Fiction writing can be fun. Or torture. It’s your choice, because so much depends on your mindset while you’re writing.
A week ago I chatted with one of my students. She wanted to delete her current novel: “I hate it so much I want to print it out to get the satisfaction of putting every page through my shredder.”
No need for that. It turned out that she was busily thinking her way through her writing sessions. Yes, it was sheer torture. Fiction writing is much easier when you daydream your fiction.
Fiction writing: it’s easy to lose your inspiration and challenging to recover it
We’ve discussed partnering with your muse.
Fiction writing requires not only your imagination, but also that your readers use their imagination—your writing helps them to do that.
If you aren’t using your imagination and your emotions aren’t engaged, your readers’ emotions won’t be either. They’ll stop reading.
Fiction is all about feelings. Imagine, and feel:
Imagine you’re on holiday. You’re in a strange city. You don’t speak the language. It’s the middle of the day. You go for a walk alone to look at the sights, and now you’re lost. Moreover, you seem to have wandered into a bad part of town.
When your emotions are engaged in your fiction, you know it. You’re inspired. The story’s always on your mind. Your characters feel real. You can’t wait to get back to writing.
Sadly, it’s easy to lose your inspiration, and challenging to get it back.
Try these strategies: they’ll help.
1. Summarize the story asap: know (vaguely) what comes next
Ideally, you’ll summarize the story in a paragraph before you start writing.
Something like this:
Newly married Sarah witnesses a murder. Her new husband is one of the killers. He threatens to murder her parents and sister if she talks. Sarah knows that her husband wants her dead. Can she escape him and bring him to justice?
That’s not enough to start writing. You need to know the kind of person Sarah is. Over the course of the story, Sarah will grow as a character, from (something) to (something else.)
See the third strategy below for more on character arcs; in fiction, characters change.
Once you’ve got your main character’s arc, you can go deeper into developing the characters and plot.
If you’re a real pantser, and your brain freezes when you try to outline, just start writing. Muse and write: imagine. You can fix the story later.
Big tip: even if you’re a pantser, summarize the story as soon as you can. I’ve found that if I hit 10,000 words, without knowing where the story’s headed, the book’s going nowhere. You can change your summary as many times as you like. (A summary gives you a kickstart on your blurb, too.)
2. Keep writing! Muse and write, right in the project
Once you start your novel, keep going. Write every day. And by WRITE, I mean exactly that. Start tapping the keyboard as soon as you sit down. Keep going, until your writing time runs out.
Talk to yourself while you’re writing if the words won’t flow.
Something like this (write your musings into the draft):
OK, now Sarah realizes that one of the men in the group is her husband Ben. How does she react? What’s her first thought? Maybe it’s disbelief — maybe she has to stop herself from calling his name.
Keep musing and writing. (You can remove all your musings later.)
3. Watch your characters’ arcs: novels are about change
Novels are about people. We read fiction to learn more about ourselves, and others. So, your people are more important than the plot, and in fiction, your characters change. Try to get a handle on your characters as soon as you can.
If I decided to write the novel about Sarah and her murderous husband, I’d think about Sarah. What kind of person is she when the story starts? How does she change over the course of the novel?
I’d write something like this, right into my first draft…
Maybe Sarah is the baby in her family. She’s always been protected by her parents and older siblings. She’s never had to think for herself. She’s naive, in a word.
Over the course of the novel, Sarah learns to think for herself. She’s much tougher than she ever imagined.
How will we show Sarah changing? We need one incident to show naive Sarah early on, and then a similar incident at the end of the book, to show how Sarah’s experiences changed her. At the end, she’s tougher, and less trusting, She no longer takes people and situations at face value.
Hmmm…. Sarah’s growing on me. Maybe she’s a widow, with a six-year-old son. Ben’s her second husband, the polar opposite of her first. The child could make the story much more dramatic. What if…
Enough! If I don’t stop now, I’ll get inspired and be tempted to write the novel. 🙂
You don’t need to know all the details of a character’s arc. As long as you have an idea of the kind of person a character is at the start of your novel, and how the character ends up, you’re good to go.
The primary rules of fiction writing: keep musing and keep writing
They’re the only rules you need. Tell your logical brain to leave you alone for a while.
Muse: daydream. Write.
And have fun, of course. 🙂
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.