Posted by hyperpat on May 11, 2007
Writing fiction and non-fiction/essays/articles are two totally different things. About the only thing common to them is the fact that both need to have words impressed on paper (or computer screens).
When I approach writing an essay or something like this blog post, everything is straightforward. I know what I want to say, the facts are there (or at least googleable), organizing the material is something that happens in the back of my head without any great effort on my part, and I don’t need to expend great deal of time in figuring out exactly how I want to say whatever it is I’m talking about.
Not so with a fiction work. Every paragraph seems to require thinking about every tiny detail:
Character: does this sentence not only fit this particular person, does it add to the overall picture of who this person is? Am I really in this person’s head, and can I make it so that any reader can also get in his head?
Scene: Just how much of the environs should I describe? Many times I find that I have a picture in my head of just what the scene is, and it’s often remarkably detailed (from the grain in the oak paneling to the way the sunlight pools bright points along the table…). But if I try and put all that detail down on paper, it will simply overwhelm the story, so I’m forced to pick and choose just what and how much I describe. Which means I’m constantly making decisions with each sentence.
Dialog: This is probably my weakest point. It’s hard for me to ‘see’ conversations the way I do the scenery, even if the characters involved are real people to me. Right alongside of this are vocabulary choices – go with the polysyllable or the Anglo-Saxon four letter version? I know I have a strong tendency to use vocabulary and sentence constructions that are too esoteric or complex; I have to constantly watch my back to make sure these villains are not encroaching.
Background: Just when and how do I introduce all that backstory information – Little Jimmy was in a car accident at age three, and has never been comfortable in a car since – without interrupting the story flow and either totally losing the reader from lack of context or boring him to death with info he doesn’t care about?
Plot: This is usually not too bad. Before starting I usually have a fair idea of each major scene/happening, and where the thing will end up. I don’t normally do outlines, though I have for a couple stories. But there are times when I find my original story arc doesn’t fit how the characters are developing or the whole plot starts to seem trivial or contrived, at which point I’m in real trouble, and all too often I end up shelving the story, unfinished.
And the worst enemy of all: Procrastination. Every time I run into one of the above decision points, and find that I can’t make that decision right that instant, I all too frequently pack it up and wait for another day. Trouble is, that doesn’t get the decision made, it’s still waiting there for me whenever I come back to the story (if I ever do). And that simply doesn’t get the story written.
As someone once said, writing is the hardest non-work you’ll ever do.