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On the problems of writing fiction

When it comes to my own writing, I would have to say that my favourite style – the type of writing I most enjoy doing, the one that seems to “fit” me best – is creative non-fiction. That said, I’ve always been a little (no, a LOT) envious of people who have the ability to write fiction, and have often wished a little wistfully that I had that particular gift myself.

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I’ve tried for years to figure out why I have so much trouble writing fiction, but have never really come to a satisfying conclusion or figured out any strategies to help me get past my struggle.

I wrote the following pieces ages ago as part of one month’s 100 Words challenge, and share them with you now as an example of some of my thought processes on the subject.

Résumé: Letters and notes, e-mail messages, newspaper articles, poetry, blog posts and comments, business proposals, promotional material, journal entries, essays, and, when this exercise is complete, 100 words.

All non-fiction.

I seem to have a mental block when it comes to writing fiction, and in fact have written nothing that wasn’t truth (or based on truth) since creative writing assignments in high school. Ancient history.

Curious: Does this block stem from an innate inability to “lie” (though I greedily devour others’ “lies”)? Perhaps fear of failure? Relentless comparison of self with others? Ease of intimidation?

Hopefully this exercise will enlighten.

100 Words, 05/01/2008

 


 

I believe I just had an insight into why – in part, at least – I struggle with writing fiction.

Even though I recognize that tension and conflict draw in and hook the reader, I don’t know how to bring a character into the world and then allow bad things to happen to them.

I suspect that my desire for only good and beautiful and pleasant things for my characters would make my stories very dull.

So how does a writer let go… permit the characters to tell their story… without trying to control the process?

I must give this more thought.

100 Words, 05/19/2008

 


 

In addition to the thoughts I articulated in those two short pieces, a HUGE factor in why I haven’t been able to write fiction is a serious lack of any kind of plot or character inspiration. Kind of crucial, huh?! Quite honestly, the whole process of coming up with a story, peopling said story with compelling characters, and developing a complete and finished piece of fiction utterly mystifies me!

I know that I am a creative person in many ways, but often feel that I have a lack of imagination. And, though it isn’t a problem at all when I read a good book or watch a television program, when it comes to my own writing I seem to have an inability or reluctance to suspend disbelief.

Perhaps I should just be content to work with the style that suits me best and leave the storytelling and novel writing to the ones who do it best. But I love the idea of writing fiction – so much – and am really quite reluctant to let it go.

Yet I have no idea where I would even begin.

Are you more comfortable with writing fiction or non-fiction?
Please share!

NaBloPoMo February 2014

(Updated from original post in April, 2012.)

Laurel Regan – Writer, tangler, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, cat herder, needle felter, iPhoneographer, Growlita, iFan, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.

{ 18 comments… add one }

  • Kathy February 22, 2014

    When I began writing online I wrote what I knew mostly and that was nonfiction. Then all of a sudden I wanted a challenge and wanted to try writing stories…so I did and I am. It is a learning process, and a little scary at times, but very satisfying most of the time.
    Kathy recently posted… He Was Too LateMy Profile

  • Marika February 22, 2014

    Conflict is a part of fiction writing – characters have to have it, and if you have difficulty doing that, why do it? You don’t have to – if you want to write about good and beautiful things … write about those. It’s what you like, and if that is what you want to write … that is what you should write.

  • Sarah February 22, 2014

    Before transitioning to a SAHM I used to work as a writing tutor, and I always told my students that writing was a skill, not an innate gift. While it’s true that some people seem to have a “way with words” it takes practice to write well. If you want to try writing outside of your comfort zone, it will take extra practice because it will require ‘breaking the habits’ you’ve formed that help you to write well in your dominant style. I’d say keep at it, and don’t get discouraged if you keep floating back to what you do best. It’s a growing path!
    Sarah recently posted… Cake ExperimentsMy Profile

  • Sabrina Lovejoy February 22, 2014

    I’m a nonfiction everything(reader and writer) but the story that had stuck with me most since NANOWRIMO a few years ago is fiction. My characters and their situations have grown but it has taken a lot of time and patience. Of you want to write fiction chances are you have an idea…Lady X must make it to the grocery store before they close. The story, from what I understand, is why is it so important for her to get there? Or, why should your reader care? Is it life or death? Does her career depend on it? Then, what are all the things that can/will happen to her as she tries to get there? Supposedly, the fun is in getting your character into and then out of all the mishaps and showing your person being better as a result of the journey. Think about your goal of picking up a library book and all that happened en route. Now, what did you learn about yourself and others…how did that one experience chance you? You survived and got what you wanted so even though you probably wouldn’t have chosen that exact path, it wasn’t the worse. When it comes to my characters, however, I don’t see them. I can’t see their hair, eyes or the way they walk.I can see the environment but none of the physical attributes of my characters. I’m beginning to think that’s just me and just for the current book I’m working on. It’s a process and,I believe, the best stories are the ones that won’t let you go. So don’t stop.
    Sabrina Lovejoy recently posted… A Little Closer to DoneMy Profile

  • Alana
    Twitter:
    February 22, 2014

    I am a lot more comfortable with non fiction. But I think it is good that you are attempting fiction. The one NaNoWriMo where I attempted fiction (the other one, I wrote non fiction as a rebel) it was actually a fictionalization of something that had happened to me. There was a character who did not exist in real life. I can swear she is alive in my computer and, every once in a while, demands to be let out. I still wonder if I should try to edit the manuscript or not and see if she will continue to create herself.
    Alana recently posted… Sustainable Saturday-Greasy Beans in Upstate New York?My Profile

  • Gwen February 22, 2014

    I enjoy creating characters but when it comes to something bad happening to them then I’m like Joey on Friends and have to put them in the freezer. ;) (I know, I’ve just aged myself.) Creating conflict with my characters can be difficult but resolving them is very interesting and can be a lot of fun. When it comes to plots though, my characters take on a life of their own at times and can change the plot all on their own so I have to be flexible.

  • Janie Emaus
    Twitter:
    February 22, 2014

    I love writing fiction. But I love creative non-fiction, too. It all depends on what mood I’m in.

  • Diane February 23, 2014

    And I’m just the opposite. I have to fictionalize everything! I, too want everything to work out prettily, with a happy ending. So I write a lot of Christmas stories. Sweet and fluffy. Perfect!
    Diane recently posted… Old. And CountingMy Profile

  • Susan Bonifant February 23, 2014

    I’ve been writing both for about ten years. I think what is most challenging about fiction is stepping into a character’s head and heart who is nothing like you to develop their role in a story. It requires you reach an imaginary environment by walking away from reality and that’s not comfortable for some, or possible for others who can’t shut out distractions. That’s the first hurdle for me. As for story, plot and conflict, I’ve found that even if I have sketched it in my head going in, once the characters start to “get legs” they will show you the ways it does and doesn’t work. It’s why so many writers get as far as 100 pages and pitch the work to start over. Frustrating as hell it can be, but sooooo mentally satisfying when it works. Best advice: Take time. Time to zone in, and time to “be” your characters when you’re there.

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