Crafting Fiction That Rings True
How does a writer of fiction, starting with nothing but his imagination, craft a story that is true, makes sense and asks questions that are worthy of a reader’s time? How I wish I had an answer to that! I’ve certainly pondered it often enough. I’ve read books written by people who are supposed to know.
One common bit of advice is: RESEARCH – If you’re stuck, hit the books – or the internet. Research helps you build on the knowledge and experience of those who have gone before. It teaches you to look at a situation from different angles and, with that, comes greater understanding, which should make it easy. The advice is good, but, at least for me, it only works to a point. Research produces facts, the backbone that gives credibility to fiction, but facts will only get you so far. When it comes to telling a story, you’re still a long way from home.
Another source advises: OBSERVE – Stop. Look around. Almost the same as research, except now, instead of books, you’re gaining understanding from the young mother in the next lane at the checkout counter or the teenaged couple ignoring each other and texting in the seat in front you on the train. You know there’s a story there. But how do you tell it?
Another bit of advice, almost like the one just above: EAVESDROP – Don’t you love being given permission to engage in this titillating breach of manners? It may not be polite, but it is educational. Listening to random bits of conversation, you pick up the vocabulary and speech patterns unique to different groups of people, essential when writing dialogue. Helpful as this is, you still have to tailor it to your characters, their backgrounds and temperaments.
I’ve even heard: PROCRASTINATE – Put it aside for a while; let it perk. Probably good advice, but inherently dangerous. Yet sometimes it’s the best path to follow. Ideas grow and take shape if you don’t try to force them. Ultimately, though, if you’re ever going to finish your novel, you have to get back to the computer. Start clicking those keys. Make words appear on the screen. Books don’t write themselves. No one except you can tell your story.
How do you do that? How do you assemble all the disparate pieces lurking in the maze of your consciousness and mold them into a cogent whole? How do you create fiction that is more than the sum of the information you’ve gathered? The answer to that, I believe, lies in the same place as the answers to all the truly important questions: in your own heart.
I realize that these ramblings don’t tell much about how one goes about crafting memorable fiction, which brings me to the one quote about writing that every writer knows:
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” W. Somerset Maugham
Amen to that!