4 Must Haves In Fiction Writing
I’m currently stalled on my next two fiction projects.
I’ve had these stories in me for some years, but they’re not quite ready to come out. And not for lack of trying. I focused on one in particular for the last two years, and have only managed to push out around 3K words in the opening scenes since June.
I have a few theories on the delay.
The first is that the writing is testing me to see how badly I want tell this story. Characters and their stories have a way of taking over the work when I don’t structure it. To a degree I must afford them their freedom. So the possibility exists be I’ve imposed too much structure and the story is holding back from me because neither of us quite know how to creatively navigate this level of detail.
I just want to make sure I know my characters and their individual stories inside out.
Also, I don’t believe you can actually outline too hard.
The second theory, and the one I’m going with is now isn’t the time for this story. Gonna fall back on what my psychic in Chelsea said. She told me I would want to write one thing but would wind up writing something else, and to just let the words come out where they do, to trust the writing. (Aside, have been going to her for years, never told her I was writer. Never told her any of my ambitions. She reads energy bruh, she read everything right tf off me.)
Listen, whether or not characters fear or resent an outline the truth of the matter is I am the instrument of the writing. I am an instrument of the message.
The message I believe I want to share in the story may just not be ready now. There are other messages. I am still writing, just other things.
That said, I still wanted to take some time to share some of my method for fiction for the folks who ask me
“Wow, how did you write six books?”
The short answer is that the earlier stuff poured out of me. Youth played a role in that as well. As a child I’d decided I liked writing, and would be one when I grew up. As a teenager I’d just rather get immersed in my writing than do literally anything else; talk to my family, play sports, watch a movie.
It didn’t immediately started like “I want to write a book. This will be a book.” It was usually just me writing down stories. Some stories kept going and some were five or six pages in spiral notebooks over the years, lost and forgotten forever.
Later, I realized that writing was what I loved most and I wanted to make my living doing that. And if I was going to be remembered for anything, I wanted it to be for constructing my entire life around my preoccupation with sharing thoughts and ideas via the written word. Because let’s be honest, that’s all I do all day via twitter, facebook, this website, and my “stories.”
Anyway, if you think you want to write a book here are my four necessities. Look, I didn’t finish school. I got no training here. This is just what I do.
1. Outline Your Characters
- Who are they inside?
- How did they get this way?
- What do they look like?
- How do they think?
- What are their fucking problems?
Ask yourself questions about your characters and write out the answers.
Get as detailed as you possibly can. Does Jackie have a birthmark on her nose? You might never put that in the actual story, but the more you know who your people are the more your readers will see them too.
Don’t get too attached to your idea of a character though, no matter how much you’ve outlined them or how well you think you know them. Yes, in ways they are your babies – like you are your mother’s baby. In other ways they are just people who other people can take or leave. Just like each of us.
Noone is liked by everyone. You shouldn’t care if anyone hates your hero and loves your villain. If you’ve made them feel any way about the characters you’ve done the job.
2. Outline Your Plot
- What happens?
- Where’s the juice?
- Who is fucking who? Who is lying?
- Where is the conflict?
- Where is the love, the secret, the reveal, the resolution, the restitution?
- What is the actual story – beginning, middle/climax, end?
- When does this all happen? What is your story’s timeline? A week, a month?
- In what order will you tell the story? Linear? Or Pulp Fiction style?
3. Identify Your Themes
Personally, I find this is the most important element of an outline/story. Your theme is your story’s soul. And just like your personal soul, it can get away from you dangerously fast if you don’t take the time to study it, dissect it, and really know it. The theme is your undertone, the messaging, the subtext, the real story.
For instance, your theme could be forgiveness. Like say Daphne kills Michael, and later on – years, months, whatever your timeline is – Michael’s mother finds a way to forgive her. The plot shows how the mom reaches forgiveness. But the dissecting and exploration of forgiveness is the work of the story.
What element of the human experience is this work either exploring or expressing? Some themes I continually work on are friendship, feminism, morality, power dynamics.
What are you personally interested in? What existential problems challenge you, occupy your thoughts? How do you think things should be? Project away! It’s YOUR work. Have at it!
4. Identify Your Settings
Admittedly, I’m not very good at this. I actually hate writing descriptions of the setting. I’m impatient about it. I find both reading and writing excessive descriptions to be exhausting because I live for plot, and dialogue and action, and I’m here to get inside the humanity of a story.
I’ve learned that setting is the first part of the story I should write (once the outline’s done) because it’s my least favorite and weakest skill. Still, I always take the time to envision and understand the physical locations where my beloved plot will unfold. It’s good to know, regardless how brief my writing on it will be. At least I set up the room.
Do I need to tell you about the green ceramic lamp on the chestnut armoire against the wall? Maybe not, but it the visualization will let you make associations about that character’s home. It will help you relate to the moment, situation, and participants.
The point in writing anything you intend to show someone else is that you’re trying to make contact. You are aiming to connect with the reader on as many levels as you possibly can. Because the better connected you are, the better chance you have of sharing that message the muse passed through you; doing the work.
See the room, see the furniture, see the hallway. Set up the houses and the neighborhood like you’re playing The Sims. Taking the time to know your character’s surroundings, to put yourself in the room with them will help your readers feel like they’re there too. Some classic writers were exceptionally good at using the environment as a force in the narrative, intertwined with themes like death or mysticism, or magic and rebirth.
I’m not too keen on using setting to tell my stories, but I do want to pull together a moment, or at the very least try to set a mood or vibe. And it helps me feel like I’m at least sort of doing that when I can describe an office space, or the layout of a bar, or the color of the tiles on the ladies’ room floor.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, make sure to pop into my bookstore and fill up on some thematic, plot-driven, and violently romantic fiction 💗