[Note: There is one more installment of the Lies Writers Tell series, but that one will happen next week. More news about it, then.]
I was asked an interesting question recently. I like interesting questions; they make you think. Well, they make me think. I don't actually know about you. I don't actually even know if you do think, because so many people don't, though I like to think that if you're reading this blog then you're a thinker, so we'll just go with that.
The question was, "How do you write fiction?" Let me clarify that. I get the question, "How do you write?" a lot, but I've never had the question, "How do you write fiction?" Her contention was that writing non-fiction is easy; it just requires a bit of research and putting it together in a way that's easy for the reader to take in. But she didn't know how to go about writing fiction.
So I get the thing about non-fiction. I've never had a problem with it, though I know some fiction writers do. There is a lot that is easy about presenting information that already exists. So her real question, as I took it to mean, was, "How do you make up information that did not previously exist?" And that is a good and interesting question. And it made me think.
For me, writing fiction began with telling stories. True stories, I mean. Verbally. You know, standing around in a group and telling stories. During high school especially, I began to excel at this and became the preferred storyteller among my groups of friends. It probably didn't hurt that I also started doing quite a bit of public speaking stuff, all of which continued into college. Learning to tell a true story, especially one that is mostly boring, in an interesting way, embellishing without lying and adding humor where there might not, strictly speaking, be any is an excellent place to begin in writing fiction.
Of course, doing a lot of reading helps, too.
Once you have that down, the telling of stories, it's just a small step to making up your own. In fact, it's a natural extension. I know that part of my impetus was the repetition of requests to tell by my kids and their friends to tell stories. I'd answer, "But I've told them all to you," and they'd either say, "So, tell us again," or, "Well, make one up." So that's what I did.
Not that it's easy. It sounds easy, but it's not easy.
Fictional stories don't necessarily follow the same rules as non-fiction ones. Here's an example I gave back during the school year to my creative writing classes:
I was watching this movie once, a based-on-a-true-story movie, and it was moving along, and the action was rising, and I was wondering what was going to happen -- but it was getting close to the end (time-wise) and I was starting to wonder how in the world they were going to wrap it up in time -- and, suddenly, the protagonist was in a fatal car crash and that was it. It was one of those "what the heck!" moments, but that's how it happened. The dude just had a car accident and died and, when you're telling a story based on actual events, that's the kind of thing that sometimes happen.
But you can't really do that in fiction. You can't cut your readers off like that, because, well, they won't like you. People don't like stories without resolution, not in general. In fact, they want more than just resolution; they want it all wrapped up in a nice, pretty package with a bow on top. But that's the beginning of a different topic, so I'll stop right there.
I don't really think I've completely answered this question. I only know how I got to fiction. It could be completely different for other writers. Even so, I think it's a good place to start.
Read a lot.
Learn to tell true stories in an interesting way, a way that's not just about delivering a set of facts.
Go from there.
If you want a specific example of one of those ways I've done all of this, taken a real story and moved it into the fictional arena, check out "The Magic Cookies." It began as a true story and may have been the favorite of the stories I used to tell my kids and their friends.
Briane Pagel! It has nothing to do with cookies, though it does have vampires. And, hey, for $0.99 it's practically like taking a cookie from a... wait, do babies eat cookies?