Writing and Rambling

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How do you do it?

Posted by Dave on February 28, 2010

What is fiction?  How do you write it?  I’ve had people ask me how I come up with ideas for stories.  They tell me they could never do it.  To which I politely reply, “Baloney.” 

Coming up with a story idea is the easiest thing in the world.  Fiction, at it’s most basic definition, is simply asking the question “What if…” and then answering it.  In fact, you probably do it all the time without even knowing it.  When we have indigestion and we wonder, what if I’d had the fish instead of the steak?  When we see someone stopped on the side of the road.  What if that would have been me?  When we see something on the news that happened somewhere else.  What if that had happened here? 

When we go through the hypothetical scenarios in our heads answering that “what if,” that’s fiction.  It may not be the most gripping or epic tale (What if I’d had the fish instead of the steak?  I wouldn’t have indigestion now.  The End.  You can add “And they all lived happily ever after” if you like.), but it’s a story nonetheless.  The author just puts it on paper instead of leaving it bouncing around in his or her head.

That’s all fiction is, the answer to a “what if.”  How many of these “what ifs” do you recognize? 

  • What if a hobbit found a magic ring? 
  • What if the only person who could help catch a serial killer was a cannibal?
  • What if an ordinary boy found out he was actually a wizard? 
  • What if a vampire fell in love with a human? 
  • What if aliens invaded earth? 
  • What if our entire existence was nothing more than a computer program?
  • What if a giant shark went on a rampage?
  • What if an ordinary man found out what the world would have been like if he’d never been born? 

These are all “what if” question and answers.  The fiction writer just takes them to extremes and fills in all of the details, and then asks “what if” again and again.

Even when you say “I wish,” that’s really just a “what if” with a ready made answer.  For example, “I wish I had someone to do this work for me,” is really “what if I had someone to do this work for me?  Then I could go to the beach (or gym, or on a bike ride, etc…).  I would get a raise.  I would get a promotion.  I wouldn’t be so stressed.”  All of the reasons for saying “I wish ‘X’ would happen” are really the answers to the question “What if ‘X’ happened?”  In other words, a story.  A fiction writer just adds more “what ifs”.

So, let’s run with it for a moment.  What if I had someone to do my work for me?  What if that someone happened to be a gnome?  What if I was the only one who could see him?  What if he had a tendency to pass gas at the worst possible moments?  What if one of his greatest joys in life was to play practical jokes on my co-workers?  What if he thought one particular co-worker was the perfect person for me even though I can’t stand them?  What if he really, really hated my boss?  See?

The trick to being successful at writing fiction is twofold.  First, you have to be able to tell the story in a way that makes people interested in reading it.  Creating characters, building plots, describing places and things, all in a way that brings the story to life for your reader and makes them want to read more.  Second, you have to be able to write it down according to the basic rules of grammar (most of the time).  Fortunately, both of these things can be learned.  There are scores of books about writing fiction.  There are workshops and online writing groups that can help you improve your story telling and writing skills.  (And really, you can hire someone to take care of the second one anyway if you really want to and you don’t mind paying them.)

Well, okay, there is one more ingredient to throw into the mix.  (Sorry.  My bad.)  The difference between the successful writer and the frustrated one is the drive, discipline, and passion to master the craft of writing and the art of storytelling, coupled with the refusal to accept defeat. 

Most fiction writers will run into a hundred walls before they find one with a door.  Some will give up.  Some will take criticism of their work personally and decide they can’t do it.  The ones that succeed are the ones that refuse to give up, no matter how many bricks from those walls fall on their heads.  They never stop trying to improve, and they never stop believing that somewhere, someday, they’ll find that door.

Here’s a little something I wrote a couple of years ago about the fiction writer.  I hope you like it.

Creator of worlds…

The fiction writer is a creator of worlds and a purveyor of dreams.
In his mind he sees things that no one has ever seen before, experiences events never before witnessed, for until he has dreamed them, they have not yet begun to exist.
With her words she brings her visions into our world, into the hearts and minds of those souls who pore over every sentence and every paragraph of her creation.  Each letter is an atom in that newly born world, each word a molecule, each sentence an object to be touched and examined and remembered.
With every person who reads, no–experiences–the creation of the writer, the vision expands.  Each reader sees this new world in a different way, no way in error, but each different, as if an alternate universe were being created for that world every time someone new reads the writer’s words for the first time.
And whether the reader approves or disapproves of what they have read, they too are changed forever by it. Perhaps a great deal, or perhaps minutely, but changed nonetheless, for the writer’s words have now become part of the reader’s being. They have been tucked away among the cells and neurons of the reader, giving birth to new thoughts and ideas that are sometimes discarded as meaningless daydreams…
…and yet sometimes change the world of the reader forever.

Become a fiction writer and change people’s worlds. 

Update: 
Well, the next book is now over 8,300 words, which means so far I’ve been able to maintain the pace I’ve set for myself.  Two more weeks and I’ll pull the first one back out of the virtual mothballs and start editing.

I’ve also added a couple of pages to the blog. 

“Ahead of the curve” will introduce new authors that you may not hear about for a while.  I’ll be adding them as I find them.

“For prospective authors (of any genre)” will discuss and review books on writing and creating fiction.

 Catch ya later.  Write on!

Dave

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