into a new world (medical) of needing to communicate well quickly.
- Act II will now chronicle your ability to learn quickly, the frustrations of communicating with doctors, and the stress of just being pregnant.
- Plot Point II is the point of no return: going into labor in a foreign land.
- Act III will be the birth of your baby and how you tie it into your theme of language learning: did you accurately convey the proper words at the proper time; did the stress of needing to learn a new language actually have a positive outcome, how were you transformed?
Remember: conflict is good, lots of conflict is even better. And at the end of the story, having faced all that conflict, you (the protagonist) must be transformed. Your transformation, "the last thing you settle on," will be the driving force behind the story you are plotting out.
P.S. I found this video on developing a story for movies using the Three-Act structure that might also be a help to you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0yqUmedyOM