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November 17th, 2020
Writing fiction requires a leap of faith. Certainly some writers create a plan, a schema, an outline, and then fill it out with writing. But, there comes a certain point when a writer of fiction has to simply watch and see what their character will do. To do otherwise is to create stilted entities, lacking life, like mere vessels pressed to move through predetermined motions with a mission spelling out a non-negotiable destiny. The best fiction, that evokes surprise for the reader is also the sort of writing that evokes surprise for the writer.
For anyone looking to write some fiction, the best way to get started isn’t to be worried about where to start or where to go, but to simply imagine a character, to watch that character, and simply write down where they go and what they do. For any budding writer with a lovelorn heart bent upon the task of writing fiction, that’s perhaps the best place to start.
After enough meandering and pointless stories - that may still serve as beautiful snapshots of characters and the lives they live - the mind starts tugging at a deeper sense of arc and rhythm. Doubtless some writers are blessed with a direct line to such a sense of rhythm from the start, but it’s certainly never something to count on.
Every writer faces that blank page, with a hand pressed to a worried forehead, grasping a warm skull like a heavy bowl and head full of tortured and nervous thoughts about what might be and what should be. Yes, it helps to have an idea, a kernel of thought as to where to start or what something is going to be about. It’s without a doubt that many of the greatest pieces of literature materialized from masterplans incubated long before a first word spoiled the blankness of a page, but this still doesn’t take away from the fact that every word can’t be planned. To do so is to actually write the damn thing. So it’s wise to differentiate the planning from the actual doing.
Plans are never more than a convincing excuse to get started. To hold too tightly to a plan is to invite disaster, and to spurn the opportunity to strike out on unexplored and promising territory at the expense of continuing a plan is to spurn the real gold and glitter of a practice like writing.
The secret kept, sometimes unknowingly by many good writers of fiction is that fiction writers write for the exact same reason that readers read: to be surprised, and delighted. However, unlike the reader, the fiction writer is a self-contained amusement.
Whether it be fiction or not, writing is an act of reading the unknown. Writers explore that unknown and put it down in a form that others can understand and -ideally- appreciate.
Fiction has been parsed and studied and certainly it seems that the stories enjoyed by humans generally fall into a few structures and themes. It’s pointless to list or describe such things here for they litter any half-brained website about writing and certainly every creative writing mBa is injected with such designs. In the last century it seems that the creative mind has been made to cower before the notion that everything great has been discovered or created already. How is a budding fiction writer to compete in a world that already has Homer, Shakespeare, Joyce, Robert Penn Warren, Yeats, Keats, and oh, I suppose Hemingway..? This postmodern anxiety is a smokescreen unto itself. All of these writers, if studied closely achieved much of their genius in the details they took the time to notice, and such geniuses had no way, no access to the details of now. Life is an ever changing entity, and requires, and perhaps demands fresh description, offering fresh inspiration for the mind bent with a bug for writing. The writer anxious at the infinite and daunting possibility of a blank page need only look elsewhere, to some detail, to the casual flick of a person’s wrist in the heat of thick conversation, or the tremulous embarrassment of a dropped coffee spoon clattering, the softening brow of boy pining for a barista gleefully ignorant in the busyness of a rhythmic job. Whatever eventually lands on the page isn’t some deep expression of something particularly intrinsic to the writer; it’s a reflection, of the world around the writer, captured, translated and honed through the perspective of that writer. A perspective doesn’t generate anything novel really, it’s merely a vehicle for seeing, and we all see in slightly remixed and unique ways which ultimately endows that blank page with the possibility we sense.
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